Prachatai English

Criminal case against director of BioThai dismissed

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-17 12:21
Submitted on Fri, 17 Dec 2021 - 12:21 PMPrachatai

On 15 December, the Criminal Court dismissed charges of defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act against Witoon Lianchamroon, an environmental rights advocate and Director of BioThai. The charges had been filed by the Weed Science Society of Thailand.

Witoon Lianchamroon

“The dismissal of the case is good news for Witoon who should not have been taken to court in the first place.”, stated in a letter from BioThai, the Enlaw Foundation and Protection International . The case stemmed from Witoon’s advocacy to ban paraquat, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate, three hazardous pesticides, especially a comment he made online in 2019.

According to Matichon, Ratsada Manooratsada, Vitoon’s attorney, said the Court ruled that Witoon’s opinion was an academic opinion about issues that were not settled. Thus, the validity of the information could not be decided upon.

After leaving the Court, Witoon expressed his gratitude to lawyers from EnLaw, who argued that the interests of the public would be harmed by prosecutions over expressing an opinion. BioThai and its network organizations will keep on performing their duties of giving public warnings over the dangers from pesticides.

Witoon has been working for a change in the agricultural and food system to ensure justice for ordinary people. Although they work with the smallest links in the chain of the capitalist system, small-scale producers should attain security in terms of their economy, safety and health, and enjoy a fair income. He advocates a sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural system.

BioThai, the Enlaw Foundation and Protection International also suggested that the Thai authorities protect human rights defenders and those at risk by ensuring that all people enjoy the rights and freedoms provided by the constitution to participate in the preservation of the environment, health, and community as well as the public interest. There should be an end to judicial harassment by the state and business enterprises.

NewsWitoon LianchamroonBIOTHAIBIOTHAIParaquatChlorpyrifosGlyphosate
Categories: Prachatai English

Protect the human rights of migrants and refugees from Myanmar, says CSOs

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-17 11:59
Submitted on Fri, 17 Dec 2021 - 11:59 AMMekong Migration Network (MMN)

In a year when fewer people have travelled or migrated voluntarily than in any time in recent history, hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar have been forced to flee for their own safety and survival. 

People from Myanmar arrested at Kanchanaburi Province. (File photo, the PR Department News Agency)

Since the coup of 1 February 2021 and the military’s ensuing reign of terror, more than 380,000 women, men and children have been internally displaced, while tens of thousands have crossed international borders to flee fighting and persecution or to secure work to save themselves and their families from destitution and starvation.

Considering the arbitrary brutality of Myanmar’s military regime, no-one’s safety upon return can be assured at this time. The principle of non-refoulement, applicable under customary international law, should thus be applied to all those who have crossed the Myanmar border.

On International Migrants Day, the Mekong Migration Network calls on countries neighbouring Myanmar to:

  • Accept and protect all migrants from Myanmar in line with humanitarian principles and human rights obligations;
  • Halt all removals, deportations and expulsions to Myanmar;
  • Allow the UNHCR, IOM and embassies to provide pathways to third country resettlement for those who apply and qualify.

We call on the international community to:

  • Provide the necessary logistical and financial support to countries bordering Myanmar to receive, provide protection, emergency shelter, food, and medical care for those fleeing;

We call on regional and international bodies to:

  • Provide immediate cross-border humanitarian aid to internally displaced people in Myanmar;

In particular, we call on ASEAN and the UN to:

  • Take urgent steps to address the root cause of forced migration from Myanmar.

Members of the Mekong Migration Network also call on Thailand, the main destination country in the region for people fleeing Myanmar, to demonstrate compassion and pragmatism by providing protection according to the identified needs of those arriving.

All incoming migrants should be screened to determine their status as refugees or migrant workers and registered and documented at the border following COVID-19 testing, quarantine and medical treatment, and, where necessary, emergency support in the form of shelter, clothing, food and a safe place to rest.

For the most vulnerable, including those who are traumatised, disabled, and for women who are pregnant or with young children, specialised assistance should be arranged.

