(Bangkok) – The new Thai government should make human rights a priority when it issues its inaugural policy statement to parliament, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on August 15, 2011. Yingluck is expected to give her statement to parliament on August 24, 2011.
The new government has broadly addressed the need to highlight reconciliation after the political violence of last year, but has not yet presented concrete plans on reversing the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Yingluck government can get off to a good start by demonstrating a firm commitment to ending Thailand’s widespread human rights problems,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But talk of reconciliation after last year’s violence will remain just talk unless those responsible for the violence are brought to justice.”
The new Thai government needs to address a broad range of human rights issues, starting with the loss of life and destruction of property during the political upheavals of 2010, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, very few people have been held to account for the killings of more than 20 human rights defenders and community activists since 2001, thousands of victims of the armed conflict in the southern border provinces, and nearly 3,000 suspected drug dealers in the 2003 “war on drugs.” In recent years, unlawful government interference with the media has expanded, including the forced closure of radio stations and websites. People holding dissident opinions, including those expressed on the internet, and those prosecuted under the lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) laws, have been subjected to harsh punishments.
The new government should also reverse current practices regarding the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers. The Thai government has yet to investigate “push-backs” to sea of boatloads of ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers and the forcible return of ethnic minorities fleeing hostilities in Burma last year. Throughout the country, police and other authorities continue to violate the basic rights of migrant workers with impunity.
Human Rights Watch also urged the Yingluck government to promote respect for human rights in its foreign policy, particularly related to its neighbor, Burma. Thailand should take a proactive position on accountability for serious human rights violations in Burma by publicly supporting the establishment of an international commission of inquiry for Burma.
Human Rights Watch urged the Yingluck government to quickly take the following actions:
- Publicly order the military, police, and other government agencies to fully cooperate with official inquiries regarding human rights abuses.
- Pass a cabinet resolution to provide the Truth for Reconciliation Commission in Thailand with much needed subpoena power and sufficient resources to enable it to act independently and effectively in its investigation of violence and abuses related to political confrontations last year.
- Assess the status of those detained in connection with the protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, known as the “Red Shirts,” and the insurgency in the southern border provinces to ensure that they are properly treated in accordance with due process of law and human rights standards, including having appropriate pretrial release on bail.
- End all restrictions on the media that violate the right to freedom of expression, and announce a concrete plan to revoke laws such as the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, the Computer Crimes Act, and the laws regarding lese majeste.
“Thailand’s new government has a chance to reverse the ongoing human rights crisis at home and set a positive example for other countries in the region,” said Adams. “Prime Minister Yingluck can prove that her government is truly reform-minded by including a clear plan to address human rights issues in its inaugural policy statement.”