Researchers collecting news reports of suicide cases have found 38 cases related to Covid-19 control policies in April. The cases were related to economic pressures stemming from public health policies in response to the virus. More immediate help, deregulation and a properly managed resumption of economic activity are needed.
Passengers on a bus in Bangkok (File Photo)
On 24 April, a statement on research on the urban poor was released showing that 38 suicide or attempted suicide cases during 1-21 April were related to the hardships imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The research by 7 academics and funded by Thailand Science Research and Innovation (TSRI) states that the combination of strict public health policies such as travel restrictions and shutting businesses, and insufficient economic safety net measures are causing people to take their own lives.
The researchers collected the figures from news reports. The average age is 40, and of the 38 cases, 27 are men and 11 are women. 35 are employees or self-employed and 3 are employers. 10 attempted suicide but survived.
“From the facts …, it can be observed that those who are severely affected by state policies and measures are employees and the self-employed and especially the urban poor who were made jobless but who have not received timely help or remedial action from the state. Small-scale entrepreneurs have also been severely affected.
“Also, most suicide cases are those of working age who have an important role as the main support responsible for the expenses of their families. Thus, when they face immediate unemployment or having no work, it leads to tremendous pressure on both them and their families.” statement says.
The researchers suggest that government should be aware of the suicide situation aggravated by inefficient and insufficient social security policies. It should set up an emergency hotline for those in dire situations so that the authorities can grant immediate help.
The government also needs to loosen the availability of the ‘rao mai ting kan’ (Nobody will be left behind) fund, the ad-hoc financial aid of 5,000 baht per month, so that the money is delivered to affected people more inclusively and promptly.
The government needs to reopen some economic activities while keeping disease control management in place. Resuming activities like markets and small-to-medium sized businesses will allow people and their families to make a living. Researchers believe that systematic and safe management can be achieved with the cooperation of the state, the private sector and civil society.
Lastly, government must refrain from implementing laws and measures that cause people needless suffering, such as creating difficulties for philanthropists giving away food, arresting homeless people for being outside during the curfew or imposing different standards for similar offences.
“It is certain that dealing with Covid-19 is something that is unavoidably necessary. But at the same time, the use of measures to handle this problem ought to be aimed at enabling everyone to overcome the problem. The government should not use policies, laws or measures so intensively that they create problems and difficulties for people to the point where they are unable to make as living or find income to support themselves and their families,” the researchers suggest.
The text in Thai of the researchers’ statement can be found at https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87356NewssuicideCOVID-19inequalitySource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87356
Parents of two victims of the 2010 red-shirt crackdown have submitted a petition to the Army Commander to halt military procurement for 3 years, prohibit officers from benefitting from excessive welfare and income, and contribute more to the state’s efforts to control Covid-19 and meet the public’s needs.
Left to right: Pansak and Phayao read the petition, then submit it along with a blue piggy bank through an army officer
On 24 April, Phayao Akhad and Pansak Srithep, parents of two victims of the 2010 state-led crackdown on the Red Shirt protests, went to the Royal Thai Army Headquarters to submit a petition to army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong, calling for the military to give budget priority to Covid-19 control and relief policies.
Pansak read out the petition, saying that the ongoing army procurements are hampering state attempts to control the pandemic and meet dire public needs at a time of no imminent military threat.
The petition calls for a 3-year halt to procurement and the return of the budget to the state to be reallocated for medical procurement and relief funds.
The petition also calls for military personnel to refrain from benefitting from excessive welfare and income, to halt needless expenditure, and to not violate the people's rights and freedoms more than necessary.
If any procurement is necessary, says the petition, the military must present its case before parliament.
The Thai military become the target for public frustration this week when it was revealed that the military was proceeding with procurements despite the government’s call for ministries to return a portion of their budget to the Treasury so that it could be reallocated toward resolving the public health crisis.
On 21 April, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) Ordnance Department published notification that it would purchase 50 Stryker armoured vehicles from the US for 4,500 million baht. Gen Apirat later postponed this but still has other 5,850m baht of procurements planned.
The Ministry of Defence was allocated a 2,300 billion baht budget in the 2020 fiscal year.NewsPhayao AkhadPansak SrithepRoyal Thai ArmyApirat KongsompongStrykerCOVID-19military procurementSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87355
The Thai authorities are prosecuting social media users who criticize the government and monarchy in a systematic campaign to crush dissent which is being exacerbated by new COVID-19 restrictions, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.
‘They are always watching’ shows how General Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s administration has increased the use of vague or overly broad laws to bring criminal charges against dozens of peaceful critics since being elected last year.
“Through harassment and prosecution of its online detractors, Thailand’s government has created a climate of fear designed to silence those with dissenting views,” said Clare Algar, Amnesty International’s Head of Global Operations.
