(New York) – The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand should immediately end its groundless inquiry of an outspoken commissioner, Human Rights Watch said today. Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit has repeatedly spoken out about Thailand’s pressing human rights problems under the military junta.
On April 30, 2019, the rights commission began a disciplinary inquiry of Angkhana, accusing her of political partiality. The inquiry was triggered by comments from Tuang Attachai, a junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly member, and a complaint filed with the commission by Surawat Sangkharuek, a pro-junta activist. The inquiry focuses on Angkhana’s role in observing legal proceedings and documenting rights violations against opposition politicians and critics of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). She faces possible impeachment.
“Thailand’s rights commission is sinking to a new low by seeking to punish Angkhana for doing her job by exposing rights abuses and demanding accountability,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The commission’s leadership has repeatedly failed to hold the military government to its human rights obligations, but it appears now to be doing the junta’s dirty work.”
The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, once considered a model for national human rights bodies in Southeast Asia, has faced interference from successive Thai governments since the first commissioners finished their term in 2009.
The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and the United Nations Human Rights Council downgraded the commission’s global ranking from “A” to “B” in 2015, revoking Thai commissioners’ privilege to speak from the council floor and present their views during council sessions. The downgrade stemmed from the government’s manipulation of the selection process for commissioners and serious questions about the commission’s pro-government political bias.
Since the May 2014 military coup, the junta has taken further action to weaken the commission. The 2017 NHRCT Act stripped away the agency’s independence and transformed it into a de facto government mouthpiece, contrary to the UN Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, including within the exercise of their professional duties. The Thai government has an obligation to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment.
“More than ever, Thailand needs a credible national rights agency, led by dedicated commissioners, to address the country’s worsening rights crisis,” Adams said. “The commission should drop its inquiry of Angkhana and ensure she can work in a secure environment without fear of reprisals.”