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October 31, 2023

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin
Royal Thai Government
Government House
1 Pitsanulok Road
Dusit, Bangkok 10300
Fax +662 280 9046

Re: Human Rights Agenda for New Government

Dear Prime Minister,

First of all, congratulations on your appointment as the new Prime Minister of Thailand.

Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization that monitors and reports on human rights issues in more than 100 countries around the world.  We have reported on Thailand for over three decades.

We took note of your stated commitment to promote and protect human rights as mentioned in your speech to the Thai parliament on September 11, 2023, and to the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 2023.

Human Rights Watch urges you to take immediate steps to protect and promote human rights in a way that will clearly differentiate your government from the previous government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, and reaffirm the commitments to uphold human rights and democratic principles made during the Pheu Thai Party’s election campaign.

In this regard, we urge you to address the following major human rights issues in Thailand as a priority during the first months of your government.

Respect for Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Freedom of expression is essential for the process of democratization and political reconciliation in Thailand. However, there has been an ongoing constriction of critical and dissident opinions. As of August 2023, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that at least 1,925 people are facing prosecution or have been prosecuted since mid-July 2020 for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly.

The vast majority are charged under the Emergency Decree on the Public Administration in Emergency Situation, which was imposed nationwide in March 2020 on the grounds of seeking to control the spread of Covid-19. At this time, at least 1,469 people are being prosecuted under this draconian law, with the vast majority charged for simply taking part in democracy protests. At least 280 of those charged were children at the time of their arrest. Violations of the Emergency Decree bring possible penalties of up to two years in prison and fines of 40,000 baht (US$1100). Furthermore, police and prosecutors have brought additional charges against protesters such as violating social distancing measures, curfew restrictions, and other disease control measures. However, even though the government lifted all Covid-19 related emergency measures on October 1, 2022, these prosecutions have continued, causing disruption and misery for these mostly youthful protesters whose lives remain on hold as they face these charges.

Your government should demonstrate greater respect for human rights than previous governments by immediately dismissing all Emergency Decree and Covid-19 restriction-related charges against those still being prosecuted for these violations.

The Thai government also continues to use the Computer-Related Crimes Act (CCA) to enforce censorship and persecute dissidents, employing the extremely vague and overbroad language in the CCA to criminalize almost any type of speech online that displeases the authorities. Your government should recognize the CCA is being abused, and immediately either seek to revoke the law or reform it so that it complies with international human right treaties acceded to by Thailand.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by the Thai government’s continued use of penal code article 112 on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy).  In such cases, Thai authorities have routinely held outspoken critics of the monarchy in pre-trial detention for months and released those activists on bail only after compelling them to agree to restrictive conditions, such as full or partial house arrest, wearing tracking devices, being banned from speaking about the monarchy, prohibited from taking part in political rallies, and not being allowed to leave Thailand. As of September 2023, the government is holding at least 23 activists in pre-trial detention for participating in democracy protests or committing acts that authorities considered to be insulting or offensive to the monarchy.

Protection of Human Rights Defenders

It is an unfortunate fact that successive Thai governments have continually failed to ensure human rights defenders can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment, in line with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Your government should take concrete steps to differentiate itself from previous governments.

The killing of human rights defenders and other civil society activists is a serious blot on Thailand’s human rights record. Since 2001, assailants have killed more than 20 human rights defenders and civil society activists. However, police investigations of these killings have suffered from inconsistent and shoddy investigatory procedures, the failure to provide adequate protection for witnesses, and the inability to effectively overcome the political influence often connected to these crimes. Even in serious criminal cases involving the public interest that are referred to the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), those responsible have not been punished. Human Rights Watch would be pleased to provide a list of important cases that should be prioritized for action by your government.

