May 5, 2010
Dear Prime Minister Abhisit,
Human Rights Watch is writing in regard to Thailand's candidacy for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/60/251 states that members of the Human Rights Council shall "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" and "fully cooperate with the Council." We believe that it is essential for countries which are members of the Human Rights Council to adhere to these criteria. For this reason, Human Rights Watch is writing to a number of countries running for the Human Rights Council about which we have concerns regarding their human rights record.
In support of its candidature for the 2010-2013 term, the Thai government circulated a memorandum dated February 22, 2010 outlining its human rights record and its commitments and pledges. Human Rights Watch asks for your commitment to make the following additional changes in Thailand's laws, policies, and practices that affect the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.
Rescind reservations to human rights treaties
Thailand has voluntarily pledged to "expedite efforts towards the withdrawal of the country's reservations in respect to CEDAW and ICCPR" - the Convention on the Elimination of All Forces of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human Rights Watch calls on Thailand to publicly proclaim before May 13 which reservations it will rescind, though we urge the government to withdraw all its reservations to these two important treaties. Thailand should also revoke its reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically on article 7 regarding birth documents, nationality, and the right to be cared for by parents; and article 22 regarding refugee status.
Ratify additional human rights treaties
As a major migrant labor receiving nation, Thailand should immediately ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Migrant workers, primarily from neighboring countries of Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, continue to suffer from pervasive discrimination resulting in much lower wages and poorer conditions of work, and often violent retaliation from employers and authorities when they complain and demand their rights.
Thailand should go much further than its lukewarm pledge to "pursue feasibility studies" on ratification of International Labor Organization Convention No. 87 (Freedom of Association), Convention No. 100 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation), and Convention No. 111 (Discrimination) and promptly ratify these important conventions, which have long been the subject of continued campaigns by the Thai labor movement.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Thai government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006. Thai security forces continue to use enforced disappearance as a tool against suspected ethnic Malay Muslim separatists in southern Thailand, while elsewhere in the country the police have been found to frequently commit enforced disappearance against persons suspected of drug trafficking and other common crimes.
Human Rights Watch appreciates that Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in October 2000, but we note that the Thai government must still ratify the treaty in order to become an ICC state party. We call on the Thai government to proceed with the ratification of this important document, which will affirm Thailand's commitment to end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Expand cooperation with UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council
Human Rights Watch notes that Thailand pledged to "engage constructively and work closely with the HRC Special Procedures." While we welcome Thailand's agreement to receive the special rapporteur on trafficking and the special rapporteur on the sale of children, we note that there are nine outstanding requests from special rapporteurs whose mandates cover critical areas for human rights protection in Thailand. Human Rights Watch urges that your government immediately extend invitations for visits to those on this waiting list and arrange to complete all nine visits by 2013. These would include visits by the special rapporteurs on (1) freedom of opinion and expression (requested in 2004); (2) freedom of religion (2004); (3) right to health (2005); (4) extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2005, reminder sent in 2008); (5) adequate housing (2008); (6) human rights and counter-terrorism (2010); (7) the working group on arbitrary detention (2008); and independent experts on (8) minority issues (2006, reminder sent in 2007) and (9) access to safe drinking water and sanitation (2010).
In addition, as a matter of principle, Thailand should issue a standing invitation to visit to all UN special procedures mandate holders, including special rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups.
Conduct effective investigations into disappearances of human rights defenders
Human Rights Watch calls on the Thai government to publicly make it a top national priority to make substantive progress in the investigation of the cases of 20 human rights defenders killed or "disappeared" in recent years. These include the 2004 "disappearance" and presumed murder of well-known Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, whose case was accepted by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in June 2005. We urge you to ensure investigators are provided with the personnel, resources, and serious political backing and commitment to pursue these cases despite opposition from self-interested or responsible parties.
Conduct effective investigations into major human rights abuses in the south
The Thai government should ensure that thorough and impartial investigations are conducted into the massacre at Al-Furquan Mosque on June 8, 2009 and the killing of Imam Yapa Kaseng in Narathiwat's Rue Soh district on March 21, 2008. The government should also reopen the case of the killings conducted by police and army at the Krue Se Mosque on April 28, 2004, and ensure that an impartial and transparent investigation is performed. The government should also re-visit the Tak Bai massacre case in which a provincial court declined to hold any government officials responsible for actions that resulted in the deaths of 78 persons on October 25, 2004.
Ensure accountability for "war on drugs" extrajudicial killings
Human Rights Watch commends your government for initially supporting the reopening of investigations into the 2,819 extrajudicial killings that allegedly accompanied former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's "war on drugs" in 2003. However, we are concerned that progress has stalled in holding accountable all those responsible, particularly because of strong resistance by the Royal Thai Police, which was implicated in many of these killings. We urge the government to redouble its efforts to bring perpetrators of these killings to justice, to dismiss those individuals involved, and to end systematic police brutality and abuse of power in drug suppression operations.
Concerns about Emergency Decree on Government Administration in States of Emergency
Human Rights Watch recognizes the very serious challenges faced by the government in the current political crisis and urge that you address the concerns raised in our recent statements [http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/12/thailand-end-political-violence-bring-offenders-justice] and [http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/30/thailand-end-street-battles-bangkok]. In response to the current situation, persons who commit criminal offenses should be prosecuted under existing criminal laws and procedures in accordance with international human rights standards.
