Thailand: Civil and political rights at a juncture
Restrictions on the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Thailand worry the Human Rights Committee. Photo credit: International Service for Human Rights
On the 13th and 14th March 2017, the Human Rights Committee reviewed Thailand’s second report on the implementation of the ICCPR. The Thai delegation introduced its report by referring to the contributions made by the civil society, and highlighted recent relevant developments such as the approval of the draft Constitution by referendum in 2016 as well as the third National Human Rights Action Plan. It also pointed out efforts made to protect the rights of the child and migrant workers. While recognizing those efforts and achievements of the State party, the Committee raised various concerns. It had questions regarding the challenges faced by Thailand, ranging from its Constitutional and legal framework, torture, the state of emergency as well as the rights of indigenous peoples including their recognition and land rights.
The webcast of the review is available here: part 1 and part 2.
Human Rights Defenders
Welcoming the information provided by the State party regarding the measures taken to protect human rights defenders, the Committee asked for more information on the recent detentions carried out with a view to “attitude adjustment” and participation in a “re-education programme”. The Committee also stated that, according to the information received, there had been an increase in the frequency of attacks against human rights activists since the coup d’état in May 2014. Their work had been criminalized under new legislation and law enforcement officials had been given broad discretionary powers to justify the arrest and detention of those who criticized the Government. Against this backdrop, the Committee asked for comments from the State party and information on the progress and impact of the working committee on development of measures to protect human rights defenders established by the Ministry of Justice. It also requested information about several specific cases of alleged extrajudicial killing, death in detention and enforced disappearance targeting human rights defenders and environmental activists. Concerns were also expressed over the use of defamation lawsuits to silence criticism of the Government and certain commercial interests, and to influence the work of human rights defenders.
Restrictions on the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
The Committee noted that allegedly the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had been severely curtailed since 2014, including those restrictions put by the provisions of lese-majesty, sedition, criminal defamation and computer crime. In particular, the provisions on sedition had extensively been used as a basis to detain people who had peacefully expressed their political opinions. It was further indicated that the National Council for Peace and Order had also reportedly prevented public debate of political issues and human rights, that the Thai authorities had intervened in a number of civic and political events, and that news outlets had been compelled to disseminate information on behalf of the National Council for Peace and Order and any criticism of its work was reportedly prohibited. The Committee also asked for clarification on the compatibility of provisions restricting the right to peaceful assembly, banning public gatherings of more than four or five persons and imposing penalties for failing to notify the authorities.
The Committee expressed concern, in spite of the Government’s zero tolerance approach and an increase in the number of investigations and convictions, that human trafficking remains a significant problem, especially in sectors such as farming, fishing, domestic work and the sex industry. The State party was asked to provide its views as to how the new measures, including the establishment of a specialized court and of a new unit to deal with prosecution of the cases of trafficking in persons, were expected to improve the situation. Concerns were also raised that migrants were being deported without effective screening to identify those at risk of trafficking, about the robustness of the reviews of migrants’ cases and that collecting victim’s testimonies at an early stage of the procedure could adversely affect chances of securing conviction. The Committee asked for further information on those situations including clarification on the report that victims were not permitted to act as co-plaintiffs unless they were able to make an additional allegation. The members also expressed concerns over the very small number of judgments handed down, especially with regard to trafficking in the fishing sector, and over the lack of funding and human resources for anti-trafficking institutions.
Recommendations of the Committee
The recommendations included in the Committee’s Concluding Observations, especially those urgent ones, for which the State should provide information on the implementation within one year, addressed:
- Constitution and legal framework:
- Review all measures adopted under the interim Constitution of 2014
- Make sure that all measures adopted under the new draft Constitution are consistent with the obligations under the Covenant
- Extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture:
- Ensure that cases are reported
- Investigate promptly, impartially and thoroughly all allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials and the military and punish perpetrators
- Clarify the fate or whereabouts of the victims and ensure that their relatives are informed about the investigations
- Ensure that the victims are provided with full reparation
- Amend the Martial Law Act, Emergency Decree and Order 3/2015 to ensure that they comply with the Covenant
- Set up an independent mechanism for the prevention and suppression of torture and enforced disappearances
- Reinforce the training of law enforcement officials and military personnel on full respect for human rights, including appropriate use of force and the eradication of torture and ill-treatment.
- Conditions of detention:
- Improve conditions of detention by taking measures to reduce overcrowding, in compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules
- Increase efforts to guarantee the right of detainees to be treated with humanity and dignity.
The next (third) periodic report of Thailand should be submitted by 29 March 2021.