Women, men and children escaping the on-going armed conflict, must be able to use the closest escape route, and be received by Thailand at that point.

Considering Thailand’s current labour shortages, which are likely to increase as the country re-opens for business, providing pathways to employment for refugees and migrants could address this shortage while providing people with incomes, independence and dignity. Paid employment would also reduce reliance on the Thai government and the international community for support. There are daily reports in the media of Myanmar nationals being arrested, detained and deported for entering Thailand without documents. The reality is that people from Myanmar currently have little alternative but to use the services of brokers and smugglers. Due to its clandestine nature, smuggling puts migrants’ lives at risk. Allowing conditions which compel people to use smugglers moreover increases the likelihood of traffickers taking advantage of the situation.

MMN welcomes the Thai government’s efforts to restart the MOU process to allow the entry of new workers. However, the process is inaccessible to many of the most needed Myanmar and will not impact on the number of migrants seeking safety and a livelihood in Thailand. Facilitating those migrants who returned to Myanmar earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic to re-enter Thailand using their existing documentation would reach more of those in need.

We sincerely hope that in recognition of International Migrants’ Day and the complicated situation facing the people of Myanmar, pragmatic solutions can be implemented to respond to the new realities regarding migration from Myanmar and uphold the human rights of all people crossing the border.

In the New Year, MMN will launch a paper detailing the migration situation from Myanmar since the coup. Please follow our webpage www.mekongmigration.org for updates.

About the Mekong Migration Network (MMN)

Mekong Migration Network (MMN), founded in 2003, is a sub-regional network of migrant support NGOs, migrant grassroots groups and research institutes. The central goal of MMN is to promote the welfare, well-being, dignity and human rights of migrants in the Greater Mekong Subregion and to build mutual support and solidarity among migrants and advocates. To achieve this goal MMN jointly carries out research, advocacy, capacity building and networking.

Pick to PostMyanmarRefugeemigrant workersMekong Migration Network (MMN)Source: https://mekongmigration.org/?p=20152
Categories: Prachatai English

Lower house votes down plans to overturn NCPO decrees

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-12-16 11:45
Submitted on Thu, 16 Dec 2021 - 11:45 AMPrachatai

Although a growing number of MPs agree that there is a need to revoke many of the decrees issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the military-led body which governed Thailand between the 2014 coup and the 2019 election, a vote in parliament after a week of discussion was overwhelmingly against pursuing proposed plans for changes.

The Thai parliament

On 15 December, the House of Representatives voted after an initial reading of two draft laws: one submitted by Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, former secretary-general of the dissolved Future Forward Party, and another by Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator and founder of iLaw, a legal watchdog. This draft recieved 12,609 signatures in support of the submission.

The former was voted down by 229-156 with 4 abstentions. The latter lost by 234-161, with 3 abstentions.

After the 22 May 2014 coup, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha issued a wide range of orders in conjunction with the NCPO to facilitate military rule. An ad-hoc constitution legitimated the process.

In July 2017, a number of NCPO decrees were revoked.  However, according to advocates of further revocation, orders still in force include decrees limiting land ownership rights, environmental protection, and freedom of expression.

The rejected proposals aimed to abolish orders constraining freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and land rights. Both also sought to overturn orders that allow military troops to assist the police in quelling the protests and disputes.

Orders identified as problematic in both drafts include NCPO decrees: No 7/2557 which prohibits demonstrations; No 26/2557 which allows state authorities and telecommunication service providers to monitor the use of social media and media broadcasting; and No 17/2558, 3/2559 and 4/2559 which allow state authorities to designate zoning to facilitate the creation of special economic zones. These latter edicts have been used to change city zoning and allow for industrial projects, affecting people who live in the areas.

The Piyabutr draft aimed to abolish NCPO decrees: No 7/2557, 25/2557, 26/2557, 29/2557, 41/2557, 49/2557, NCPO head order No 3/2558, 4/2558, 5/2558, 17/2558, 3/2559, 4/2559, 9/2559, 13/2559, 74/2559, 5/2560, and 31/2560.

