Prachatai English

Measures under the Emergency Decree to address the COVID-19 outbreak must conform to international law, says ICJ

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 18:36
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 06:36 PMInternational Commission of Jurists

As the Thai government moves to exercise its power under the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation B.E. 2548 (2005) (“Emergency Decree”) to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, the ICJ would like to reiterate its recommendations made since 2005 regarding lawful and proportionate exercise of this power in a manner consistent with Thailand's obligations under international law.

We urge the Thai Government to take these recommendations into consideration when imposing any measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

(1) A state of emergency used to justify any permissible derogation from obligations under international human rights law must meet the standard that an emergency “threatens the life of the nation”, as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Parliament should play an active role in providing oversight.

(2) Any limitations on or derogation from the exercise of internationally guaranteed rights should be limited in duration, strictly necessary, and proportionate to the specific threat posed.

(3) Derogating measures may only limit the scope of other rights to the extent strictly necessary to meet a threat to the life of the nation, but they may not suspend the applicability of any right in its entirety.

(4) This necessity must be continually re-assessed so that the derogating measures apply for the shortest time possible. Certain human rights, including the right to life, the right to life, the freedom from torture or ill-treatment, the essential elements of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy can never be restricted even in a state of emergency.

(5) It should be clearly stated which officials have responsibility for implementing the provisions of the emergency law and what their powers and responsibilities are.

(6)  All officials responsible for implementing the law should be explicitly stated to be under the authority of the ordinary law of Thailand, with no immunity for any criminal acts carried out in the exercise of their responsibilities.

(7) The decisions and actions of officials exercising powers under the emergency law should be subject to review by the courts.

Pick to PostInternational Commission of Jurists (ICJ)COVID-19coronavirusEmergency DecreeState of emergency
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[Infographics] COVID-19 in Numbers

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 16:44
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 04:44 PMPrachatai

Prachatai presents the statistics of the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand, as of 24 March 2020. 

As of 24 March, Thailand has a total of 827 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the highest number in Bangkok at 349 cases, followed by Nonthaburi, Chonburi, Pattani, and Samut Prakarn at 48, 30, 26, and 26 respectively.

Most of the confirmed cases in Thailand are Thai nationals (596 cases), followed by Chinese nationals at 26 cases. A small number of cases are from European countries and other ASEAN countries.

Amoung ASEAN countries, as of 23 March, Malaysia has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, followed by Thailand and Indonesia. However, there is no report of COVID-19 cases in Laos. 

As of 25 March, Thailand now has 934 cases of COVID-19. 70 people who contracted the virus have now been discharged from hospital, while 4 people have died. 

For Prachatai English's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here

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Lopburi artillery centre renamed Fort Bhumibol

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 15:57
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 03:57 PMPrachatai

On Tuesday (24 March), an announcement was posted in the Royal Gazette stating that King Vajiralongkorn has approved a name change for two military bases in Lopburi, which were previously named after revolutionary leaders, renaming them after his parents.

The former site of the Phraya Phahonphonpayuhasena statue at the Fort Phaholyothin Artillery Centre

The announcement states that the Artillery Centre in Lopburi, known as “Fort Phaholyothin”, has been renamed “Fort Bhumibol,” after King Bhumibol, King Vajiralongkorn’s father. 

The Artillery Brigade Camp in Tha Khae Subdistrict, Lopburi, also known as “Fort Phibulsonggram” is also renamed “Fort Sirikit” after Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother.

The announcement did not state a reason for the name change, but the former names of both military camps are those of two leaders of the revolution of 1932, which ended the absolute monarchy in Thailand and marked the beginning of democracy: Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena (Phot Phahonyothin) and Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.

Around 26 January 2020, the statue of Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena, which once stood in front of the officers’ club building at the Artillery Centre in Lopburi, went missing. An officer at the Artillery Centre said that the statue was removed the previous week, but it is unclear where it has been moved to.

A statue of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhran which once stood at the National Defence College of Thailand (NDC) in Bangkok also went missing in the same week.

Monuments dedicated to the 1932 revolution and other legacies of the People’s Party have been the targets in a ‘memory war’ aiming to erase the remembrance of the People’s Party. Historians have suggested that this process has been going on for decades, but it has become more intense since the 2006 coup.

Several legacies of the People’s Party have already been destroyed, including the old Supreme Court complex, the People’s Party Plaque, and the Constitution Defence Monument at Laksi. It is still unclear where the plaque and the Constitution Defence Monument have disappeared to.

NewsPeople's PartyIconoclasmMemory politicsPlaek PhibunsongkhramPhraya PhahonphonphayuhasenaPhot PhaholyothinNational Defence CollegeFort Phaholyothin Artillery CentreFort Phibulsonggram
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HRW calls for Cambodian authorities to stop 'abusing people’s free speech rights '

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 13:53
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 01:53 PMHuman Rights Watch

Cambodian authorities should stop arresting people for expressing concerns about COVID-19’s impact in Cambodia and claiming they are spreading so-called “fake news,” Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch has documented the arrests of 17 people since late January 2020 for sharing information about the coronavirus in Cambodia. These include four members or supporters of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), all of whom remain in pretrial detention. The authorities also arrested and questioned a 14-year-old girl who expressed fears on social media about rumors of positive COVID-19 cases at her school and in her province. Twelve were released from detention after signing pledges to not spread “fake news” in the future and to apologize.

“The Cambodian government is misusing the COVID-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government’s response,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should stop abusing people’s free speech rights and instead focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.”

As of March 22, 86 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the country. Prime Minister Hun Sen initially downplayed the risk of the virus spreading in Cambodia and on January 30 threatened to eject reporters or officials wearing face masks from a news conference. On March 17, he changed course and imposed a 30-day ban on arrivals from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, the United States, and Iran. However, joint military drills involving hundreds of Chinese soldiers proceeded as scheduled.

Hun Sen has so far failed to implement a public health campaign based on a strong disease surveillance system, develop the infrastructure for testing to detect cases and contain the outbreak, or even acknowledge the serious risk the virus carries for his population. The relatively low number of cases reported raises the question of whether sufficient tests are being conducted or necessary information is being shared with the people.

The 17 people arrested, among whom are 5 women, came from 7 provinces: Siem Reap, Pursat, Koh Kong, Phnom Penh, Takeo, Kampot, and Prey Veng. Those charged face penal code violations including incitement, conspiracy, and spreading false information.

In a March 9 speech, Hun Sen directly threatened to arrest Long Phary, a CNRP member in Prey Veng province. Phnom Penh police arrested him on March 18 and told him the arrest stemmed from a phone conversation in which Long Phary discussed rumors about the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The government did not say how it learned about the contents of a private phone call, but in the past, the government has engaged in unauthorized phone tapping of civil society activists and political opposition members. 

On March 17, Phnom Penh police arrested Ngin Khean, a 29-year-old CNRP youth member from Prey Veng province. The authorities alleged that he spread “fake news” on his Facebook page about the coronavirus. Ngin Khean is in pretrial detention at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison and has been charged with plotting and incitement to commit a felony.

On March 11, Siem Reap police arrested Phut Thona Lorn (also known as “Lorn Ly”), a local CNRP supporter. Prior to the arrest, Lorn Ly had shared two videos on his Facebook profile page in which the speaker said that the Cambodian government needed Vietnamese government assistance to learn about a foreign arrival to Cambodia who tested positive for the coronavirus. After the authorities accused Lorn Ly of spreading “fake news,” the Siem Reap provincial court charged him with spreading false information. The police said they had “monitored” Lorn Ly’s Facebook account for a week prior to the arrest but did not explain the legal basis for that surveillance. He is being held in pretrial detention at Siem Reap’s provincial prison.

On March 18, the Information Ministry claimed that 47 Facebook users and pages had spread misinformation regarding the virus, with the intention of causing fear in the country and damaging the government’s reputation. On March 20, Interior Minister Sar Kheng warned that anyone who spread misinformation about COVID-19 “to stir chaos” would face legal action.

