Thailand’s general election set for May 14

(BANGKOK, May 11, 2023)–Political parties competing in Thailand’s 2023 General Elections should commit to upholding human rights for all people in the country, said Fortify Rights today. In an open letter to Thailand’s 67 political parties published today, Fortify Rights highlights concerns regarding violations against refugees, restrictions on the right to marry for LGBTI+ couples, and judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Thailand.

“Thai political parties fielding candidates for election should make genuine commitments to address these human rights violations,” said Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, Thailand Human Rights Associate of Fortify Rights. “To truly function as a democratic country, Thailand’s future elected government needs to improve the country’s record on key human rights issues, including refugee rights, rights for LGBTI+ people, and protections for human rights defenders.”

Following the publication of the Royal Decree Dissolving the House of Representatives B.E. 2566 on March 20, the Election Commission of Thailand announced May 14, 2023 as the general election day.

“Ahead of Thailand’s general election on May 14, 2023, we are writing to request that you and your party commit to upholding human rights for all people in Thailand,” Fortify Rights said in its open letter to all of Thailand’s 67 political parties.

Thailand has signed several international covenants, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, Thai authorities regularly violate rights guaranteed under international law, particularly the rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees, LGBTI+ persons, and human rights defenders.

As part of the letter, Fortify Rights included three “Briefing Notes” providing an overview of select human rights issues monitored by the organization and recommendations for solutions. These briefing notes cover: 1) the ongoing arbitrary detention and forced return of refugees, 2) the lack of marriage equality and discrimination against LGBTI+ people, and 3) the judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Thailand.

According to the Thai government, as of March 3, 2023, more than 23,000 men, women, and children fled to Thailand to escape targeted attacks and violence in Myanmar following the February 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. This new population of refugees from Myanmar is distinct from the population of more than 90,000 protracted refugees from Myanmar living in nine camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border for decades.

Despite not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, Thailand has a legal obligation under both customary international law and domestic law to prevent the forced return or refoulement of any person to a country where they may face serious human rights violations. The enactment of anti-torture legislation in October 2022 codified the prohibition against refoulement under Thai law. However, Fortify Rights continues to document the forced return of refugees in Thailand.

Thai authorities should end the practice of detaining refugees solely on the basis of their immigration status and urgently implement the screening mechanisms to identify and provide legal status to refugees and to prevent refoulements, said Fortify Rights today.

On the rights of LGBTI+ individuals, after years of deliberation, Thailand’s House of Representatives approved the marriage equality bill, or the Act for Amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code as it is formally known. If enacted, the bill would replace the terms “husband” and “wife” with the term “spouse” in Section 1448 of Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code.

Although the bill passed its first reading in the House of Representatives on June 15, 2022, it failed to progress and eventually lapsed after a series of delays in the legislative process followed by the closure of parliament at the end of the regular session on March 1, 2023.

Thailand must prioritize marriage equality by reintroducing to parliament and instructing parliamentarians to approve without delay the marriage equality bill in all its readings, said Fortify Rights.

Thailand is also failing to protect human rights defenders from judicial harassment. Criminal defamation laws are particularly used to target, harass, and attempt to silence human rights defenders. In 2018, the National Legislative Assembly amended the Criminal Procedural Code to allow courts to dismiss and reject complaints filed in bad faith or by misrepresenting facts to harass or take advantage of a defendant. However, Thai courts have allowed SLAPP suits to proceed.

Thailand should urgently decriminalize defamation, urgently enact the anti-judicial harassment legislation, and drop unwarranted charges against human rights defenders and others to prevent judicial harassment, said Fortify Rights.

“The results of this upcoming election will shape the direction of human rights in Thailand,” said Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn. “Once elected, the future government should take immediate steps to rectify past violations and implement policies to prevent future violations.”

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