“The government’s attacks on freedom of expression online are a shameful attempt to escape scrutiny from those who dare to question them. And repression is escalating, with authorities seemingly using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to further quash criticism and unlawfully restrict human rights.”
Amnesty International interviewed human rights defenders, activists, politicians, lawyers and academics for the report, which describes how the Thai government is criminalizing the right to freedom of expression in order to silence views perceived to be critical of the authorities.
Many of those targeted for their online posts are currently awaiting trial and could face up to five years in prison and heavy fines.
Restrictions have increased amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with General Prayut last month declaring a state of emergency that further stifles freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.Crackdown on freedom of expression online
After half a decade of repressive military rule following the 2014 coup, many hoped last year’s elections would be a catalyst for progress on human rights. Yet one year into the premiership of General Prayut – who also fronted the previous military regime – Thailand’s elected government has redoubled its efforts to muzzle online voices.
Social media users told Amnesty International they had been harassed and intimidated when their posts critical of authorities went viral.
On 1 November 2019, one activist was arrested and interrogated by 10 police officers as punishment for her Twitter posts concerning the government and the monarchy, one of which got 60,000 retweets. Before deleting her account, the student tweeted: “I want to warn everyone to think before you tweet and retweet. They are people who are always watching.”
She was forced to sign a document saying she would be prosecuted if she posted similar content in the future.
“These systematic attacks on human rights defenders, activists, journalists and opposition politicians make a mockery of Thailand’s attempts to portray itself as a country respecting human rights and the rule of law,” said Clare Algar.Exploitation of the law
The government is using a series of repressive laws to crack down on critical voices.
These include the Computer Crimes Act, which was amended in 2016 to give authorities license to monitor and suppress online content and prosecute individuals for various broadly defined violations of the law.
Moreover, the overly broad Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code provides for a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment for acts of sedition.
In addition, Articles 326 to 333 of the Thai Criminal Code criminalize defamation, in effect empowering authorities to jail people deemed to have “impaired the reputation” of public officials.
Despite a pause in use of the lèse majesté law to prosecute perceived critics of the monarchy, the government has employed other laws for the same purpose. The Computer Crimes Act and Article 116 of the Criminal Code have both been used to bring criminal charges against individuals whose online posts have been deemed injurious to the monarchy and the authorities.COVID-19 could be used to ramp up targeting of ‘fake news’
As part of a concerted effort to shape debate on social media, government-run Anti-Fake News Centers were launched in November 2019 to monitor online content that supposedly misleads people. Yet the government has failed to employ credible, independent third parties to factcheck online content deemed ‘fake news’.
While allegations of “hate speech” and false information campaigns against human rights activists have been ignored, authorities have wasted no time using existing repressive laws in order to censor “false” communications related to COVID-19.
On 26 March 2020, the government invoked the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation (2005). Under Article 9 of the 2005 Emergency Decree, officials are empowered to censor or edit information they deem to be false or distorted with the potential to create public fear or misunderstanding – with a possible penalty of up to two years in jail.
“The Thai authorities must end the use of criminal laws against people who peacefully criticize them, and prevent further restrictions on the right to freedom of expression under the guise of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Clare Algar.
“All those arrested solely for speaking their mind must be immediately and unconditionally released and all charges against them dropped. Until this happens, the international community should make it clear to Thai authorities that such flagrant human rights violations will not be tolerated.”Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalSocial MediaFreedom of informationfreedom of expressionState of emergencyEmergency DecreeCOVID-19coronavirus
Teacher and scholar of Thai and Lao history and literature Peter Koret passed away of brain cancer on 9 April in 2020, at Ramkhamhaeng Hospital in Bangkok. He was 60 years old.
Peter Koret (left) with Bandhit Aniya (right) at the Bangkok South Criminal Court before Bandit's hearing in February 2014
Koret was born in the US and received his BA in English Literature from Bard College in New York State. He also received a doctorate from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where his research focused on Southeast Asian Languages and Literature. His doctoral thesis, Whispered so softly it resounds through the forest, spoken so loudly it can hardly be heard: the art of parallelism in traditional Lao literature, explores the use of parallelism as an organizational device in the narrative structure of Lao literature.
He was a fluent speaker and reader of Thai, Lao, and Shan, and taught courses in Buddhism, Southeast Asian culture, and Thai language at the University of California Berkeley and the Arizona State University. He also taught at schools in Thailand, Laos, and the Shan State, including Dulwich International College in Phuket, now the British International School.
Koret was a close friend of author Bandhit Aniya, the two having met when Koret first came to Thailand as a member of the US Peace Corps. He was also Bandit’s guarantor when the writer was arrested and charged with lèse majesté. He posted bail for Bandhit and was required to attend all of Bandhit’s hearings, although he told Canadian reporter Myles Gough that he would have attended nonetheless.