Under international human rights law, the Cambodian government has an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds. Governments are responsible for providing information necessary for protecting and promoting rights, including the right to health. Permissible restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of public health may not put in jeopardy the right itself. A rights-respecting response to COVID-19 needs to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information about the virus, access to services, notice of service disruptions, and other aspects of the response to the outbreak is readily available and accessible to all.

The Cambodian government’s harassment of political opposition members and supporters in the context of COVID-19 is part of a broader campaign against civil society activists, independent journalists, and ordinary people who express their views both online and offline, Human Rights Watch said. The government has repeatedly said it would adopt a “fake news” law, a cybercrime law, and amendments to the media law – all of which are likely to curtail the right to freedom of expression and to facilitate arbitrary and unfettered surveillance of those deemed dissidents.

The latest repression builds on the government’s campaign of harassment and arrest of CNRP members and supporters since the Supreme Court dissolved the party on political grounds in November 2017. Between August and November 2019, the authorities arbitrarily arrested or detained more than 60 CNRP members on various charges. Many were charged with incitement and plotting a coup because they organized to receive exiled CNRP leaders on their planned return to Cambodia on November 9. While authorities released many of the CNRP members on bail, all criminal charges against them remain pending.

“It’s truly frightening that during a national crisis, the Cambodian government seems more interested in silencing online critics than undertaking a massive COVID-19 public information campaign,” Robertson said. “Foreign governments and donors promoting human rights should press the Cambodian government to adopt a rights-respecting approach in its response to the COVID-19 crisis, starting with upholding freedom of expression.”

Pick to PostHuman Rights WatchCambodiaCOVID-19coronavirusfreedom of speech
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Phattalung Court ordered compensation for abducted human right defender

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 12:28
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 12:28 PM protection International

On 23 March 2020 around 14.00, the Phattalung Provincial Court convicted five defendants who plead guilty of abducting Ekkachai Isarata, a human right defender from southern Thailand. The court ordered the five defendants to pay compensation to Ekkachai for 250,000 baht, reduced from 500,000 baht that Ekkachai originally requested to court, according to Community Resources Center (CRC) who represented him in court.

Ekkachai Isarata

The court convicted the defendants according to Article 309 Section 2 for illegal confinement. As the defendants agreed to make the compensation and confessed, the court sentenced the first defendant of 20,000-baht fine, but reduced to 6-month imprisonment and 10,000-baht fine. The second to fifth defendants were handed down 10,000-baht find, but reduced to 6-month imprisonment and 5,000-baht fine.

Their imprisonment sentences were however suspended for two years and the convicted will be on probation for 2 year. They would have to report themselves four times to authorities and do public services work for 18 hours. Ekkachai would receive the compensation after he filed request to the court and would be given compensation about 10 working days later.

Ekkachai Isarata is a HRD in the South, working on the ground with different communities to promote community rights and public participation in relation to large scale development projects and extractive industries. He is also Secretary General of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD).

On 5 August 2019, Ekkachai was abducted and threatened by a group of men affiliated with a local mafia/politician after he traveled to take part in a public hearing concerning a mining project in Phattalung Province. The participation and sharing of opinions during the process to review the application for licenses to operate projects which may affect the environment and health of the community including the public hearing, the submission of letter of petition, the holding of public discussions, or other peaceful expressions should be regarded as the exercise of the right to participate in the management, maintenance and utilization of natural resources and the environment upheld by the Constitution 2017’s Section 43. The right is key to the participatory preservation of the environment based on sustainable development which should be adhered to by public officers and private businesses. They are obliged to ensure such inclusive process is conducted freely without any impediment and intimidation in accordance to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs)

 

Earlier on 18 February, all five defendants come to the court together with their lawyer. They denied that all five defendants never know each other and they never knew Ekachai.

Ekkachai said that the mining company should show the responsibility by withdrawing the concession request from the mining project.

“I wanted to ask the Thai government how they would show their stance on the situation. If Thai authorities continue to dismiss the actions done by the corporations who were granted of the state concessions, such action would still happen”, said Ekkachai.

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, lawyer who represented Ekkachai and the Community Resource Center said that the intimidation and threats against the environmental HRDs are increasingly violent to the levels of taking away lives and liberty in southern Thailand. As the quarry mining has relative low cost of production but very high return, the corporations are willing to use dark side to make sure the project can proceed no matter what, she said.

“Thai authorities must make sure they fully take responsibility to ensure this would not happen again to anyone. No matter what such opposition against such large development projects would still continue, so we have to ensure that there would be no intimidation to HRDs. If development projects really follow human rights principles, then it would be able to continue and pose no problem to anyone,” said the lawyer.

Pick to PostEkkachai IsarataHuman right defenderPhattalung Provincial Courtabductionharassment
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Thai students in the UK struggle to get home due to new travel restrictions

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-23 17:31
Submitted on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 - 05:31 PMPrachatai

Thai students in the UK are struggling to return home after the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, announced that Thais returning from overseas will be required to present a Fit to Fly certificate and a certifying letter from their local Thai Embassy before being allowed to board a flight home.

People waiting in front of the Thai Embassy in London to get their required documents (Photo from Mookdapa)

The CAAT announcement, released on Thursday (19 March) and effective from Sunday (22 March) onwards, states that Thai nationals returning to Thailand will now be required to present a Fit to Fly health certificate and a letter issued by their local Thai Embassy, Consulate, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “certifying that the passenger is Thai national [sic] returning to Thailand.” The CAAT is also requiring airlines to deny boarding to anyone without these documents.

In the UK, as universities began switching to online classes due to the outbreak of COVID-19, many Thai students planning to return home have had to completely change their plans as they struggle to get the required documents.

Mookdapa, a Thai student in London, said that the announcement has caused a lot of confusion, as no procedures were in place initially to help students fulfil the requirements and it was unclear what they needed to do. Many students were also unable to see a general practitioner (GP) in time to get the documents for their flight. At least one student was unable to make an appointment at all, as their GP had stopped accepting face-to-face appointments due to the COVID-19 situation and therefore cannot issue a Fit to Fly certificate.

It could also take 5 – 7 working days, if they are able to get an appointment, to receive their certificate.  

The cost of getting a Fit to Fly certificate can be anywhere from 25 GBP to 65 GBP (around 900 – 2500 baht). One of Mookdapa’s friends, a Thai student in Bath, also told her that the local private GP informed them that a Fit to Fly certificate would cost 200 GBP (around 7700 baht).

The National Health Service (NHS) has recommended that people stay at home if they show symptoms of COVID-19, such as high fever or a continuous cough, and to not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy, or hospital.

As of 22 March, the UK has 5683 confirmed cases of COVID-19. So far, 281 patients have died. 

Many students with tickets for flights leaving on or after 20 March have chosen to cancel their original booking and buy a new ticket in order to return to Thailand before the CAAT requirements become effective. Some students with Thai Airways tickets were also told by the airline to wait on standby at the airport to see if they can leave on an earlier flight.

Mookdapa said that there was a gap between the CAAT’s announcement and the Embassy’s announcement that they will be bringing in doctors to issue the Fit to Fly Certificate and that no one knows what to do, which she thinks could be the reason many students decided to fly home as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Thai Embassy in London have put procedures in place to facilitate the issuing of these documents. Mookdapa said that Thai medical students and Thai doctors in London have been stationed at the Embassy to issue Fit to Fly certificates to Thai nationals trying to return to Thailand.

However, those who live far away from London will still need to see a GP and email their documents to the Embassy, who will send them a certifying letter by email, or travel to London to visit the Embassy in order to get the documents.

Mookdapa said that one of her friends had to queue up in front of the Embassy for around 4 hours to see a doctor. However, this student said that both the doctors and Embassy personnel have been very patient in answering questions and are trying their best.

On Saturday (21 March), the Embassy also switched to using the booking application QueQ in order to avoid having people queuing at the Embassy, which is also a transmission risk.