Despite the adoption of Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in 2019, the Thai government has done virtually nothing to protect human rights defenders from reprisals and end government agencies and companies’ abusive use of abusive so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) against civil society activists. For example, just one company, Thammakaset Farms, has filed 39 SLAPP lawsuits against human rights activists, migrant workers, and even a former national human rights commissioner, yet the government has not taken any action to curb the use of the judicial system to harass and punish critics.

We strongly urge you not to revive efforts by Prime Minister Prayut’s government to pass an Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations Bill, which will choke and control all civil society organizations. Your government should act to end any further consideration of such a draft law by line ministries and the Cabinet. 

Torture and Enforced Disappearances

Thailand is a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and has also signed, but still not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Your government should immediately act to ratify the latter convention, without delay and without reservations.

On August 24, 2022, the House of Representatives approved and passed the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill. The law became effective on October 24, 2022. However, some regulations for key provisions are still being drafted and debated, and effective government enforcement of the law has not been seen.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases related to counterinsurgency operations in Thailand’s southern border provinces, in which police and military personnel tortured ethnic Malay Muslims in custody. There are also credible reports of torture being used as a form of punishment of military conscripts. During the years of military rule after the 2014 coup, many people were taken into incommunicado military custody, and they alleged they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated while being detained and interrogated by soldiers. In addition, police and military units in the deep south, and across the country, often carried out anti-drug operations without effective safeguards against torture and other abuses.

Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has recorded 76 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand. During the government of Prime Mininster Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, at least nine dissidents who fled persecution in Thailand were forcibly disappeared in neighboring countries. In September 2021, the UN Working Group raised concerns in its annual report about enforced disappearances in the context of transnational transfers between Thailand and neighboring countries. Your government should make a clear break from the past by seriously and transparently investigating such allegations and releasing a public report of the findings of those investigations, including recommendations for holding accountable those found responsible.

Protection of the Right to Seek Asylum

Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, nor its 1967 Protocol. Your government should immediately move to ratify the Convention and Protocol and conform Thai laws to align with those international standards.

Thai authorities continue to violate the international prohibition against refoulement by returning refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution. During the period between May 2014 and August 2023, when Prime Minister Gen. Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan were in office, the Thai government forcibly returned to their countries asylum seekers and refugees from Bahrain, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Turkey, Vietnam, and other countries. These actions seriously undermined Thailand’s historical practice of offering protection to asylum seekers from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar dating back at least to 1975. A comprehensive investigation of those refoulements should be undertaken – Human Rights Watch can provide a list of exemplary cases to be investigated.

The Thai government made no progress in investigating the apparent abduction and, in some extreme cases, killing of exiled dissidents from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in Thailand during the 2014-2023 period. Your government should thoroughly investigate these cases and publicly announce the findings.

Thailand has sheltered refugees fleeing from conflict in Myanmar since the mid-1980s on an ad hoc humanitarian basis. Approximately 90,000 people remain in nine refugee camps along the Myanmar border. Your government should permit third-country resettlement for those who wish to take up the recent US government’s offer and allow those wishing to remain in Thailand to transition to legal migrant worker status, or return to Myanmar at the appropriate time under UN auspices.

Thai official policy continues to refuse to consider Lao Hmong, and Uighurs, ethnic Rohingya and other people from Myanmar, and North Korea for refugee status. Such determinations contravene principles of non-discrimination in international human rights law, including treaties ratified by Thailand, and your government should end these restrictions.

As your government took office in August 2023, approximately 50 Uyghurs and several hundred Rohingya are being held in indefinite detention in squalid conditions in immigration detention centers across Thailand. Some of these individuals have been held for as long as a decade, dating back to their apprehension in 2013, without adequate food or access to medicine. In 2023, two Uyghurs - Mattohti Mattursun and Aziz Abdullah – died in the Suan Phlu detention center in Bangkok. Your government should release these Uyghurs and Rohingya on humanitarian grounds, and permit them to depart Thailand to a destination of their choosing.