He also wrote the preface to Bandhit’s autobiography, The Dream Under the Sun, which was published in 2014.
Koret is the author of The Man Who Accused the King of Killing a Fish: The Biography of Narin Phasit of Siam, 1874 – 1950. Published by Silkworm Books in 2012, the book is a biography of Narin Phasit, a little-known critique of the establishment during the reigns of King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok and the People’s Party government and a supporter of the restoration of the order of the bhikkuni, or the female monks.
Koret’s publications also included the novel Stone Cat and the introduction to Mother’s Beloved: Stories from Laos, a collection of short stories by Lao author Outhine Bounyavong, translated into English, among other writing on religion and politics in Southeast Asia. He was also a collector and interpreter of Lao traditional palm leaf manuscripts.NewsobituaryPeter KoretBandhit Aniya
Thailand is ranked 140th in Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, four places below its 2019 ranking at 136th, while hyper-control and nationalist populism threaten press freedom in the Asia-Pacific.
The Index, which launched yesterday (22 April), found that the past decade has seen “a steep decline” in press freedom in the Asia-Pacific, due to “the adoption of undemocratic and totalitarian practices, the emergence of a populism that unleashes hatred on journalists, and extreme media polarization.”
The region saw the greatest rise in violations of press freedom, which is now under threat in every Asia-Pacific country, says the Index. Australia, previously a regional model, fell five places from its 2019 ranking after federal police raided a journalist’s home and the state TV broadcaster’s headquarters, posing “ a serious threat to investigative reporting and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources” and drawing the Australian public’s attention to their constitution’s complete lack of a guarantee for their right to information.
Meanwhile, China, now ranked at 177th out of the 180 countries in the Index, “never stops enhancing its system of information hyper-control and prosecution of dissident journalists and bloggers.” In February 2020, the Chinese authorities arrested two citizens for their coverage of the COVID-19 crisis, and it is currently holding around 100 journalists in prison.
Other countries in the region continue to exert control over freedom of information. Singapore’s new ‘anti-fake news’ law caused it fall 7 places from last year’s ranking. Brunei, now ranked at 152nd, added to its criminal code the death penalty for “any written or spoken statement deemed to have blasphemed Islam.” Lao’s crackdown on its rising circle of bloggers caused it to fall back one place. Meanwhile, Cambodia fell one place and Thailand fell four places due to their regimes’ crackdowns on dissent.
Thailand’s ranking places it among nations in “difficult situation” and behind countries including Myanmar, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. Mongkol Bangprapa, the President of the Thai Journalist Association, told Khaosod English that, while he has not seen the RSF’s criteria, he suspected that the RSF may have considered Thailand’s political change less drastic than that of Myanmar, and that he thought Thailand’s lower ranking could be because the RSF take the situations both under the pre- and the post-election governments into consideration, and it wasn’t until March 2019 that Thailand had a general election.
According to the RSF website, which details the methodology behind the ranking, the Index uses both qualitative analysis and qualitative data on abuses and violence against journalists during the period being evaluated. The Index “evaluates the situation for journalists each year in 180 countries and territories.” Its 2020 edition is, therefore, an evaluation of the press freedom situation during 2019.
The degree of press freedom in each country is also determined through the responses of experts to the RSF’s questionnaire, targeted at media professionals, lawyers, and sociologists asked to complete it by the RSF. The criteria evaluated by the questionnaire include “pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.” The scores are calculated based on the responses to the questionnaire combined with the data on abuses and violence against journalists, collected by a team of specialists assigned to each region.
The Thailand page on the RSF website acknowledged the disbandment of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in 2019. It also states, however, that the March 2019 general election “made no difference to the total control wielded by the elite surrounding Gen. Prayuth,” as “draconian legislation and a justice system that follows order” still pose a threat to critique of the government. A cyber-security law adopted in February 2019 also poses an additional threat to online information, while the threat of a lèse majesté charge continues to be used as “a weapon of mass deterrence.”
“These alternative authoritarian systems…accompanied by an increase in a ‘national-populism’ that tolerates no critical journalism, regarding it as ‘anti-government’ and, by extension, ‘anti-national’ pose challenges to press freedom in the region, says the report, leading to attacks on reporters in several countries. In Hong Kong, for example, journalists have been the target of police violence during the pro-democracy demonstrations, causing it to fall seven places from its 2019 ranking and is now ranked at 80th.
The report also noted that the internet has become a “major battleground in the information war” and that “physical attacks against journalists are often accompanied or preceded by online threats from troll armies and click farms.” Nevertheless, the media can play “an absolutely decisive role in ensuring that democracies function as they should, especially during elections.” Malaysia rose 22 places in the ranking, one of the biggest rises in the 2020 Index, following its change of government – a demonstration of “the dramatic effect that a change of government through the polls can have in improving the environment for journalists and combatting self-censorship.”