Not only is it difficult to get a Fit to Fly certificate in the UK, but the certificate itself also does not involve testing for COVID-19; it is merely a general health check to certify that the person is healthy enough to travel by plane.

However, some students have chosen to stay. A Thai student in London told Prachatai that he is choosing to remain in the UK as he has yet to complete his degree and is concerned that it will be difficult for him to return to the UK if he chooses to leave. He said that his university has closed and moved classes online, but the library remains open and other student services are reachable by e-mail. Some students are also planning on returning later in the year, as some universities still have examinations scheduled from May onwards that have yet to be cancelled.

Overseas Thai communities are also raising questions as to why the Thai government is not facilitating their return to Thailand, but instead allowing the CAAT to issue new requirements that are little short of barring Thai nationals from returning home – a possible violation of Section 39 of the Thai Constitution, which states that “no person of Thai nationality shall be deported or prohibited from entering the Kingdom.”

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Military conscripts face rampant harassment, beatings and sexual abuse

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-23 17:11
Submitted on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 - 05:11 PMAmnesty International

A new investigation by Amnesty International published today exposes how the Thai military routinely subject new conscripts to a barrage of beating, humiliation and sexual abuse that often amounts to torture.

The “head dip” is a form of abusive punishment often inflicted on conscripts. They are told to hold the position, often with their bare heads on hot concrete or tarmac, for up to half an hour. (Illustration by Wana Wanlayangkoon)

The organization’s new report, “We were just toys to them”, documents a widespread and long-standing pattern of abuse of new conscripts, including several incidents of rape.

“Abuses of new conscripts in the Thai military have long been an open secret. What our research shows is that such maltreatment is not the exception but the rule, and deliberately hushed within the military,” said Clare Algar, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research, Advocacy & Policy.

“Recruits described how sergeants and trainers brutally beat them with sticks and the butts of guns, sexually abused them and forced them to exercise until they fainted.”

“The full chain of command bears responsibility for this culture of violence and degradation. The Thai authorities must take immediate steps to stop these abusive and degrading practices before the upcoming annual military draft, as well as launch a commission of inquiry to investigate these crimes.”

Amnesty International conducted 26 interviews with former and serving conscripted soldiers and commanders, including officers. As well as physical punishments, current and former conscripts described a range of practices designed to humiliate, including being made to jump into septic tanks and forced to eat “like dogs” using only their mouths.

Reports of sexual abuse and humiliation were rampant. Interviewees described being forced by their commanders to masturbate and ejaculate in front of each other, and several described being sexually attacked or witnessing such attacks. Gay conscripts and those perceived to be gay described how they were routinely singled out for acts of sexual violence, harassment and discrimination.

Punishments by beatings, harmful exercises and humiliation

Conscripts described how they were often punished by being smacked, kicked and subjected to other types of beatings, with commanders using their hands, sticks, combat boots, helmets and, at times, the butts of their guns.

“Not a single day passed by without punishment,” one interviewee told Amnesty International. “Every time the trainers have an excuse to punish you: you’re not chanting loud enough, you’re too slow in the shower, you failed to follow orders strictly, you smoked.”

Another said: “A conscript [...] was once caught drinking [alcohol]. He was hit hard and I saw blood coming out of his mouth.”

Conscripts also described being made to perform physical exercises far beyond their endurance as a form of punishment. This included being forced to stand in positions which often led to fainting or injury.

According to one person, “three to four people would faint every day. They have a clinic where these people would be sent.” Another told Amnesty International: “People who usually fainted would be treated, then return, then have to exercise again and faint again.”

Sexual abuse, especially of gay conscripts

New recruits suffer rampant and routine sexual abuse by their commanders. A clear majority of conscripts told Amnesty that they had experienced or witnessed sexual abuse, or heard from its victims. Only two said they had not.

A form of collective sexual abuse called “the train” was cited by nine conscripts who trained in nine different provinces during five different training cycles. Normally taking place in the bathing area, the practice involves forcing conscripts, while naked, to hold each other’s penises and stand or walk in a column or a circle.

Eight conscripts, trained in four different cycles in camps located in eight different provinces, told Amnesty International that they and dozens of fellow conscripts were collectively forced by commanders to masturbate and ejaculate in public.

Conscripts who either identified or were perceived as gay are often targeted for sexual abuse because of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, including being forced to entertain and massage commanders, in situations that sometimes involve further sexual abuse.

Amnesty International documented three cases of rape, one case of attempted rape, one of simulated rape, and two other cases in which conscripts were coerced into providing “sexual favours” to commanders, which likely amounted to rape. Most – though not all – of the rape survivors self-identified or were described as gay.

“These young conscripts are exposed to commanders who inflict sexual abuse, including rape and other forms of torture,” said Clare Algar.

“These are serious crimes under Thai and international law and those responsible should face justice.”

Urgent action needed ahead of the annual draft

The military draft takes place at the start of April at local recruitment centres throughout Thailand. Young men are required to undergo physical and psychological fitness tests ahead of enlistment. Women are not subject to conscription.

In 2018, 104,734 young men were enlisted out of the 356,978 who were initially summoned. Most conscripts are recruited into the army, and start their service in two cycles annually, in April to May and October to November. On 13 March, the authorities announced that the military draft due to begin in early April has been delayed by several weeks as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

All initially undergo 10 weeks to three months of general basic training before joining specific units, which may or may not require additional training.

Need for immediate steps and a commission of inquiry

In a written response to Amnesty International during this research, Deputy Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshal Chalermchai Sri-saiyud stated that the military follow a policy of “treating new conscripts as family members and friends.”

Not only are these statements hard to reconcile with the report’s findings, previous public outcry over reports of abused conscripts – including suspicious deaths – have never led to effective remedial actions from the authorities.

In the immediate term, Amnesty International strongly recommends that the military take a number of preventive measures, including issuing orders to explicitly prohibit all types of abuse detailed in the report, ensuring that trainers are under constant supervision from higher-ranking commanders and instituting night inspections by officers.

To guarantee a full and transparent examination of the root causes of prevalent abuses, Amnesty International also urges the National Assembly of Thailand to establish a commission of inquiry (COI) to investigate and report on the treatment of conscripts in the Thai military, as well as propose measures necessary to end all abuse of conscripts and end the culture of dehumanisation of conscripts within the Thai military.

This COI should be independent, professional and well-resourced and have powers to interview whomever it deems necessary – including former and serving conscripts and commanders – and obtain relevant documents. “

Following the tragic mass shooting in Korat last month, commander-in-chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong conceded that the army needs to open up grievance channels for junior officers. To give meaning to these pledges, the Thai military would need to create a new unit that is authorised, trained and equipped to deal with soldiers’ complaints and act upon them,” said Clare Algar.

“It’s equally important that conscripts and other soldiers are allowed to complain safely and confidentially to the National Human Rights Commission. The authorities must encourage a culture that respects everyone’s dignity, irrespective of seniority, rank, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

 

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ASEAN MPs urge governments to put human rights at centre of COVID-19 response

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-23 16:45
Submitted on Mon, 23 Mar 2020 - 04:45 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

As governments in Southeast Asia increase measures in response to the spread of coronavirus, regional lawmakers have today urged authorities to ensure that human rights are at the forefront of their responses. 

"Now is a particularly challenging time for governments around the world to combat the virus, but it is more important than ever to ensure that people's rights are protected, not hindered," said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP), and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). "Measures that do not discriminate, and that are anchored in human rights, will not only protect individuals, but also directly contribute to fighting more effectively against the spread of the virus." 

Globally, more than 12,000 people have died from COVID-19 and 294,000 infections have been confirmed in at least 187 countries and territories, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO has classified the outbreak as a pandemic. 

APHR reminds governments that restrictions on rights for reasons of public health must only be strictly necessary and limited in duration, enacted in order to achieve a legitimate objective, and based on scientific evidence. Most of all, they must be non-discriminatory. 

"Emergency responses must not be used as a tool to crush dissent, excessively restrict freedom of expression or target particular groups or minorities,” Santiago said. 