Jon’s proposal sought to overturn NCPO announcements: No 7/2557, 25/2557, 26/2557, 29/2557, 41/2557, 49/2557, 57/2257,  NCPO head order No 3/2558, 4/2558, 5/2558, 17/2558, 13/2559, 41/2559, 74/2559, 5/2560, 31/2560 and 47/2560.

NewspoliticsNational Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)2014 coupPiyabutr SaengkanokkulJon UngpakornSource: prachatai.com/journal/2021/12/96402
Categories: Prachatai English

Transgender people in Thailand denied equal rights, HRW report states

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-12-16 11:21
Submitted on Thu, 16 Dec 2021 - 11:21 AMHuman Rights Watch

Transgender people in Thailand have no route to legal recognition of their gender identity, making them vulnerable to various forms of discrimination, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today with the Thai Transgender Alliance.

A person dressed with rainbow flag, a symbol of gender diversity. (File photo)

The 60-page report, “‘People Can’t Be Fit Into Boxes’: Thailand’s Need for Legal Gender Recognition,” found that the absence of legal gender recognition, coupled with insufficient legal protections and pervasive social stigma, limits transgender people’s access to vital services, and exposes them to daily indignities. Thai transgender people said they were routinely denied access to education, health care, and employment. Thailand has a reputation as an international hub for gender-affirming surgery and transgender health care. But this global reputation obscures Thailand’s severely limited legal mechanisms to protect transgender people at home.

“Transgender people in Thailand constantly face harassment and discrimination, and are often excluded from education and employment,” said Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “The Thai government needs to step in and make legal gender recognition a reality in Thailand.”

Human Rights Watch conducted the research for this report between January and May 2020 with individuals in four locations in Thailand: Bangkok, Trang, Chiang Mai, and Ubon. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 62 transgender people, as well as interviews with social workers, scholars, and employees at advocacy and service provision organizations.

Thailand has limited legal provisions that offer some security to transgender people, but they fall far short of comprehensive protections, Human Rights Watch found. In 2007, Thailand’s legislature passed the Persons’ Name Act, which allows transgender people to apply to change their name. The act, however, did not give people the option to apply to change their legal gender. Name change requests are approved at the discretion of individual administrators.

Under the 2015 Gender Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of gender expression, the legislature attempted to address some forms of discrimination experienced by transgender people. Yet the government has failed to adequately implement the law. The Committee on Determination of Unfair Gender Discrimination, which has the authority to enforce the law, heard 27 cases of alleged discrimination against transgender people between 2016 and 2019. Many of these cases took more than three months to adjudicate, and none of the eight parties found responsible received punishment.

The absence of legal gender recognition in Thailand means that all transgender people carry documents with a gender different from their identity and expression. When transgender people are asked for this documentation, they can feel humiliated. In some instances, transgender people reported that government employees harassed them based on the mismatch.

A 27-year-old transgender man in Bangkok described his humiliation when he tried to replace a lost identification card: “The officials asked how did I get my penis … and whether it’s really possible to become a trans man.” The officials proceeded to compare him with his past photos. “I felt like a caricature for these government officials,” he said.

Many schools have gender-specific dress codes or facilities, and do not allow students to attend school if they dress in ways deemed inconsistent with their legal gender, violating their right to education. The rigid application of gender-specific regulations, including uniforms and sex-segregated facilities, exacerbate bullying of transgender students by classmates and teachers.

“When I started wearing makeup and lipstick to school, my teacher would scold me – call me ‘tud’ [a derogatory Thai term, roughly translated as ‘faggot’],” said a 25-year-old transgender woman who grew up in Ang Thong province in central Thailand. She believed they singled her out because she had started to grow her hair long as well. “I was also beaten at school by teachers, and teachers would instruct the boy classmates to tease me,” she said.