In “confirmed democracies,” such as in South Korea, however, governments are still using national security as a reason for restricting press freedom, and the concentration of media ownership, such as the cases of Japan, Taiwan, and New Zealand, continues to pose a threat to press freedom in the region’s democratic countries, showing that “regardless of where in the world you want to exercise the right to press freedom, you have to keep fighting for it.”“A decisive decade for journalism”
The Index suggests that “the next ten years will be pivotal for press freedom” due to the effect of converging areas of crisis, from geopolitical and technological to democratic, economic, and a crisis of trust, combined with a global public health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that affect its future,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor. What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030? The answer to that question is being determined today.”
Deloire added that the COVID-19 pandemic gave authoritarian governments an opportunity to take advantage of a situation during which politics is put on hold and the public is “stunned” and unable to protest and use it to impose measures that would otherwise be impossible. The report’s findings also suggest that there is a “clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic and a country’s ranking in the Index.” China, ranked at 177th, and Iran, which fell 3 places in the ranking and is now ranked at 173rd, extensively censored their major COVID-19 outbreaks. In Iraq, which fell 6 places, the authorities suppressed Reuters’ media license for three months following a story questioning the official COVID-19 figures. Meanwhile, in Hungary, which fell 2 places, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had a “coronavirus law” passed which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison for false information.
“For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfil their role as society’s trusted third parties,” said Deloire, “which means they must have the capacity to do so.”
On the occasion of the launch of the 2020 Index, the RSF had planned the virtual conference “Journalism in crisis: a decisive decade" featuring Rappler editor-in-chief Maria Ressa, whistleblower Edward Snowden, Washington Post contributor Rana Ayyub, Nobel economics prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. However, technological issues prevented the event from being broadcast as planned. The platform Crowdcast told the RSF that it experienced “time out issues” with its servers, which caused issues with the event and its recording.NewsReporters Without Borders (RSF)World press freedom indexpress freedomFreedom of information
Media reports say that Gen Apirat Kongsompong has postponed a 4,500m baht deal to buy Stryker armoured vehicles from the US amidst public scrutiny of budget spending during the COVID-19 outbreak. Besides the Stryker deal, the Army still has other 5,850m baht of procurements planned.
Gen Apirat Kongsompong
On 22 April, the Thai News Agency reported that army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong has postponed the procurement of 50 Stryker armoured vehicles worth 4,515 million baht until the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years.
The move was made after the Royal Thai Army (RTA) Ordnance Department published notification of the vehicle procurement on 21 April. According to the notification, 50 Strykers will be purchased from the US under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. The news raised public questions over budget priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
News sources from the Army said that Gen Apirat has returned 30 percent of the Army budget to the Treasury, a decision in line with a government order to redistribute budget allocations to handle the outbreak.
The sources also said that the RTA is unable to withdraw completely from the procurement because the deal has been submitted to the US Congress and the Thai Cabinet. The US will also grant an extra 30 Strykers on top of the deal. In total, the RTA will receive 130 Strykers as well as other assistance such as stationary cannon and command, medic and reconnaissance cars.
Besides the Stryker deal, other RTA procurement plans in this fiscal year include 155 mm. and 105 mm. artillery pieces, airplanes and the third-batch of VT-4 tanks. The entire package, including the Strykers, came to 10,350 million baht. The Ministry of Defence was granted a budget of 229 billion baht in 2020.
On 8 April, the Cabinet passed a resolution asking all ministries to consider transferring some of their budget allocations to support people during the COVID-19 outbreak. Ministry of Defence spokesperson Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich said that the military has to consider postponing procurements.NewsRoyal Thai ArmyApirat KongsompongStrykerCOVID-19military procurementSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87308
On International Earth Day, and as the coronavirus epidemic rages on in Southeast Asia, and the rest of the world, regional MPs are today warning of the need to combat climate change and environmental destruction in order to lower the risk of future health emergencies.
The first Climate Strike march in Thailand took place in September 2019
"The coronavirus pandemic we are currently facing teaches us an important lesson; that we must anticipate and address crises before they are upon us, and panic sets in,” said Walden Bello, a former Philippines Member of Parliament (MP) and Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “The good news is that we can reduce the risk of future epidemics by addressing climate change and deforestation. To do that, we need ASEAN governments to clearly and officially commit to submitting more ambitious climate action plans before COP26 in 2021.”
Research shows that the number of emerging infectious diseases, such as the coronavirus known as COVID-19, has grown considerably since the 1940s. Deforestation and urbanisation, by increasing our proximity to wildlife, have contributed to this alarming escalation. Yet, Southeast Asian governments have provided a worrying lack of protective measures against deforestation, ecosystem disruption and biodiversity loss in the region, APHR said.