The free flow of accurate information to all is crucial to ensuring the right to health. People must be able to know the real nature of the threats and how to protect themselves. Governments must be transparent, and provide reliable information that is accessible to all. 

"When some of our governments share disinformation and then target and criminalise civil society organisations, political activists and journalists for sharing information about the crisis, this is not only a violation of people’s rights, but it puts the whole population at greater risk,” said Santiago.  

"What’s more, now is not the time for governments to push through other legislation that may slip under the radar as people focus on responding to this pandemic. At times like this, people are relying on their governments to provide effective leadership, not manipulate the situation for political gain.” 

Crucial to combating the outbreak will also be ensuring that all communities can protect themselves and access effective treatment without discrimination, APHR said. Some people face additional difficulties in accessing healthcare or protecting themselves against the virus, including those living in poverty or with no access to water and sanitation, those undocumented or on the move such as migrants and refugees, those living in detention, or those with already pre-existing health conditions. 

"No-one should be left behind during this crisis. States must understand that only non-discriminatory measures that ensure the protection of all members of the population will be effective in combating the virus,” said Eva Sundari, a former Indonesian MP and APHR member. 

Some measures to combat the virus will also have a disproportionate impact on certain groups, most often those who are already in vulnerable situations. For instance, those relying on a daily wage for their work, self-isolation is not an option; if they don’t go to work, they cannot feed their families, APHR said. The closure of schools is also likely to have a disproportionate impact on women, who provide most of the care within families, potentially limiting their work opportunities. In addition, lockdowns can trigger incidents of domestic violence due to increased stress and difficult living conditions. 

"As is so often the case in times of crisis, it is those who are the most vulnerable who will suffer the most. In the midst of the crisis, governments must not ignore the potential devastating impact of the measures they take on some members of the population. They must mitigate against this, and ensure that they consider the needs of those most at risk,” Sundari added. 

Further, it is in difficult times that societies must come together to deal with challenges, APHR said.

"We are all in this together. Tolerance, solidarity and social cohesion are absolutely essential, and governments must not play into or exacerbate divisions.” said Santiago.  

Finally, APHR calls on ASEAN to provide effective leadership at this time, coming together to provide a collective response. 

"Wasn’t this the exact reason ASEAN was formed? To promote regional peace and cohesion, and to ensure human rights and social justice?” asked Santiago. “It’s time we saw coordinated direction from this region’s leaders, and we call on them to put together a cohesive response that its member states can use as guidance, and provide reassurances to the people in the region at this challenging time.” 

Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)COVID-19coronavirus
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Death Penalty Doesn’t End Violence Against Women

Prachatai English - Sun, 2020-03-22 01:00
Submitted on Sun, 22 Mar 2020 - 01:00 AMAmnesty International

Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Kumar Sharma and Akshay Thakur were executed today for the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in 2012. These executions mark a disheartening development in use of the death penalty in India. There is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a particular deterrent to crime, and its use will not eradicate violence against women in India, said Amnesty International India today.

“Since August 2015, India had not executed anyone and it is unfortunate that four men were executed today in the name of tackling violence against women. All too often lawmakers in India hold up the death penalty as a symbol of their resolve to tackle crime. But what is actually needed are effective, long-term solutions like prevention and protection mechanisms to reduce gender-based violence, improving investigations, prosecutions and support for victims’ families. Far-reaching procedural and institutional reforms are the need of the hour”, said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director, Amnesty International India.

“The death penalty is never the solution and today’s resumption of executions adds another dark stain to India’s human rights record. Indian courts have repeatedly found it to be applied arbitrarily and inconsistently. Even the Justice Verma Committee, whose recommendations were relied upon to reform laws on sexual assault and rape in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case, had opposed imposing the death penalty in cases of rape. India is among a minority of countries which continue to use the death penalty. 140 countries, more than two-thirds of the world’s countries, around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice”, said Avinash Kumar.

The 2012 Delhi gang rape case involved a rape and fatal assault that occurred on 16 December 2012 in New Delhi.  The murder victim was a 23-year-old woman who was beaten, gang raped and tortured in a private bus in which she was travelling with her friend.

The incident generated widespread national and international coverage. Since Indian law does not allow the press to publish a rape survivor’s name, the woman was widely known as Nirbhaya.

As a result of widespread public calls for improved security for women, in December 2012, a judicial committee was set up to study and take public suggestions for the best ways to amend laws to provide quicker investigation and prosecution of people suspected of sexual offences. After considering about 80,000 suggestions, the committee submitted a report which indicated that failures on the part of the government and police were the root cause behind crimes against women and contained recommendations on a wide range of issues that impact the safety of women and gender discrimination, ranging from laws on violence against women, child sexual abuse and so-called “honour killings”; to principles of sentencing, the creation of adequate safety measures for women, police reforms, and electoral reform. The report opposed punishing rape with the death penalty.

“We call on the government of India to immediately establish a moratorium on executions and commute all death sentences, as first critical steps towards abolishing the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”, said Avinash Kumar.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalAmnesty International Indiagender-based violencedeath penaltySexual assault
Categories: Prachatai English

ICJ submits recommendations to strengthen Thailand’s Anti-SLAPP Law

Prachatai English - Sun, 2020-03-22 00:48
Submitted on Sun, 22 Mar 2020 - 12:48 AMInternational Commission of Jurists

Today, the ICJ submitted recommendations on strengthening Thailand’s Anti-Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) law to the Ministry of Justice, which is tasked to conduct a “study on the guidelines for development of laws, regulations or measures to prevent SLAPP,” in accordance with Thailand’s First National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (2019 – 2022) (NAP).

Articles 161/1 and 165/2, which are intended to implement the NAP, entered into force on 20 February 2019 and 21 March 2019. They were introduced to end SLAPP lawsuits or similar forms of harassment through the legal process against any individuals, including human rights defenders. NAP also refers to the power of a public prosecutor under Article 21 of the Public Prosecution Organ and Public Prosecutors Act as another measure to prevent SLAPP lawsuits.

The use of SLAPPs and similar procedures frequently undermine human rights, including freedoms of expression, association and assembly and the right to political participation.  These are protected under Thailand’s Constitution and international human rights obligations.

In the letter, the ICJ expressed its concern that these laws were inadequate to prevent harassment through the legal process and SLAPP.  The ICJ therefore called for the adoption of a comprehensive stand-alone law, or the amendment of the Civil Procedure Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, to protect human rights defenders and others from harassment through the legal process.

Background

In an effort to give effect to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), on 29 October 2019, Thailand’s Cabinet approved and adopted the First National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, making Thailand the first country in Asia to adopt the stand-alone NAP.

The NAP sets out plans to be followed by public and private stakeholders to ensure that businesses – from small and medium-sized enterprises to multinational corporations – respect human rights, and that the government fulfils its duty to ensure remedy and reparation in cases of business-related human rights violations.

The Thai government has identified in the NAP its four key priority issues: (1) labour; (2) land, environment and natural resources; (3) human rights defenders; and (4) cross border investment and multi-national enterprises.

NAP has set out several action points aimed at protecting human rights defenders, including:

  • to study the guidelines for development of laws, regulations or measures to prevent SLAPP;
  • to push for the review, amendment and repeal of relevant laws, mechanisms and protocols to facilitate protection of human rights defenders, for example with respect to witness protection laws;
  • to determine or review policies, protocols, procedures and mechanisms to protect human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, and ensure their safe conditions of work, and to provide trainings for law enforcement agencies to ensure in practice these protection measures;
  • to provide trainings for law enforcement officers to widen their knowledge and understanding in enforcing laws on the protection of human rights, for example with respect to the organization of assemblies, and free expression pertaining to human rights, and preventing dishonest lawsuits that attack human rights defenders;
  • to provide trainings and enhance capacity of lawyers;
  • to urge businesses to ensure that human rights defenders will not be sued merely calling for rights of individuals to be protected;
  • to promote the use of reconciliation mechanisms at all levels of the justice system; and
  • to increase access to justice of human rights defenders.

