The selection of seven new members for Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRCT) kicks off in August, and all indications are the process will do little to shore up the commission’s tarnished reputation.
Once considered a model for national human rights bodies in Southeast Asia, the NHRCT has been plagued by interference from successive governments since the first group of commissioners finished their term in 2009. The commission’s credibility hit a low point in 2015 when the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and the United Nations Human Rights Council downgraded its global ranking from “A” to “B” – thus revoking privileges to speak on the floor and present its views during council sessions. The downgrade stemmed from the commissioners’ lack of broad-based representation and questions regarding the NHRCT’s displays of political partiality.
These problems have lingered because the latest 38 candidates are comprised primarily of retired government officials, with only few having concrete experience working in human rights.
The candidates’ credibility has been undermined, because none are known to have spoken out about Thailand’s pressing human rights issues under the ruling military junta after they submitted their applications, raising doubts about how independent, impartial, and effective they would be as commissioners.
Nor have any of the candidates expressed concern that the commission’s current legal governance is seriously flawed. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly pointed out that the 2017 NHRCT Act seriously weakened the agency, stripped away its independence, and transformed it into a de facto government mouthpiece. The law does nothing to safeguard the competence, independence, and mandated requirements called for under the international Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions on Human Rights (“Paris Principles”).
Now more than ever, Thailand needs a credible national human rights body, led by committed commissioners to address the worsening human rights crisis under military rule. Choosing inexperienced and unqualified people to serve as commissioners will further weaken the NHRCT and make it a toothless institution that rights abusers can easily ignore.
The Thai people deserve to hear from these 38 candidates, who need to immediately break their silence. If they are not ready or willing to do so, they should do their country a service by stepping down and letting the selection process start over.