"Evidence shows that deforestation and urbanisation increase our risk of catching infectious diseases like coronavirus. Southeast Asia’s staggering rate of deforestation, with more than 32 million hectares of forest lost since 1990, puts the region especially at risk,” said Sarah Elago, a Philippines MP and APHR member. “Our governments have to act swiftly against deforestation by increasing protected areas and environmental safeguards against investment projects if we want to reduce the risk of reliving covid19-like epidemics.”
Climate change also contributes to the increased risk of epidemics in the region, including malaria, cholera and dengue fever. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a global temperature rise of between two and three degrees Celsius will increase the number of people at risk of malaria “by several hundred million”, putting greater strains on healthcare systems across the region.
Despite this, Southeast Asian countries are doing little to tackle climate change. Their climate action plans, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), submitted as part of the Paris Agreement, are considered insufficient by the scientific community. According to the Climate Action Tracker, Indonesia and Singapore’s climate action plans are highly insufficient and Vietnam’s is deemed “critically insufficient” to meet the Paris Agreement goal.
And yet, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and many others refuse to submit more ambitious plans. We need to turn this situation around and urge ASEAN governments increase the ambition of their climate action plans by the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), in the United Kingdom in 2021, in order to tackle this massive threat to our right to health and life that is climate changes, said APHR.
"APHR is calling on governments in Southeast Asia to commit to improving their commitments to tackling climate change ahead of COP 26. So far, only Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Timor-Leste have done so. For the health and survival of us all, other nations must follow their lead.” said Walden Bello.Pick to PostInternational Earth DayASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)Climate actionClimate crisis
The Lop Buri-based chicken farm company Thammakaset has sued another female human rights defender for criminal defamation over 2 twitter posts and 3 retweets about labour rights violations at their farm. This brings its total lawsuits to 35 filed against 22 people.
Thanaporn Saleephol (Courteasy of Thanaporn)
On 30 March, the Bangkok South Criminal Court accepted a petition from Charnchai Permphol, acting for Thammakaset, against Thanaporn Saleephol, formerly of Fortify Rights.
The petition alleges that Thanaporn violated Articles 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code. The plaintiff claims that Thanaporn’s 2 twitter posts and 3 retweets were defamatory for giving encouragement to Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun, human rights defenders who were sued by Thammakaset for defamation in 2019.
5 tweets contain a link to an open letter from 89 organizations related to defamation cases that Thammakaset has brought against human rights defenders. The open letter in turn contains a link related to a Fortify Rights video about labour rights. The video has been subject to a defamation suit.
Thanaporn said that she had no intention to defame the poultry company in her tweets. However, she is ready to pursue the legal process to the best of her ability as well as promote human rights in business principles.
The court scheduled a meeting between both sides on 5 August 2020 to attempt mediation. The preliminary hearing will take place on 17 August if the mediation fails.
Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer from the Community Resource Centre Foundation and Thanporn’s lawyer, who is also responsible for the cases of Angkhana and Puttanee, said the company files similar lawsuits related to the allegedly defamatory Fortify Rights video even when the video is not directly involved.
Sor also said that defamation should not constitute a criminal offence requiring punishment as speech only affects the plaintiff’s reputation, unlike other laws which affect life, body or property. She also disagrees with using lawsuits to attempt to restrict civic participation, also known as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)
“If it is a defamation suit, I disagree with it, because it is using the judicial process to distort protection from libel. In this regard, there are campaigns from the United Nations and other organizations to put a stop to SLAPP.”
“The National Action Plan (NAP) on business and human rights which the [Thai] government is now using also encourages an end to SLAPP” said Sor Rattanamanee.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) kept a record of the defamation suits filed by Thammakaset. It reports that the company has filed 35 lawsuits, both civil and criminal, against 22 people: 14 Myanmar labourers, 6 human rights defenders, 1 academic and 1 journalist.
and ensure that defamation are not used as a tool to undermine legitimate rights and freedom of expression
In March 2020, a group of UN experts condemned the continued misuse of the judicial process by Thammakaset to harass and silence human rights defenders who have spoken out against its abusive and exploitative labour practices.
“We are deeply troubled by the information we continue to receive about migrant workers, human rights defenders, academics and journalists facing ill-founded defamation cases by the company Thammakaset when they raise legitimate concerns about working conditions in this company,” the experts said.NewsThanaporn SaleepholThammakaset Companydefamationjudicial harrassmentSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87292
Experts urges more inclusive COVID-19 control policy in ASEAN countries. States and ASEAN Mechanisms should focus more on needs-based and gender-responsive way in dealing with the pandemic.
A homeless woman sitting in the middle of a protest in Bangkok (File Photo)
(Bangkok/Kuala Lumpur, 21 April 2020) – The lack of a gender-responsive approach to COVID-19 pandemic responses will risk exacerbating pre-existing inequality and vulnerabilities among the most marginalised groups in Southeast Asia, experts said in a webinar organised by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) today.