However, NAP’s effectiveness is yet to be assessed because it does not have the status of a law, and is merely a resolution by the executive branch of the Thai government.  The NAP was adopted in the form of a Cabinet Resolution, which is considered a “by-law” in accordance with section 3 of the Act on Establishment of Administrative Courts and Administrative Court Procedure B.E. 2542 (1999).

Pick to PostInternational Commission of Jurists (ICJ)Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP)SLAPPAnti-SLAPP lawNational Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (2019 - 2022)NAP
Categories: Prachatai English

Bangkok schools, malls, places of entertainment to close for 22 days while COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Prachatai English - Sun, 2020-03-22 00:33
Submitted on Sun, 22 Mar 2020 - 12:33 AMPrachatai

Bangkok’s Governor announced today (21 March) that malls, educational institutions and places of entertainment are to close for 22 days, while the number of COVID-19 cases in Thailand has risen to 411.

Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang announced today that the following places will remain closed from 22 March - 12 April, in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Spas and massage parlours
  • Weight loss centres
  • Pet grooming services
  • Skating or rollerblading rinksBeauty parlours, including hairdressing servicesAmusement parks, bowling alleys, and game arcades
  • Internet cafes and game cafes
  • Golf courses and driving ranges
  • Swimming pools
  • Gyms
  • Boxing stadiums
  • Racecourses
  • Tattoo parlours
  • In-home childcare services
  • In-home elderly care services
  • Amulet trading markets
  • Cockfighting stadiums
  • Conference and exhibition centres
  • Theatres
  • All markets, with the exception of stalls selling groceries and other necessary food items
  • Department stores, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies
  • All education institutions, both public and private, including kindergartens, schools, universities, tutoring schools, religious schools, and vocational training centres.
  • Eat-in sections in restaurants and convenience stores

The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) has also announced that it will close from 22 March - 13 April. 

The Bangkok Metropolitan Agency is also asking for cooperation from private firms to allow employees to work from home, and is asking that government agencies reduce the number of people working together in an office, such as by having employees work in shifts or on alternate days. The BMA is also asking that people do not travel to crowded places and not hoard food and other necessary items as supermarkets and convenience stores remain open, while restaurants are requested to switch entirely to takeaway services.

Meawhile, this morning (21 March), the Ministry of Public Health reported 89 new cases of COVID-19.

56 of the new cases are connected to previous cases, including 32 who were visitors at boxing stadiums, 2 who visited an Ekkamai nightlife establishment, 6 who recently returned from a religious gathering in Malaysia, and 11 who were in close contact with individuals previously tested positive for the virus most of whom are in the three Deep South provinces.

The remaining 38 cases announced today are new, including 12 who arrived from overseas, 6 who work closely with tourists, and 20 who are still under investigation, including Nichaphat Chatchaipholrat, an actor who announced on her social media profiles yesterday that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

50 new cases were also announced yesterday (20 March), most of whom visited a boxing stadium or nightlife establishment. Most of this group are young, working people, with the exception of a six-moth-old baby who also tested positive for the virus.

The cases announced yesterday and today brought the total number of cases in Thailand to 411.

Sophon Iamsirithawon, Director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases at the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said that he expects the number of new cases will become smaller as the 14-day quarantine period for the boxing stadium cluster, and anyone who has been in the area should be safe if they have yet to show symptoms.

Nevertheless, anyone who is at risk of contracting the virus, along with anyone who has been in close contact with them, should still monitor themselves and reduce their social activities. Anyone who has been in close contact with individuals previously tested positive for the virus must observe a 14-day self-quarantine period starting from the last day they were in contact with the patient.

Ministry of Public Health Spokesperson Thaweesilp Wisanuyothin said that most of the new confirmed cases and young, working people who are not practicing social distancing and reducing their social activities, increase the risk of transmission.

Thaweesilp said that it is crucial that people reduce their social activities, keep a distance of at least 2 metres between each person, cancel unnecessary trips, not travel to crowded places, and work from home.

NewsCOVID-19coronaviruspublic healthMinistry of Public HealthDepartment of Disease ControlBangkok
Categories: Prachatai English

WHO calls for urgent, aggressive actions to combat COVID-19, as cases soar in South-East Asia Region

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-03-20 21:24
Submitted on Fri, 20 Mar 2020 - 09:24 PMWorld Health Organization

The World Health Organization today (17 March) called on Member states in South-East Asia Region to urgently scale-up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as confirmed cases cross 480, and the disease claims eight lives.

“The situation is evolving rapidly. We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

Eight of the 11 countries of WHO South-East Asia Region have confirmed cases of COVID-19. While Thailand has 177 confirmed cases, Indonesia 134, India 125, Sri Lanka 19, Maldives 13, Bangladesh 5, Nepal and Bhutan one each. These numbers are increasing quickly.*

“More clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed. While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19. We clearly need to do more, and urgently,” the Regional Director said.

Looking at the numbers, some countries are clearly heading towards community transmission of COVID-19, the Regional Director said, adding this should best be prevented.

Of critical importance are continued efforts to detect, test, treat, isolate and trace contacts.

Simple public health measures are critical. Practicing hand hygiene, covering your cough and sneeze, and practicing social distancing cannot be emphasized enough, Dr Khetrapal Singh said. “This alone has the potential to substantially reduce transmission.”

However, if community transmission does set in, countries would need to gear their responses to slow down transmission, as well as end outbreaks.

Emergency mechanism would then need to be further scaled up. A network of health facilities and hospitals for triage and surge would need to be activated to avoid overcrowding.

Self-initiated isolation by people with mild diseases would continue to be the most important community intervention to reduce the burden on health system and reduce virus transmission.

Testing of all suspected cases, symptomatic contacts of probable and confirmed cases, would still be needed.

“We need to be geared to respond to the evolving situation with the aim to stop transmission of COVID-19 at the earliest to minimize the impact of the virus that has gripped over 150 countries in a short span of time, causing substantial loss to health of people, societies, countries and economies. Urgent and aggressive measures are the need of the hour. We need to act now,” the Regional Director said.

*As of 20 March, the WHO reports that there are 917 cases of confirmed COVID-19 patients in the South-East Asia region and 31 deaths from the virus. Indonesia has the highest number of cases at 309. with 25 deaths, while Thailand ranks second with 322 cases and 1 death. Sri Lanka has 59 cases, Maldives has 13, Bangladesh has 17 and 1 death, while Nepal and Bhutan has one each.

Pick to PostWorld Health OrganizationWHOCOVID-19coronavirusSouth AsiaEast AsiaSoutheast Asiapublic health
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai govt plans nationwide prayer event while number of COVID-19 cases rises

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-03-20 00:42
Submitted on Fri, 20 Mar 2020 - 12:42 AMPrachatai

The Thai government is planning to have Buddhist temples nationwide perform a Buddhist prayer believed to expel diseases and misfortune from the country during their evening prayer routine to raise morale during the COVID-19 outbreak, while the Ministry of Public Health reports 60 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 272.

The current statistics for COVID-19 cases in Thailand: 60 new cases brought the total number to 272, of which 42 have been discharged from hospital. So far, only one person has died.

ThaiPBS and BBC Thai reported yesterday that the government is asking Buddhist temples nationwide, along with overseas Thai temples, to recite the Rattana Sutta, a prayer believed to expel diseases and misfortune from the country, in their evening prayer routine to raise morale during the outbreak of COVID-19, starting from 25 March onwards.

A live broadcast of the ceremony on Channel 11 (NBT) and Channel 9 is also planned for 16:00 on 25 March. Tewan Liptapanlop, Minister for the Office of the Prime Minister, said that the text of the prayer will be displayed on the screen during the broadcast and that the public should perform the ceremony at home. Anyone who would like to join an event at a temple will have to go through strict screening procedures before entering temple grounds and participants will have to sit 1 metre apart.