Unfortunately, your government has made extensive use of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in a State of Emergency ("Emergency Decree"). We have serious concerns about the overly broad powers granted by the decree to detain individuals without charge in unofficial places of detention without assurance of effective judicial oversight, and without immediate access to legal counsel and family members. Human Rights Watch calls on your government to abstain from using this authority for arbitrary arrest or preventive detention.
The Emergency Decree has been used in an abusive and counter-productive manner in the context of the protracted protests by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and in ongoing counterinsurgency operations against separatist militants in southern Thailand.
Article 5 of the Emergency Decree states that a state of emergency shall last a maximum of three months, but provides no limits on its extension, creating the risk of arbitrary, disproportionate and indefinite restrictions on basic rights and freedoms. We are alarmed by reports that article 12 of the Emergency Decree is currently being used to hold persons outside of police stations, jails, and other regular detention centers, and instead at military bases and other unofficial places of detention. Article 17 of the Emergency Decree provides government officials immunity from civil, criminal, and disciplinary liability for acts under the decree performed in good faith, and that are non-discriminatory and not unreasonable in the circumstances. By protecting security personnel from prosecution for serious human rights violations and denying victims a judicial remedy, Thailand is failing to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. Human Rights Watch calls to your attention that the risk of "disappearances," torture and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in unofficial locations and under the control of the military, which lacks training and experience in civilian law enforcement.
Ensure protection for freedom of expression
Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about the safety of journalists in the country and the Thai government's widespread use of censorship. In recent days in Bangkok, your government has undermined media freedom and violated the right to free expression through its use of the Emergency Decree. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban used emergency powers to shut down more than 400 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, and community radio stations, most of which are considered closely aligned with groups opposing the government.
These actions follow actions in 2009-2010 that closed down more than 18,000 websites because of allegations they were promoting either anti-monarchy sentiments or posing other vaguely defined threats to national security. The charge of lese majeste (penal code article 112) has been used against Thai citizens and foreigners, journalists and academics, bloggers and web board discussants, and government critics, causing a number of them to flee the country. Suwicha Thakor was sentenced to 10 years in prison on April 3 under article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act. On August 28, 2009, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in prison for violating article 112. On March 6 Chiranuch Premchaiyaporn of online news forum Prachatai was arrested and her office raided by police. She was accused of violating the Computer Crimes Act with website postings in October-November 2008. On November 1, the police arrested Katha Pajariyapong and Theeranan Vipuchan for posting on the internet their comments and Thai translations of international media reports. They were charged under the Computer Crimes Act with feeding false information causing harm to national security and the public.
Human Rights Watch calls on the government to repeal the Computer Crimes Act and reform other provisions of law limiting the right to freedom of expression. Thailand should also immediately lift censorship and other restraints on the rights to freedom of expression of online and broadcast media imposed during the current political protests, or appropriately charge the media operators with incitement under the criminal code in accordance with international law.
Support rights of migrant workers
Human Rights Watch extensively documented human rights and labor violations against migrant workers in its recent report, From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand, [http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/02/23/tiger-crocodile-0]. To date the Thai government has not acted on the major recommendations of this report.
We call on your government to establish a special commission to independently and impartially investigate allegations of systematic violations of the basic rights of migrants by police and other Thai authorities across the country. This commission should have the power to subpoena witnesses and compel provision of documentary evidence, and produce a public report. It should be empowered to make recommendations for criminal investigations in specific cases and for changes in laws, regulations, and policies that adversely affect the human rights of migrants.
Human Rights Watch also urges your government to take all necessary measures to end torture and ill-treatment of migrants in custody, and ensure that all allegations of mistreatment are promptly and thoroughly investigated and that all those responsible are appropriately prosecuted.
The Thai government should also amend articles 88 and 100 of the Labor Relations Act of 1975 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 Labor Organization Convention No. 87 (Freedom of Association).
Protection of the right to seek asylum, prevention of refoulement
The government should immediately ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Thailand hosts over 140,000 asylum seekers from Burma and has a strong responsibility to ensure their protection ratifications of the Convention and the Protocol and through meaningful and full cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok.
Human Rights Watch remains extremely concerned by the forced return of over 4600 Lao Hmong asylum seekers, including 158 Hmong "persons of concern" registered by UNHCR, to Laos in late December 2009. This episode remains a severe blot on Thailand's historical record of offering protection to asylum seekers, and the pledges of Laos to Thailand regarding this forced return remain unfulfilled. Thailand should work closely with the United States, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, and UNHCR to ensure that unfettered and continuous access is provided to this group of Hmong, and they are given the right to be screened and if eligible, resettled to a third country.
Thailand should also publicly state that it will not seek to forcibly return Burmese asylum seekers from camps on the Thai-Burma border following the anticipated elections in late 2010 in Burma.
We appreciate your attention to these issues. We would be pleased to discuss our concerns with you or members of your government.
H.E. Kasit Piromya, Minister of Foreign Affairs
H.E. Chaovarat Chanweerakul, Minister of Interior
H.E. Phaitoon Kaeothong, Minister of Labor
General Anupong Paochinda Commander, Royal Thai Army
Pol. Gen. Patheep Tanprasert, Acting National Police Chief
H.E. Mr. Norachit Sinhaseni Thai Ambassador to the UN