Joined by speakers from the World Health Organisation (WHO), civil society, ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the Mission of Canada to ASEAN, the webinar ‘A Feminist Assessment of the ASEAN Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic’ addressed how the pandemic is disproportionately impacting women, LGBTIQ community, the poor and the most vulnerable groups who are often excluded from the access to healthcare, social protection, and relief schemes in the pandemic response.
“For many women and girls, access to key sexual and reproductive health services and supplies such as contraception, safe abortion, maternal health and reproductive cancer screening have been postponed or made inaccessible due to travel restriction and the disruption of supply chains. Responses that are not gender-inclusive might reinforce gender stereotypes and stigma,” said Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of ARROW.
The pandemic has seen a rapid surge in violence against women and girls across the globe, and Asia is not an exception. A recent research by the Jakarta Feminist Association indicates that the number of reported domestic violence cases against women has tripled in Indonesia since the start of the pandemic.
Being a public health challenge, the pandemic also adversely impacts the social-economic and psychological aspects of day to day life for the most marginalised, including the LGBTIQ community. “Unrecognised by mainstream society, the LGBTI community engaged in the informal sector is expected to be hit the most. They also face mental health issues when they find themselves separated from their support group due to the quarantine,” said Yen Nguyen, Programme Manager of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.
Arrests and attacks against human rights defenders and the general public are also on the rise, as emergency decrees have been misused to target dissenting voices under the guise of a COVID-19 response. In the Philippines, militarist policies are undermining the fundamental freedom of its ordinary citizens, including women who speak up about the Government's lack of response to the health crisis.
“There is an urgent need for countries to uphold gender transformative principles in addressing the pandemic,” said Diah Satyani Saminarsih, Advisor on Gender and Youth of the WHO. “We need to consider how different segments of the population are affected, ensure that any response must be needs-based, gender-responsive, and to ensure that human rights are respected,” said H. E. Diedrah Kelly, Ambassador of Canada to ASEAN.
ACWC, as the regional inter-governmental body mandated to protect the rights of women and children, are expected to convene a meeting at the end of April 2020. “The collection of data during the pandemic, particularly on women in the labour force, is important. The data is crucial to inform policy making processes on financial support and training schemes for these marginalised and underserved groups,” said Sri Danti Anwar, Indonesia Representative on Women Rights to ACWC.
Participants of the webinar called for ACWC to collaborate with different ASEAN mechanisms to create a holistic COVID-19 response where the safety, rights and dignity of women, girls and the LGBTIQ community are protected. It is imperative for ASEAN Governments to prioritise the most vulnerable, and incorporate civic participation in the decision-making processes of the pandemic response in order for States to be held accountable.
About the Organisers:
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a regional network of 81 member organisations across 21 Asian countries, with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity-development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. Its regional secretariat is in Bangkok, and it has sub-regional offices in Geneva, Jakarta, and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org
The Asian-Pacific Resource& Research Center for Women (ARROW) is a regional non-profit women’s NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Since it was established in 1993, it has been working to advance women’s health, affirmative sexuality and rights, and empower women through information and knowledge, engagement, advocacy and mobilisation. https://arrow.org.my/Pick to PostCOVID-19gender equalityThe Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)The Asian-Pacific Resource& Research Center for Women (ARROW)ASEAN
The Cambodian Government’s new state of emergency law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic risks violating the right to privacy, silencing free speech and criminalising peaceful assembly, a UN expert said today.
“Emergency measures must be necessary and proportionate to the crisis they seek to address,” said Rhona Smith, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. “The broadly worded language on the protection of national security and public order, ostensibly aimed at addressing COVID-19, can potentially be used to infringe on the right to privacy and unnecessarily restrict freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
The law grants extensive powers to the Government for an initial period of three months, including restrictions and bans on the distribution of information and measures for “monitor[ing] and surveillance, by all means”. It was adopted by the National Assembly on 10 April and expected to be endorsed by the Senate on 17 April. The Special Rapporteur said offences such as ‘obstruction’ or ‘staging an obstacle’ to government operations were open to interpretation and penalties of up to 10 years’ in prison and heavy fines were disproportionate.
“Penalties and fines should be commensurate to the seriousness of the offence committed, with consideration given to the individual’s economic situation. This is particularly relevant for people already jobless and/or unable to generate income because of the emergency measures,” Smith said.
Laws should focus on addressing public health needs while also protecting fundamental freedoms, the expert said. “Cambodian authorities should take active steps to ensure that everyone has equal access to adequate health services, and adopt special measures for individuals and groups in particular situations of vulnerability, including persons with underlying illnesses, persons with disabilities, older persons, persons in detention, the rural poor, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.”