The Rattana Sutta is a protective prayer believed to have been used by the Buddha to dispel a plague, famine, and spirits in a town named Vesali. It is also said that the prayer was used in Thailand in the past during cholera outbreaks to dispel the disease.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health reported today (19 March) that 60 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed – the biggest jump in the number of cases to date – which brought the total number of confirmed cases in Thailand to 272.

Of the 60 new cases, 43 were connected to the individuals previously tested positive for the virus, while the other 17 were either travellers arriving from overseas or infected by unknown sources.

The Ministry of Public Health’s report said that the new cases included

  • 12 people who worked at or recently visited a boxing stadium;
  • 14 people who worked at or recently visited a Bangkok nightlife establishment;
  • 12 people who were in close contact with individuals previously tested positive for the virus;
  • 5 people who recently came back from a religious gathering in Malaysia;
  • 9 people recently returned from overseas;
  • 3 people who were in close contact with foreigners;
  • 1 personal trainer;
  • 4 people who are being further investigated, including 1 journalist.

42 of the total confirmed cases have been discharged from hospital, while 3 are reported to be in a critical condition.

Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, Director of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said that most of the recent confirmed cases were connected to either the boxing stadiums or a nightlife establishment in Bangkok’s Thonglor area.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, there are now at least 52 patients who worked at or visited the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium and the Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium and tested positive for the virus, and at least 57 connected to a nightlife establishment in Thonglor, including visitors, staff, and the owners.

The Ministry is asking anyone who visited the Lumpinee or Rajadamnern boxing stadiums between 6 – 8 March and those who visited a Bangkok nightlife establishment between 9 – 10 March to monitor themselves for 14 days, and if they show any symptoms, including fever, sore throat, nasal discharge, or difficulty breathing, they should go to a hospital.

Suwannachai explained that the boxing stadiums and nightlife establishments are all places in which a large gathering take place, and it can be difficult to trace the source of the outbreak. However, he said that the recent surge in cases is the result of public health officers bringing those in close contact with patients and other high-risk individuals in for testing, and that the Ministry is requiring these individuals to observe a 14-day self-quarantine period even though their test results came back negative.

Nevertheless, the DDC is insisting that the outbreak is still limited despite the surge in number of confirmed cases and most are connected to either the boxing stadiums or a nightlife establishment, as officials have been able to trace the source of the infection in 75% of cases, and asks the public not to panic.

The Ministry is also tightening screening measures at the Thai-Malaysian border, after Malaysia experienced a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases.

NewsCOVID-19coronaviruspublic healthPandemicDepartment of Disease ControlMinistry of Public HealthSuwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai
Categories: Prachatai English

Myanmar Army, AA must protect civilians in Rakhine conflict, MPs say

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-03-19 18:14
Submitted on Thu, 19 Mar 2020 - 06:14 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Regional lawmakers today urged Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army (AA) to protect civilians from ongoing fighting in Rakhine and Chin states, end all violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need. 

(Source: APHR)

The calls came amid an uptick in violence and civilian death and injuries in the area since early February. Over the weekend, media reports said that 21 villagers were killed and dozens injured when Tatmadaw fighter jets shot at villages in Paletwa Township, Chin State. Last week, three civilians were reportedly killed and 30 injured when Myanmar’s military launched attacks on two Rakhine townships in response to an AA ambush. 

“Haven’t the people of Rakhine State suffered enough? Recent years have brought nothing but pain and violence for the communities there,” said Maria Chin Abdullah, a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP), and member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “Civilians are not a target; both the Tatmadaw and the AA must immediately and strictly comply with international humanitarian and human rights law, and ensure that local residents are protected."

Abuses by both parties since the conflict escalated in January 2019 have been well-documented. Last year, Amnesty International reported that the "overwhelming majority" of abuses were being committed by the Tatmadaw, including indiscriminate firing in civilian areas, killing and injuring villagers, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, forced labour, and damaging properties. It also found that the AA, a mainly Buddhist group claiming to fight for the rights of the ethnic Rakhine, had committed abuses, including abductions and arbitrary deprivation of liberty. 

“Let’s not forget that it was only a few years ago that Tatmadaw soldiers committed unspeakable atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State. Today, those same troops are still committing abuses in total  impunity, in-part because they have never been held accountable for their actions,” said Abdullah.

"The Tatmadaw's conduct on the ground in Rakhine shows it has no fear of being held accountable in Myanmar for its abuses. It is yet another illustration that what is needed is international accountability, and the referral of the situation of Myanmar as a whole to the ICC," Abdullah said. 

On top of the violence, communities in Rakhine State are living under one of the world’s longest-running telecoms shutdowns, which has been in place in one form or another since June 2019. The blackout puts people already in a dangerous situation even more at risk, limiting their access to livelihoods and basic information, and also obstructs the work of human rights monitors, journalists, and aid organisations, APHR said. In February, APHR joined dozens of organisations in calling on the Myanmar government to immediately lift the restrictions. 

“Not only are people in Rakhine State targeted by the violence, unable to communicate among themselves and the outside world, but they are also restricted in accessing necessary humanitarian aid,” said Kunthida Rungruengkiat, a former MP of Thailand and APHR member. 

According to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, around 58,000 people have been displaced by the AA-Tatmadaw conflict, and there are reports of both parties arbitrarily restricting humanitarian aid.

"All parties, as well as authorities, must immediately allow unfettered humanitarian access to those in need in all areas affected by the violence, as well as access to the media and human rights monitors," Kunthida said. 

Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)ASEANMyanmarRakhine StateChin StateTatmadawArakan Armyhuman rights violation
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Uselessness detector

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-03-19 13:30
Submitted on Thu, 19 Mar 2020 - 01:30 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Uselessness detector

MultimediaStephffCOVID-19coronaviruspublic health
Categories: Prachatai English

Wound,Disability, and Crackdown on Protest in Thailand

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-03-19 13:21
Submitted on Thu, 19 Mar 2020 - 01:21 PMThisAble.Me x Prachatai

From 14 October 1973 and 6 October 1976 to the Red Shirts and the PDRC, each major demonstration in Thailand came with not only the will to change the country but also with loss. Some of the dead became heroes and some were treated like criminals, while those who did not die have to live with their wounds and disabilities. Some are compensated for it. Some have not received even an apology. 

ThisAble.Me and Prachatai talks to people who were injured and disabled in a political demonstration in a new documentary "Wound, Disability, and Crackdown on protests in Thailand." 

MultimediaThisAble.meDisabilitypeople with disabilities rightsPeople with disabilitiesPolitical demonstration
Categories: Prachatai English

HRW, OHCHR condemn Yala Administrative Centre bombing

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-03-19 12:04
Submitted on Thu, 19 Mar 2020 - 12:04 PMPrachatai

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have issued statements condemning the double bombing attack outside the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) in Yala on Tuesday (18 March).

The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) in Yala after the attack. The Centre's sign has been blown off. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

The bombing took place on Tuesday morning, when a small bomb detonated in front of the SBPAC as a meeting on the COVID-19 outbreak was taking place inside the Centre, attended by governors, public health officials, journalists, and police officers.

The first explosion caused no casualties but immediately drew onlookers and security personnel to the scene. The second, larger bomb hidden in a nearby pickup truck then detonated, injuring at least 25 people and damaging the administrative buildings and nearby parked vehicles.

The OHCHR statement said that, according to local sources, most of the injured were civilians, and among them were at least 10 women.

“A ‘double-tap’ bombing outside a government building has no aim but to cause the greatest loss of human life,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “In carrying out this attack during a meeting to address COVID-19, separatist insurgents have again demonstrated cruel disregard for the lives of all civilians.”

The HRW statement said that this is the first time the SBPAC, “an inter-governmental agency that coordinates civilian affairs, public administration, and humanitarian work” in the Deep South, has been attacked, and that the attack “appeared to be a response to a dialogue between the Thai government moderate BRN leaders in early March to establish the foundation for a peace process. Radical separatist elements considered the dialogue a tacit departure from the BRN’s goal to liberate Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces from the Thai state.”

