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Thai govt slammed for 'evading scrutiny of rights violations'

Rights group urges Thailand to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights'
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk listens to questions from journalists during a press conference at the United Nations Offices in Putrajaya on June 4.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk listens to questions from journalists during a press conference at the United Nations Offices in Putrajaya on June 4. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 07, 2024 09:26 AM GMT
Updated: June 07, 2024 09:55 AM GMT

A global rights body has accused Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his administration of evading a top UN official to avoid scrutiny of the country’s dismal rights record.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a press statement on June 6 alleged that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk’s visit to the national capital Bangkok on June 5 and 6 was downplayed as a “stopover.”

“Türk’s visit was consequentially downgraded from an official mission to a ‘stopover,’ unlike with other regional destinations,” HRW said.

Türk concluded his three-day visit to Malaysia on June 4, during which he met government leaders and publicly commented on the human rights situation in the country.

He urged the Malaysian government to reinstate access to detention facilities for national monitoring bodies and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Benar News reported.

Thavisin, Foreign Minister Maris Sangiampongsa, and other top officials “avoiding Türk won’t make Thailand’s human rights problems disappear,” HRW said.

“Nor will it address the many concerns UN member countries have about rights abuses in Thailand, including during Thailand’s most recent human rights assessment by the UN Human Rights Council at Thailand’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR),” the global rights body emphasized.

It further pointed out that the Thai courts had reportedly prosecuted at least 1,954 people, including 286 children, since the start of pro-democracy protests in July 2020. Those prosecuted were only “exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly,” HRW said.

The rights group also pointed out the recent death of anti-monarchy activist Netiporn Sanesangkhom who had started a hunger strike in January while in pre-trial detention on lèse-majesté (royal defamation) charges.

Sanesangkhom’s death has drawn “global attention to the Thai government’s strict enforcement of this law,” which infringes on free expression and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, HRW said.

Reportedly, more than 270 people have been prosecuted on lèse-majesté charges related to either the democracy protests or social media comments, and some have been charged with vague computer-related crimes and sedition laws.

HRW said that even former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, is facing lèse-majesté charges for media comments he gave in 2015.

On May 29, Thailand’s attorney general announced his decision to indict Shinawatra. He is slated to appear before a Thai court on June 18 this year, NBC News reported.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners have repeatedly opposed amnesty for people accused of lèse-majesté or revisions to the law to align with international human rights standards, HRW said.

In January, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the opposition Move Forward Party’s move to amend the lèse-majesté law amounted to treason, which could result in the party’s dissolution and its leaders banned from politics.

Thailand is campaigning for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for 2025-2027.

HRW urged the Thai government to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights... This means actually addressing human rights issues, not making empty promises and evading scrutiny from the UN human rights system."

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