Smith said the new law’s penalties and criminal responsibilities extended to legal entities could also include civil society and human rights organisations that already operate within a highly restrictive environment. “A state of emergency should be guided by human rights principles and should not, in any circumstances, be an excuse to quash dissent or disproportionately and negatively impact any other group,” said Smith.
“As Cambodia joins a growing number of States that have announced special measures to tackle the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that human rights are at the centre of its response,” the Special Rapporteur said.
The Special Rapporteur has been in contact with the Government of Cambodia on the abovementioned issues.
Rhona Smith’s statement has been endorsed by Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Ms Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi and Mr. Seong-Phil Hong.Pick to PostOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)CambodiaCOVID-19coronavirusfreedom of speechfreedom of assembly
States need to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people do not face discrimination or fear retribution for seeking healthcare amid the COVID-19 crisis, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Friday, as the UN Human Rights Office published a new guidance note for States and other stakeholders on COVID-19 and the human rights of LGBTI people.
(Source: AMANDA DEN HARTOG/THE ITHACAN)
“LGBTI people are among the most vulnerable and marginalised in many societies, and among those most at risk from COVID-19. In countries where same-sex relations are criminalised or trans people targeted, they might not even seek treatment for fear of arrest or being subjected to violence,” Bachelet said.
“We know that efforts to tackle the pandemic will only work if everyone’s rights to life and health are protected. For LGBTI people, this means identifying and addressing the ways in which they are particularly vulnerable, ensuring they are not discriminated against, and finding solutions. It also means ensuring their voices are heard.”
The guidance published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights identifies major concerns and sets out key actions in the context of the pandemic.
These include ensuring that measures introduced to lessen the economic impact of the crisis take LGBTI people fully into account as they are more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty than the general population. Given stay-at-home restrictions, some LGBTI youth are confined in hostile environments with unsupportive family members or co-habitants, increasing their exposure to violence, as well as their anxiety and depression. It is essential that support services and shelters remain available during this period.Pick to PostLGBTQLGBT rightsDiscrimination against LGBTUN High Commissioner for Human RightsMichelle BacheletCOVID-19coronavirusOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
- Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship and surveillance;
- Activists detained for disseminating critical information about COVID-19
- Targeted attacks against journalists and media outlets
It has only been one month since the declaration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but already the CIVICUS Monitor is documenting an alarming deterioration in civic space across 40 countries. A new brief released today by the CIVICUS Monitor, shows that many governments are responding to the pandemic in an unjustifiable and unnecessary manner.
According to the CIVICUS Monitor, the state of civic freedoms was already on the decline with just 3% of the world’s population living in countries where their fundamental rights are in general, protected and respected countries before COVID-19. In some countries, emergency powers are accelerating this trend. Information from civil society and the media shows that governments may be exceeding the justifiable restrictions in their response to the pandemic, negatively affecting civic freedoms in many parts of the world.
Freedom of expression has come under severe attack over the last month. Censorship is being used by states like China, El Salvador and Vietnam to silence activists, journalists and other government critics to suppress critical information during the pandemic. There have also been reports of individuals being threatened or arrested for criticising the state response or for disseminating information on the pandemic in countries like Iran, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The media and journalists play a critical role in reporting on the pandemic. However, there have been reports of countries shutting down media outlets, restricting the media and criminalising journalists. Jordan, Oman, Morocco, and Yemen suspended newspaper printing and distribution in response to the pandemic while journalists have been arrested in Kenya and Venezuela. Governments in Turkey and Malaysia have also resorted to repressive laws governing ‘fake news’ to combat misinformation about the virus.
“Information is key in the battle against COVID-19. Censoring both social and conventional media is limiting the dissemination of critical information and putting more people at risk. Governments must ensure that freedom of expression is safeguarded in all forms while addressing the pandemic.” said Marianna Belalba, Civic Space Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor.
Human rights defenders play a critical role during this global crisis especially by holding officials to account. Yet, there are some indications that governments and other actors are using the pandemic to target human rights defenders and government critics. Activists have been arrested in Honduras under the pretext of combating the virus while in Colombia death squads are taking advantage of the lockdowns to kill rural activists. There have also been reports of police abuse during the lockdown including the use of excessive force or inhuman and degrading treatment by law enforcement officials in the Philippines and Kenya.
The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned that tracking entire populations to combat COVID-19 could pave the way to more invasive forms of surveillance and civic space restrictions for example in China and Israel. At the same time, overly broad emergency laws and new restrictive legislation have or are being legislated in countries like Hungary and Cambodia which are inconsistent with international law and standards.