HRW noted that international humanitarian law protects civilians and civilian structures from attack, and that deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians are considered war crimes.  “Government agencies not participating in military operations are civilian objects, and not subject to attack under the laws of war,” said the statement.

HRW also expressed concerns about the “violations of international human rights law and the laws of war by Thai government security forces and militias.” The statement said that murder, torture, and enforced disappearances “cannot be justified as reprisals for insurgent attacks” and that the situation “has been reinforced by an entrenched culture of impunity for human rights violations by officials” in the Deep South, as no officials have yet to be prosecuted for human rights abuse.

“The Thai government should thoroughly investigate the attack on the SBPAC and bring all those responsible to justice in compliance with human rights law,” Adams said. “As long as Thai security forces are shielded from criminal responsibility and long-held grievances in the ethnic Malay Muslim community are ignored, the insurgents will use the situation to try to justify unlawful attacks.”

Meanwhile the OHCHR also issued a statement condemning the attack. “The indiscriminate use of weapons targeting civilians is prohibited under international customary law and carrying out such attacks during a public health emergency is unconscionable,” said Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok. “We condemn this attack in the strongest terms and urge full respect for international legal obligations.”

NewsDeep SouthYalainsurgencyBRNHuman Rights WatchOHCHROffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human RightsInternational Humanitarian LawHuman right abuseimpunity
Categories: Prachatai English

Decoding Workers' Organizing

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-18 15:54
Submitted on Wed, 18 Mar 2020 - 03:54 PMPrachatai

Workers' organizing means consolidating of workers’ power to protect their rights and bargain over fair benefits with the management under the hierarchical management system that empowers to capitalist rather than workers.

We interview workers from six sectors, namely, domestic work, university, hospital, textile, sport equipment and bank. There are similarity and difference in terms of working conditions. All of the workers require labor organization in order to promote better living and freedom according to democratic principles. Therefore, trade unionizing is still important regardless of times.

  • Domestic worker. Ms. Malee Sorblec is working in the employer’s house. Domestic work is in the care sector which is growing. However, domestic workers are treated poorly and with no respect. Their status is lower than factory workers. As a result, they organize a labor group for both Thai and migrant workers to restore dignity and to be free from abuse. They are demanding written employment contract.
  • University worker. Mr. Pinyapan Potjanalawan is a university lecturer. Although the professional lecturers in public universities have high salary due to privatizing and leaving the state bureaucracy, they are in a trap of short-term employment contract causing the lack of job security and bargaining power against the executives and educational quality assessors. They do not have a union because of lack of class consciousness and being too individualistic.
  • Hospital worker. Ms. Punyisa Watchala-anan is a secretary of Nurses Union of Thailand. Nurses are being treated differently. They previously were under the state bureaucracy providing comprehensive welfare benefits. After privatization of public affairs, public hospitals have reduced labor standards and costs, resulting in poor quality of medical services for the nurses themselves. This situation has stimulated nurses to organize their union and demand pay raise, more benefits, better working environment and promotion in the management system.
  • Sport equipment maker. Ms. Wilaivan Ritthiron, former-president of Mikasa Thailand, worked for Mikasa Industries Company Thailand and now has been unfairly dismissed because she was part of union organizing and demanding of pay raise, more benefits, fair management, being safe and free from sexual harassment, which is one of key issues of campaigning for women’s rights on International Women's Day.
  • Textile worker. Mr. Sia Jampatong is the president of Phiphatsamphan Textile Labor Union and Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation Thailand, of which had long history of workers’ struggles. The unions could lever issues up from the distinct specific fight to the struggle for democracy and labor politics in which workers directly participate in state policy making and creating a universal welfare state because Thai politics should not be monopolized by the capitalists and elites, as it were.
  • Bank worker. Mr. Withit Sirisuwan, president of Siam Commercial Bank Labour Union reflects impacts of production system changes caused by using advanced technology such as digital platforms. The union agrees with the management to adjust and change original job positions into new job ones for the survival of banking business. The trade union, consequently, plays an important role in policy negotiations with against the management to ensure that advanced production will serve customers and workers as well.

Multimedialabour rightsLabour organizationTrade union
Categories: Prachatai English

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Thailand now at 177; Bangkok schools to close for 14 days

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-03-17 23:51
Submitted on Tue, 17 Mar 2020 - 11:51 PMPrachatai

The number of COVID-19 cases in Thailand rose to 177 over the past three days, while authorities insist the country has yet to reach Stage 3 of the pandemic. Meanwhile, universities are closing or moving classes online, Buriram has announced a provincial lockdown, and the cabinet issued a resolution on Tuesday (17 March) stating that all Bangkok Metropolitan Region educational institutions and places of entertainment are to close for 14 days.

On Sunday (15 March), the Ministry of Public Health held a press conference where it was announced that it has found 32 more confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The new patients included people who caught the virus at pubs and boxing stadiums, people who were in contact with foreigners including immigration police and Suvarnabhumi Airport staff, people who have returned from overseas, and people who came in contact with Patient 51, a restaurant owner who recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Sukhum Kanchanapimai, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Public Health, said that the Ministry has always been recommending that people cancel overseas trips, but many still travel and do not self-isolate when they return, causing the virus to spread in places where large numbers of people gather. He also asked that people avoid crowded places such as pubs, restaurants, and boxing stadiums.

Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, Director of the Department of Disease Control, said that the Ministry of Public Health has already notified the Bangkok Health Department to have the locations of the spread closed and sanitized. 

In a Monday afternoon (16 March) press conference, the Ministry of Health announced 33 more cases, the largest daily jump since the outbreak began, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in Thailand to 147.

16 of these cases came into contact with confirmed patients and 17 were those who returned from overseas or worked closely with foreigners.

Meanwhile, 83 exchange students who returned from Italy on 15 March are in quarantine, with 77 staying at the Sattahip Naval Base and 6 being admitted to hospitals as they presented with a fever. The group will be in quarantine for 14 days.

30 more confirmed cases were later announced on Tuesday (17 March), bringing the total number of cases to 177. Of these confirmed cases, 41 have been released from hospital. So far, only one person has died.

Nevertheless, the authorities insisted that Thailand is still in Stage 2 of the pandemic – limited local transmission that can be traced to sources – and has yet to enter Stage 3, which involves community transmission in which sources cannot be traced.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said at Monday’s press conference that the criteria and definition of each stage will have to be determined by the Thai authorities themselves, and that the government will only announce that the pandemic has reached Stage 3 when (1) the virus is being spread among Thai people and the source cannot be traced, (2) a large group of people is infected, and (3) outbreaks are appearing in many locations and cannot be controlled.

Public Health Permanent Secretary Sukhum also said on Tuesday that most of the cases in Thailand happens in clusters and the source of the spread can be traced, which confirmed that Thailand is still in Stage 2 of the pandemic, but he recommended social distancing as a measure of preventing the spread of the virus. People should stay apart from each other, stop traveling to crowded places, cancel social functions, work from home, and wash their hands regularly. Anyone who is showing symptoms should wear face masks and go to a hospital.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has added Thailand to its list of countries with a Level 3 warning, alongside 19 other Asian countries, meaning that passengers traveling from Thailand to Taiwan must now undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Singapore, on the other hand, is requiring all travelers with recent travel history of ASEAN countries within the last 14 days will be given a 14-day “Stay-Home Notice” and must provide proof of the place where they will be staying for the 14 days period. Short-term visitors who are ASEAN nationals must submit health information to Singapore’s Ministry of Health before their intended date of travel. Visitors arriving “without the necessary approval, or proof of the place where they will serve the 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN), or do not meet prevailing entry requirements, will be denied entry into Singapore.”

Schools, places of entertainment to close for 14 days

As the number of confirmed cases rises, the cabinet issued a resolution on Tuesday that all schools, universities, and tutoring schools in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) are to close from 18 – 31 March, along with places of entertainment, such as massage parlors, pubs, and theatres. Boxing stadiums, sport stadiums, and racecourses are to close until further notice.