Transgender people also face obstacles in accessing appropriate health care. A 30-year-old transgender woman said that when she was 20, she was hospitalized for appendicitis and needed urgent surgery. “I was placed in the male ward,” she said. “All the bad things like this happen to me because of a single word on my document – my gender marker.”

Many transgender people interviewed said discrimination in medical settings deterred them from seeking care altogether, threatening their mental and physical well-being.

The lack of legal gender recognition also hampers transgender people’s ability to get jobs, often resulting in automatic rejections. Some employers said that transgender people would only be hired if they dressed according to their sex assigned at birth, not their gender identity. Other employers explicitly stated in job applications that transgender applicants would not be considered. Many people interviewed said they feel restricted to niche employment, such as the beauty industry or sex work.

In recent years, the Thai government has begun to engage with civil society organizations and United Nations agencies to develop a legal gender recognition procedure. The process has stalled and needs urgent attention, Human Rights Watch said.

The Thai government has an important opportunity to match its positive global reputation on LGBT issues with its obligations under international human rights law by developing a rights-based procedure for legal gender recognition. This law should enable transgender people to be recognized according to their gender identity and change their legal name and gender without any medical requirements.

“Ensuring transgender people’s rights to nondiscrimination, education, health care, and employment is paramount to any vision of equality,” Knight said. “While legal gender recognition will not ease all the hardships transgender people in Thailand face, it is a crucial step toward equality and nondiscrimination.”

‘People Can’t Be Fit Into Boxes’: Thailand’s Need for Legal Gender Recognition,” is available at: https://www.hrw.org/node/380638

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on LGBT rights, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Thailand, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/thailand
 

Pick to PostHuman Rights Watch (HRW)Gender discrimination2015 Gender Equality ActThailand
Categories: Prachatai English

Chana villagers returned home after cabinet resolution

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-12-15 21:09
Submitted on Wed, 15 Dec 2021 - 09:09 PMPrachatai

Villagers from Chana District, Songkhla, have returned home after a week of protest against the Chana industrial estate project, following a cabinet resolution issued on Tuesday (14 December).

Chana villagers marched to Government House on Monday (13 December) (Phot by Ginger Cat)

The villagers came to Bangkok on 6 December intending to occupy the area in front of Government House to demand updates on the promises made in 2019 that the government would reconsider the 16,700-rai Chana industrial estate project, after 18-year-old activist Khairiyah Ramanyah has been sitting in front of the Government House every day for a week to remind the government of its promise. 

They were arrested during the night of 6 December at their camp and charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. They were held at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau overnight before being released on 7 December without bail but with the condition that they must not stage the same kind of activity again.

During the police operation, crowd control police blocked reporters from filming as the villagers were taken away in a detention truck. Reporters were threatened with arrest while lights were shone directly at the cameras to prevent photographing. Volunteer medics were also prevented from assisting the villagers, many of whom are older women.

After their release, the villagers returned to Government House and read out a declaration calling for the government to keep the promise it made during their last protest in December 2020, when they demanded that the industrial zone project be cancelled and for a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be conducted to establish quality technical data for decisions about further development projects in the south.

They then moved from Government House to the UN headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and occupied the footpath in front of the building. They stayed in front of the UN headquarters until Monday (13 December), when they marched to Government House.

Their march was met with a police blockade, and they had to change their route after crowd control police blocked off Makkhawan Rangsan bridge, which leads to Government House. They then occupied Chamai Maruchet bridge next to Government House. They called on the government to keep its promise for the Chana industrial zone project to be suspended until an SEA is conducted and said that they would not leave until a cabinet resolution is issued.

They were also joined by other community networks whose livelihood is being affected by development projects and government policy, including members of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community; the Federation of Thai Fisherfolk Association; the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move); and community members from Na Bon District, Nakhon Si Thammarat, who were protesting against a biomass power plant planned for their district.

