(New York) – United Nations member countries voting in elections for the UN Security Council on June 28, 2016, should scrutinize the human rights records of both candidates from the Asia group, Human Rights Watch said today. Thailand and Kazakhstan are competing for one open seat for Asia on the Security Council, the 15-member body that bears primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security within the UN system.

The UN Security Council votes on a resolution at UN Headquarters in New York on March 2, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

Many current Security Council members including the permanent five members have problematic human rights records, and some countries such as Ethiopia and Bolivia are running uncontested for seats for other regions. Voting countries should nonetheless probe Kazakhstan’s and Thailand’s records on human rights. One of the two will join the council in January 2017.

“The Security Council’s actions have global and lasting consequences, so UN member countries need to take their votes seriously,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy. “With Thailand and Kazakhstan, that means questioning both their human rights records and promises.”

In support of its campaign, Thailand made pledges to give priority to safeguarding human rights and humanitarian principles around the world. Similarly, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister recently asserted that the country is “ready to assume new responsibilities as part of the global community.” Human Rights Watch takes no position on Security Council elections, including either country’s candidacy.

Since a military coup in May 2014, Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has regularly suppressed the views of persons who are openly critical of its policies and practices, arbitrarily arresting and prosecuting them, often in military courts. The junta has censored the media, increased surveillance of the Internet and online communications, and aggressively restricted free expression – including by abusing the draconian law against lese majeste (insulting the monarchy). Human Rights Watch recently wrote a letter to Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha raising concerns about Thailand’s poor human rights record under military rule.

Under Thailand’s interim constitution, the junta operates with impunity and without any effective oversight.

Thailand pledged in an aide-memoire in support of its campaign for the Security Council to highlight a human rights policy guided by the principles of “reaching out, hearing out and respecting the views of all.” Yet the government has reacted severely to people who have expressed criticism, including online, to the junta-sponsored draft constitution, which will be voted on in a referendum scheduled for August 7, 2016. Many activists, academics, and politicians have been threatened with harsh penalties under the Referendum Act – including a sentence of 10 years in prison – for urging voters to reject the draft constitution.

The Security Council’s actions have global and lasting consequences, so UN member countries need to take their votes seriously.

Philippe Bolopion

Deputy Global Advocacy Director

“Thailand’s pledges to lead the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide as a Security Council member ring hollow in the face of its widespread abuses at home,” Bolopion said. “If it’s to be taken seriously on rights matters, Thailand needs to revoke repressive military powers, end censorship, and allow free expression. By seeking a seat on the Security Council, Thailand should demonstrate a commitment to respecting human rights.”

In Kazakhstan, the government in recent years has strengthened restrictions on freedom of association, speech, assembly, and religion. In response to planned peaceful protests in many cities in May 2016 over land rights issues, the police detained hundreds of people, including journalists and human rights monitors. Some activists linked to the protests face up to 15 years in prison on politically motivated charges.

Kazakh authorities limit peaceful dissent by using the vague and overbroad criminal offense of “inciting social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord.” They have repeatedly used this offense against peaceful critics of the government, including two activists who were convicted in January for “inciting national discord” in Facebook posts. Kazakhstan has ignored repeated calls from UN bodies to repeal or amend this charge.

Independent and opposition journalists in Kazakhstan face harassment and interference in their work, and a number of critical media outlets have been closed in recent years. The jailing of a journalist in May for “disseminating false information” has further chilled independent media. Despite the government’s claims of achieving religious harmony, the adoption of a restrictive religion law in 2011 has made it very difficult for some religious groups to worship legally. Many have been fined for peaceful worship outside state control.

“Debate happens in UN corridors in New York in a way that is not allowed in Kazakhstan itself,” Bolopion said. “The government has cracked down on various forms of peaceful dissent in recent years, setting a particularly poor record that any prospective Security Council member should be eager to cleanup.”