“We urge the authorities to respect the law during lockdown and ensure that any surveillance measures adopted are lawful, necessary and proportionate.”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association recently stated that “human rights is the compass” to overcome this pandemic and that civil society organisations should be seen as strategic partners in this. It is therefore crucial that we push back on the restrictions and attacks against civil society if we are to overcome the unprecedented challenge posed by COVID-19.Pick to PostCIVICUScivic spaceCivic freedompress freedomAccess to informationcensorshipsurveillance
Southeast Asian governments must immediately launch search and rescue operations for likely hundreds of Rohingya languishing at sea, amid mounting reports of vessels attempting dangerous trips in search of safety, said Amnesty International today.
Source: Amnesty International
In a repeat of the humanitarian crisis that the region saw five years ago, Malaysia has actively pushed back boats and turned desperate Rohingya people away, while Thailand has not said whether it has assisted any ships travelling off its coast. For years boats carrying thousands of desperate Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Myanmar or refugee camps in Bangladesh have been found at sea, seeking refuge in Southeast Asia.
Amnesty International calls on regional governments to allow them safe disembarkation, and for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members to urgently agree emergency measures to prevent another humanitarian crisis while accommodating governments’ existing COVID-19 restrictions at their borders.
“The battle against COVID-19 is no excuse for regional governments to let their seas become graveyards for desperate Rohingya people,”
“Regional governments have been here before and have the means to save their lives.
“Without urgent cooperation, ASEAN will face a new humanitarian crisis while also battling a pandemic. It is unacceptable that boats are going unaided and that some are being actively turned away from safe shores," said Clare Algar, Senior Director for Research, Advocacy & Policy.Reports of people attempting dangerous journeys
Amnesty International has received information about an estimated three to five boats likely carrying Rohingya refugees spotted off the coasts of Malaysia and southern Thailand in recent days, with hundreds of people believed to be on board.
On 16 April, the Royal Malaysian Navy turned back a boat carrying about 200 Rohingya women, men and children, while reportedly providing food to those on board. The Malaysian government has cited COVID-19 measures as justification for turning boats away from their coast.
On 15 April, the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 396 Rohingya people from a large boat. The boat had been turned back by the Malaysian authorities and is believed to have been at sea for two months.
Early reports stated that 32 people on the boat died at sea, but the figure is now thought to be almost double that. UNHCR – the UN refugee agency – says that the survivors are severely malnourished and dehydrated.Regional response urgently needed
Regional governments have enacted new emergency restrictions at their borders in response to COVID-19. Malaysia and Thailand have been monitoring the movements of boats carrying Rohingya people off their coasts. While Malaysia has brought one vessel to shore, it has pushed several more back. Thailand has not stated whether it has intercepted any boats or come to their rescue.
“Both Thailand and Malaysia are aware that people’s lives are in danger. Refusing to help the people on these boats would not be willfully blind – it would be consciously making their plights even worse.
“Thailand and Malaysia should immediately dispatch search and rescue boats with food, water and medicine to meet the urgent needs of possibly hundreds still at sea. They should urgently allow these people safe disembarkation. This is compatible with the COVID-19 measures in place, as Malaysia has successfully shown earlier this month," said Clare Algar.
On 5 April, another boat carrying 202 Rohingya people was intercepted by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Its passengers were brought to safety and are now in COVID-19 quarantine.
Earlier this week, ASEAN member states issued a declaration following its virtual summit on COVID-19, affirming the bloc’s commitment to being a “caring and sharing ASEAN Community where ASEAN Member States help each other in this challenging time”. The regional bloc previously committed to “learn from past crises and strengthen the inclusion of migrants”, particularly in emergency situations.
“Just this week, ASEAN governments signaled their solidarity in this difficult moment,” said Clare Algar. “They must extend their compassion to those in desperate danger at sea.
“ASEAN states must ensure that policies on COVID-19 uphold everyone’s rights and do not jeopardize people in need of humanitarian assistance and international protection.”Background
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has affirmed that states’ prerogative to regulate the entry of foreigners to their territories cannot – even in the context of a global pandemic – result in a denial of people’s right to seek asylum from persecution. Likewise, the International Organization for Migration stated that human rights obligations and international maritime law must be upheld during the COVID-19 response. This week the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights also called on European Union member states to continue to save lives at sea and provide for the safe disembarkation of passengers despite the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic.
Crimes against humanity have continued against the estimated 600,000 Rohingya still living in Rakhine State, Myanmar. And after several waves of brutal military operations in 2016 and 2017, nearly 1 million Rohingya live in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival.
International law imposes obligations on states to protect the human rights of refugees arriving on their shores.
The principle of non-refoulement obliges states not to return anyone to a territory where they would be at risk of persecution or serious human rights violations. The principle is the cornerstone of international refugee protection and is fundamental to the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Malaysia and Thailand are not parties to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) or its 1967 Protocol. However, the principle of non-refoulement is also protected under general international human rights law, as well as customary international law, which is binding on all states. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration also includes the right to “seek and receive asylum.”Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalRohingyaRefugeehuman rightsasylum seekersnon-refoulementCOVID-19coronavirus
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