Activist Khairiyah Rahmanyah, 18, confronting police officers blocking the route to Government House (Photo by Ginger Cat)

On Tuesday (14 December), a cabinet resolution was issued stating that an SEA is to be conducted, while any progress in the Chana industrial zone project must cease. The National Economic and Social Development Council will lead the SEA process, the result of which will be evaluated by Thaksin University and Prince of Songkla University.

After the resolution was issued, the villagers left Government House this morning (15 December) to return home.

The Chana industrial project was approved by a resolution at the last cabinet meeting of the junta government which was installed after the coup in 2014 and aims to construct an 18-billion-baht industrial estate on 16,700 rai of land, which covers 3 subdistricts with 1500 residents. It is seen as controversial due to questions about the public hearing process, as those who opposed the project were barred from attending hearings.

In December 2020, the Chana villagers protested at Government House, demanding that the project be cancelled and for a proper SEA to be conducted.

At that time, Thammanat Prompao, the then Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, announced that a committee would be formed consisting of both those in favour and those against the project. Membership of the committee would be considered later and fieldwork carried out at the beginning of 2021.

On Tuesday (7 December 2021), Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha responded the media about the Chana protest, saying that what Thammanat had proposed to the villagers was not agreed upon by either the cabinet or himself.

Gen Prayut was the one who fired Thammanat in September 2021 during the no-confidence motion after rumours of Thammanat’s attempt to topple him from within the ruling Palang Pracharat Party.

NewsChanaChana industrial zoneChana industrial projectcommunity rights
Categories: Prachatai English

Struggling with mosquitoes (2): the future of dengue control

Prachatai English - Mon, 2021-12-13 19:52
Submitted on Mon, 13 Dec 2021 - 07:52 PMYiamyut Sutthichaya

In Thailand, efforts to control Aedes mosquitoes and dengue fever have produced uneven results. Over the past few decades, the toll of the disease has diminished in some areas. In others, mosquito-borne infections remain high. To improve the situation, control measures are being reconsidered.

Stuffed mosquitoes at the Division of Vector-borne Diseases gallery.

Statistics indicate that the number of dengue cases each year ranges from ten thousand to upwards of one hundred thousand, raising the question of whether existing control measures, which require a large pool of human resources, are truly effective.  Another question arises: what other tools could be used to control dengue?

Struggling with mosquitoes (1): The past and present of dengue control in Thailand

Like other countries around the globe, Thailand is researching new methods to contain vector-borne diseases and reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.  In this special report we survey new approaches to controlling Aedes larvae, methods that work for mosquitoes, as well as people.

Dengue-free mosquito

News reports indicate that over the past 5-10 years, dengue control measures have begun to focus on using technology and data analytics to make mosquitoes deal with their fellow mosquitoes.

Examples include the sterilisation of male mosquitoes to interfere with breeding and the biological modification of mosquitoes so that they either reproduce sterile offspring or offspring that no longer carry dengue. Both methods are being developed in a bid to prevent vector borne diseases.

In Thailand, a 2019 experiment led by Mahidol University, introduced bacteria from the Wolbachia family into male Aedes mosquitoes, which were then sterilised through exposure to weak radiation. Released, they bred with Aedes females without producing offspring. In the process, they also passed Wolbachia bacteria on to mosquitoes in the wild. 

A 2016 test using the same method in Pleang Yao district, Chachoengsao province produced a dramatic reduction in the number of wild Aedes mosquitoes, 97%, for 6 months.

In 2016-17 sterilisation was also used to control Asian tiger mosquitoes in a town on two river islands in Guangzhou, China. The number of adult female mosquitoes decreased for two years running - 83% in 2016 and 94% in 2017.

Sungsit Sungvornyothin, a lecturer from the Department of Medical Entomology, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, explains why dengue control measures are increasingly focused on adult mosquitoes, not larvae.