The law and regulations establishing Thailand’s National Screening Mechanism (NSM) for asylum seekers have been officially promulgated but there is still little confidence among potential asylum seekers to trust the NSM. Your government should take concrete steps to comprehensively explain to migrant and asylum seeker communities (and in their languages) what the NSM is, how it will be implemented, and how it will be used to protect rights and provide safety to asylum seekers.

Protection of Migrant Workers

Migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam continue to be mistreated with impunity by police, civil servants, and employers in Thailand, as documented in our report “From the Tiger to the Crocodile.” A highly bureaucratic, poorly designed and implemented “nationality verification” registration scheme regularly causes hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to lose their legal status when they seek to change employers or face other crises, deepening their vulnerability to exploitation. Female migrant workers are also extremely vulnerable to sexual violence and trafficking. Police can abuse migrant workers with impunity, and do so on a regular basis. Your government should take steps to ensure accountability under law for those who abuse the labor and human rights of migrant workers, and amend migrant work laws and regulations to allow migrants rights to freedom of movement, the ability to change employers without penalty, and protection of their civil and political rights.

Articles 88 and 100 of the Labor Relations Act of 1975 should be amended to allow for persons of all nationalities to apply to establish a trade union and serve as a legally recognized trade union officer, and ensure that the revised Labor Relations Act is fully in compliance with the standards set out in International Labour Organization Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association) and No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain).

Gender Inequality

While Thailand enacted the Gender Equality Act in 2015, implementation remains problematic. Most cases filed under the act feature discrimination against transgender people, who face barriers to health care, education, and employment because Thailand lacks a legal gender recognition procedure. Your government should develop effective regulations and procedures, in consultation with the transgender and other affected communities, that will enable meaningful protection as intended by the law.

Thailand should immediately move forward to reintroduce the Life Partnership Bill and the Equal Marriage Bill for parliamentary review. If enacted, these draft laws could pave the way towards recognizing the fundamental dignity of same-sex couples and providing them with important legal protections. The government should prioritize action on these laws, in consultation with the LGBT community.

Lack of Accountability for State-Sponsored Abuses

The 2007 Independent Committee for the Investigation, Study and Analysis of the Formulation and Implementation of Narcotic Suppression Policy (ICID) found that the policy formulation and assessment of the 2003 “war on drugs” was driven by an all-out effort to achieve the campaign's political goals, and disregarded respect for human rights and due process of law. We urge your government to implement the ICID’s recommendation that there should be a further inquiry into the killings of 2,819 people during the 2003 “war on drugs” to bring the perpetrators to account, as well as to end the cycle of abuse and impunity in drug suppression operations. Your government should also institute a policy to provide prompt, fair, and adequate compensation for the victims and family members of victims of human rights violations committed in the context of drug suppression operations.

Despite overwhelming evidence that soldiers were responsible for most casualties during the 2010 political confrontations with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as the “Red Shirts,” which left at least 99 dead and more than 2,000 injured, no military personnel or government officials from the administration of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva have been charged. Renewed efforts to ensure government security forces are held accountable for these rights abuses should be urgently undertaken.

The armed conflict in Thailand’s Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces has resulted in more than 7,000 deaths since January 2004. Successive governments had failed to prosecute members of security forces responsible for torture, unlawful killings, and other abuses of ethnic Malay Muslims. In many cases, Thai authorities provided financial compensation to victims or their families in exchange for their agreement not to speak out against the security forces, and not file criminal cases against officials. Thai officials should investigate and hold criminally accountable those responsible for human rights abuses in the deep south in addition to simply providing financial compensation.

We trust that you will make action on aforementioned human rights issues a major priority of your government.

Human Rights Watch would welcome discussing these concerns with you directly and offer specific recommendations and assistance to develop and implement rights-respecting reforms. Please feel free to contact Robert Newton, Asia Coordinator, who can help arrange such discussions at a mutually convenient time and date.

We thank you for your consideration of these important matters and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Elaine Pearson
Executive Director
Asia Division

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