Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai
The Secretariat of the Prime Minister
Government House, Phitsanulok Road
Bangkok 10300 Thailand
Dear Prime Minister Chuan,
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by reports today that the Thai government has refused permission to the International Trade Union movement to hold a conference on "Democracy for Burma" in Bangkok, scheduled for May 24-26, 1999. This is the second time since 1998 that the government of Thailand has bowed to pressure by its authoritarian neighbors and attempted to prevent an international meeting on human rights.
In March 1998, police attempted to restrict the participation of about one hundred international human rights advocates in a five-day seminar on East Timor in Bangkok, saying the foreign participants would violate Thai law if they spoke out against Indonesia. This time, the ban appears to have been linked to the European Union-ASEAN summit, with Burma in attendance, that is scheduled to take place in Bangkok at the same time as the cancelled trade union meeting. In addition to cancelling the meeting, the Thai authorities also refused to grant an entry visa to Dr. Sein Win of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB).
These actions run contrary to Foreign Minister Surin's position that ASEAN members should be free to criticize actions of other countries in the region. They also call into question Thailand's stated commitment to the internationally recognized rights of free association, assembly, and expression.
Under your leadership, Thailand has implemented major democratic reforms, sending a message to the region that fundamental freedoms in Thailand were being strengthened. The ban on the "democracy for Burma" conference sends a very different signal.
cc: Ambassador Nitya Pibulsonggram
Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007