“…New methods look beyond public cooperation. They only need acceptance. In Singapore, they invite people into their labs, invite them to look at public educational displays …they set out a mosquito cage, put their arm in and demonstrate that they don’t get bitten. Male mosquitoes don’t bite. And these males have been treated with a strain of [Wolbachia] bacteria. It lives in their cells. Mosquitoes carrying the same strain can breed with each other but the bacteria remains in their reproductive organs, in their ovaries and testis. And if they breed with a mosquito carrying a different strain, the strains clash, and the larvae have problems and die, “Sungsit explained.

In 1924, Wolbachia bacteria were found to be living in various insects. Some types of mosquitoes also carry the bacteria but not Aedes.  In 1987, it was learned that Wolbachia affect vector-borne diseases like dengue by disrupting viral transmission. Capitalising on this discovery in 2009, the World Mosquito Program succeeded in producing Aedes mosquitoes which pass Wolbachia along their offspring, reducing the number carrying dengue.

In addition to reducing mosquito populations through the release of sterilised males, the Program now hopes that Wolbachia-carrying Aedes will naturally reproduce, a possible long-term solution to the spread of vector-borne diseases. As of September 2021, treated mosquitoes have been released in 11 countries in the Asia Pacific, Australia and Latin America.

Program data for the release areas shows a significant reduction in dengue infection rates. A recent release in a control zone at Yogyakarta, one of Indonesia’s major cities, reduced the number of dengue infections of all 4 serotypes by as much as 77%.  The number of patients needing hospital care also fell by 86%.

Still no light at the end of the tunnel

Sungsit thinks that limits remain to the use of Wolbachia. In real-world settings, Wolbachia-carriers mingle with dominant populations of local mosquitoes and, given their short lifespans, will need to be repeatedly released to have an impact.

He added that for countries like Thailand, places that are not island nations, new sets of mosquitoes can easily migrate into the area, and noted as well that there was also the possibility of mosquitoes overcoming control procedures. Probably because of such concerns, the Thai Ministry of Public Health remains cautious about using adult mosquitoes to control of dengue.

Caution is warranted. A BBC report from Brazil noted that mosquito populations which had earlier been checked with biologically-modified mosquitoes rebounded in 2019, after an 18 month decline - an outcome contrary to what was supposed to happen.

“Different approaches need to be taken for island nations and places like Thailand which sit beside neighbouring countries. For archipelago countries, the sterile insect technique is likely to work - the population will decrease and no new mosquitoes can enter the country. But in a country surrounded by water like the United States, it still took ten years to control populations of biting flies using irradiation and release. They were trying to control a veterinary problem but solved it for people as well. That’s why, for about 10 years, I think, they tried releasing sterile males again and again and again, even after the fly population was decreasing. It worked because America has ocean on both sides.  It is a separate continent …”

“As for other countries that have succeeded … Vietnam, I guess. They succeeded but on an island. To do it in Thailand … we tried once already with the common fruit fly. We used radiation … to reduce the fruit fly population. We eradicated them in one garden and others flew over from the garden next door. Despite our diligence and ongoing efforts, there was no way to know if our work would ever succeed.”

“We’re choosing genetic modification, using genes from Wolbachia and the like. We are releasing modified creatures back into the environment. But we forget that it is in the nature of living beings to want to keep living. Living things don’t think about becoming extinct. They try to survive, especially insects. No matter how we try to kill them, they always find a way to survive. And when they do, we can’t go back and fix things,” Sungsit said.

With superior laboratory facilities, the Faculty of Science at Mahidol University still leads in researching the use of Wolbachia and sterilisation. According to Dr. Darin Arichokchai, Deputy Director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, Ministry of Public Health, the Division’s main role is onsite testing.

For the immediate future, divisional policy is determined by the limited number of labs in the country.  The demand for modified mosquitoes cannot be met. As a result, new measures will still be used alongside traditional control measures - working with local organisations and communities to eliminate breedings areas and control mosquito larvae.

“To control disease by freeing sterilised and Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes, enough must be released to replace natural populations. Simply speaking, in the long term carrier mosquitoes in the wild need to replaced. To do this, a huge number need to be released.