So far, House Samyan, Major Cineplex, and SF Cinema have announced that they will be closing all of their BMR locations from 18 – 31 March.

The cabinet is also asking the public to reduce the number of activities which require a large number of people to gather in the same venue, including concerts, sport tournaments, or religious gatherings, as there is a high risk of the virus spreading in such places.

Universities closing or moving online

Prior to the release of the cabinet resolution, universities are already closing or turning to online teaching. Kasetsart University announced earlier today (16 March) that its Bangkhen campus will close from today until 22 March, and that the university already has a protocol in place to disinfect all surfaces and clean every building to prevent the spread of the disease.

Chulalongkorn University has also announced that all teaching will be moved online, as the disease is now widespread and a staff member at the Faculty of Law tested positive for COVID-19. The Faculty itself previously announced that it was closing between 16 – 22 March to disinfect and clean all surfaces of its two buildings and that it was cancelling all classes both online and in person and all other activities.

The university also announced that its staff may now work from home, and those who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 may take 14 days off without it being counted as leave.

Thammasat University announced on 15 March that, due to the spread of the virus and as the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global pandemic, all classes at both the Tha Prachan and Rangsit campuses will be cancelled between 16 – 22 March, and for its faculties and staff to prepare for online teaching before classes resume on 23 March.

The King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang announced that teaching for the current semester must be completed by Sunday (22 March) and that any other classes that need to take place after that date can be done online. It also announced that faculties must organize their own examinations and may consider changing the examination method to reports or assignments.

The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce announced that all classes will be moved online from tomorrow afterwards, while university offices remain open but with reduced opening hours.

Srinakharinwirot University has cancelled all classes at its Prasarnmit, Ongkharak, Sa Kaew, and Tak campuses between 17 – 22 March. Classes will resume on 23 March either online or in any other format that does not require students to attend class in person.

The Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University was closed between 13 – 16 March in order to sanitize the entire campus, while requiring all departments to switch to online teaching and to re-consider the format of their practical classes. 

Due to both the spread of COVID-19 and the worsening smog situation in Chiang Rai and other northern provinces, Mae Fah Luang University is cancelling classes from 16 March – 19 April, and is also cancelling all mid-term examinations scheduled for 23 – 28 March.

Ramkhamhaeng University and the Suranaree University of Technology are also moving their classes online, while Bangkok University is closing between 14 – 27 March to sanitize its campuses after it was found that one of its students is suspected of having contracted the virus, and is requiring all students and staff who have been in close contact with said student to “undergo the COVID-19 screening test and necessary medical treatment” and to self-quarantine for 14 days.  

After a student tested positive for COVID-19, Mahidol University closed the parts of the campus visited by the student for cleaning and sanitization, and is requiring those who came in close contact with the student to come in for testing at its Faculty of Medicine and to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The KIS International School in Bangkok has also announced on 15 March that it is implementing a 14-day school closure between 16 – 30 March, after the school was informed that a student’s parent has been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The school will switch to online teaching on 17 March and will re-open on 31 March.

Buriram becomes the first province to announce lockdown

Thatchakorn Hatthathayakul, Buriram’s Provincial Governor, using his authority under the 2015 Communicable Disease Act, has ordered a provincial lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, even though the province has no confirmed cases so far.

All people entering Buriram will now be required to go through strict screening measures and self-isolate for 14 days. They will be checked up on by authorities and volunteers, and those with fevers will be admitted to hospitals. All activities in which more than 50 people gather in one venue are also banned for the next 30 days.

Songkran holiday postponed

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu also announced during the Monday afternoon (16 March) press conference that 13 – 15 April are no longer public holidays this year, in order to stop the surge in the number of travellers as people return to their hometown during the Songkran holidays and to prevent asymptomatic carriers from taking the virus out of Bangkok and spreading it to other provinces. Crowded places such as public transportation centres or other gathering places are also considered a risk.

He also said that the government will be making up for the long holiday and new dates will be announced in advance. The Ministry of Transport have ordered all of its agencies, including the State Railway of Thailand, the Transport Company Limited, and Thai Airways to allow all passengers with bookings during the Songkran period to change their bookings or apply for a refund without any additional fee.

However, the authorities have yet to mention how the government might compensate the businesses that might be effected by any of these measures, or said businesses’ employees.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha also insisted during Tuesday’s press conference that these measures do not mean a national or provincial lockdown.

The national borders will remain open, but travelers from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Hong Kong, and Taiwan will now be required to have a medical certificate, which must not be older than 3 days, and must also consent to using an unspecified government-issued tracking application.

NewsCOVID-19coronaviruspublic healthPandemic
Categories: Prachatai English

FORUM-ASIA calls for the Philippines' government to respect Fundamental Rights amidst Community Quarantines

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-03-17 20:12
Submitted on Tue, 17 Mar 2020 - 08:12 PMFORUM-ASIA

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) urges the government of the Philippines to respect the fundamental rights of its people in the ‘community quarantine’ enforced in Metro Manila, and in other cities and provinces in the country.

FORUM-ASIA expresses alarm at the disproportionate response to Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), particularly the increased police and military presence in these areas, and urges the government to prevent the abuse and violation of human rights by the police, military or other state authorities.

Following a recorded increase in cases of COVID-19, President Duterte declared a month-long community quarantine for Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region as a whole, on 12 March 2020. From 15 March 2020 to 14 April 2020, travel to and from Metro Manila will be restricted, along with air, land and sea travel. The police and the military have set up entry checkpoints to Metro Manila. Exceptions on entry are provided to employees working in the region, and those travelling for medical or humanitarian reasons.

Community quarantines were subsequently announced for the Provinces of Iloilo and Ilocos Norte, Davao City, Cebu City, and Iligan City. Local Governments within the quarantined areas have started imposing a 5:00 pm to 8:00 am curfew.

While the President’s Office has claimed that these measures are not a cover for ‘martial law’, and that police and military presence are needed to enforce travel restrictions, civil society organisations are wary about the potential use of force and abuse of power in implementing these measures. The country’s police-led ‘war on drugs’, has led to tens of thousands of deaths and the gross abuse of power by the police. Human rights organisations seeking accountability for extrajudicial killings and other violations related to the ‘war on drugs’, continue to face reprisals, including judicial harassment and violence.

The Secretary of Justice’s assurances that individuals cannot be arrested for violating curfews, unless they ‘assault, slander or bribe’ law enforcement agents, fails to provide any real form of reassurance. Since 2016, the police have killed suspected drug users, who supposedly ‘fought back’, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Independent investigations into these deaths have not been conducted, while the vast majority of the police officers involved have not faced criminal nor administrative sanctions.

With this lack of accountability in the police sector, there are no checks or balances to prevent abuse of power. The military has, likewise, been implicated in allegations of torture of suspected terrorists, and of violations against indigenous communities. On the first day of the quarantine, several individuals have already raised reports of corruption and intimidation by the police.

As the country grapples with COVID-19, the Government must promote a response necessary and proportional to the threat faced, while ensuring respect for human rights. An increased military and police presence, and a lack of transparency in their operations, will only lead to the further abrogation of people’s fundamental rights. FORUM-ASIA reiterates the message of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet that human rights and dignity must be front and centre to any response to the pandemic.

FORUM-ASIA urges the Government of the Philippines to:

  • Prioritise a public health approach and evidence-based response over a police and military-enforced community quarantine, through investing in public health services, and ensuring access to medical services, particularly to the most vulnerable groups;
  • Provide clear and concrete guidelines on the community quarantine, including on engagement between the security sector and the public, and ensure clear lines of accountability for any abuse of power;
  • Ensure a comprehensive and regular flow of updates, including on government actions; and
  • Guarantee open and safe spaces for sharing grievances and complaints against the security sector or other state actors, and provide transparent investigations for these complaints.
Pick to PostFORUM-ASIAThe PhilippinesCOVID-19coronavirusCommunity lockdownpublic healthMetro Manilahuman rights violation
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