Commit to Full Compliance with Rights Treaty During U.N. Review

(Bangkok, March 8, 2017)—The Government of Thailand should make concrete and genuine commitments to address ongoing human rights violations during its upcoming review by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Fortify Rights said today. The Thai authorities have yet to fully comply with their international legal obligations to protect civil and political rights, according to a report released today by Fortify Rights.

“There are Thai officials working to advance human rights here, but ongoing violations and impunity overshadow their efforts,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Thailand should get serious about addressing all violations and protecting rights.”

While the 38-page report, A Work in Progress: Thailand’s Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, notes progress in certain areas of human rights in Thailand, it also documents killings that took place with impunity, arbitrary detentions, unchecked attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, violations of free speech and assembly, human trafficking on an epidemic scale, and the forced return and other serious violations against refugees.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee—an 18-member body of independent experts elected by U.N. member states to monitor treaty implementation—is scheduled to review Thailand’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) from March 13 to 14, 2017 in Geneva. The ICCPR is a core instrument of international human rights law. As a state party to the ICCPR since 1996, Thailand is legally bound to uphold and implement its provisions. 

The new report considers Thailand’s implementation of the ICCPR to date and its responses to issues already raised by the U.N. Human Rights Committee. The report draws on research conducted by Fortify Rights between 2014 and 2017, including in-depth testimony from eyewitnesses and survivors of human rights violations in Thailand. Fortify Rights also monitored trials in Thai courts and analyzed official government, court, and U.N. documents.

Thailand has developed strategies and legislation to improve human rights protections in Thailand, according to the report. For example, Thailand committed unprecedented resources to combat human trafficking and included the protection of human rights defenders in its draft fourth National Plan of Action on Human Rights.

However, the report explains how orders issued by the Thai Government in recent years have undermined human rights protections and led to human rights violations. For example, orders granting power to military officers to summon, arrest and detain, interrogate, search and seize, and perform “any other duties,” appear to contravene both Thailand’s domestic law and the ICCPR.

Moreover, despite Thailand’s repeated commitments to protect human rights defenders, Fortify Rights documented continued attacks and incidents of harassment perpetrated against human rights defenders and community leaders in the country, often with impunity and without adequate protection from Thai authorities.

Fortify Rights documented physical attacks against human rights defenders by non-state actors or unknown assailants with impunity. Fortify Rights also documented the use of defamation suits and other legal actions by private companies and Thai authorities against community leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists for exercising their rights and basic freedoms. For instance, members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG) and the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SPFT)—community-based groups engaged in activities to defend environmental and land rights in Thailand—have faced violent attacks and criminal charges. The Thai military subjected members of both groups to “attitude adjustment” programs.

“Human rights defenders play a critical role in rights-respecting societies,” said Amy Smith. “Rights defenders should be protected and championed, not harassed and imprisoned.” 

The report also explains the complicity of Thai officials in facilitating an epidemic of human trafficking in recent years—a crime that constitutes slavery under international law. Thai authorities are now prosecuting more than 100 alleged traffickers, including military and government officials in the country’s largest-ever human trafficking trial. However, survivor testimonies collected by Fortify Rights indicate that the scale of trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladesh nationals through Thailand from 2012 to 2015, in terms of victims and perpetrators, was far greater than suggested by the trial.

Moreover, witnesses and investigators involved in the trafficking trial faced unchecked threats and intimidation, raising questions about the trial and prompting some witnesses and the chief police investigator to flee the country. Fortify Rights monitored the trial since March 2016. A verdict is expected in July this year.

Hundreds of Rohingya survivors of human trafficking and refugees, in the meantime, continue to languish in indefinite detention. Fortify Rights also documented other serious human rights violations against refugees in Thailand, including the forced return Rohingya from Myanmar and Lao Hmong from Lao PDR —a violation that contravenes both customary international law and the ICCPR.

“Human rights are a work in progress in Thailand,” said Amy Smith. “Now is the time for Thailand to remedy past violations and fortify the future of human rights in the country.”

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