Right now, we are limited by the fact that existing labs in Thailand cannot produce mosquitoes on such a large scale. Let’s say we need yellow fever mosquitoes for 100 households. We would need 100,000 mosquitoes, but we can only produce 20,000. We’re still not able to actualise our plans but it’s something we have to do, to expand our potential into the future.”

Convergence is the way forward

The Division of Vector-Borne Diseases is also using information technology to control of mosquito larvae. Raw data is gathered using an online platform and application developed for the Village Health Volunteers (VHV) and public health officers. The resulting database, dubbed the Outbreak Tracker, can be used to evaluate risks and follow outbreaks as they occur.

Other technological advances are also being made.

“There are some innovative new mosquito traps that not only trap and kill mosquitoes but also count them. Some of these are already being tested and there will be more in the future. In collaboration with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) we are looking to use AI to trap Aedes mosquitoes.

A photo of research conducted on mosquitoes by the Division of Vector-borne Diseases.

"Currently we produce risk assessments to see which areas have dengue outbreaks. Our people go onsite to survey mosquito larvae. It requires a lot of people but we’re thinking how AI could be used to help us survey, without sending people to catch mosquitoes.”

“We made heavy use of the Outbreak Tracker platform in 2018-2019 when we organised a volunteer program to eradicate mosquito breeding areas. That year, volunteer campaign programs were organised all across the country and use of the application increased. Controlling Aedes mosquito larvae was a part of the program. We initially anticipated that dengue would spread heavily, that we would have around 140,000 cases around the country.  As a result of the continuous campaigning, the number of cases for the year was only 80,000,” Dr. Darin said.

Interdisciplinary integration is currently another important step in controlling dengue, as can be seen from a Global Vector Control Response (GVCR) scheme that was approved by the World Health Assembly, WHO, in May 2017.

GVCR is a strategy to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates of vector-borne diseases by raising disease control awareness.  It calls for the cooperation of organisations outside of public health sector and coordination of approaches to make public health databases, conduct pandemic investigations, build community cooperation, and develop basic infrastructure to reduce carrier-insect reproduction.

In addition to the efforts of public health organisations, it calls for agricultural authorities to improve hygienic management of water system on farms; for communities to survey water sources at risk of becoming insect larvae breeding areas; for Public Works authorities to improve basic infrastructure to reduce breeding areas; and for the promotion of health knowledge by the media, as well as in schools, religious institutions and workplaces.

Using 2016 morbidity rates a baseline, GVCR aims to reduce vector-borne disease infections worldwide by 25% a year from 2020, 40% in 2025 and 60% in 2030.  The goal is to all but eradicate the disease within 2030.

In an online seminar hosted by the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) and the Technical Cooperation Directorate of Singapore in January 2021, GVCR plans for Thailand were discussed as a part of a vector-borne disease prevention and control curriculum focused on dengue fever.

Dr. Darin, a speaker at the event, said to Prachatai, underlining the importance of using existing tools altogether with public cooperation instead of focusing on only any single method.

“There is no single solution to controlling mosquitoes. Control requires that lots of measures be used together. If the question is, would eradicating grown mosquitoes still require fogging or not? In the next 5-10 years, probably yes. But the method of fogging may change. Before, people laboured carrying back-pack foggers that weighted over 10 kilos – in the future we may use drones, but fogging will still be needed.

Mosquito control rally outfit at the Division of Vector-borne Diseases.

“Getting rid of mosquitoes breeding areas still requires public participation. But in any case, we all need to look after ourselves, look after our surroundings and avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. With regard to innovation, we can do risk assessment faster, and reduce the mosquito population in outbreak areas more rapidly. Lastly, we can continue to develop an effective information system that links data on people, the virus and mosquitoes so that we can analyse them together and have a clear picture of the risk of infection in each area.

“As for dengue vaccines, honestly, right now vaccines are not sufficiently effective. There is one (Dengvaxia vaccine) but data indicates that its effectiveness is not as good as it should be. In the near future, another new vaccine may come out and be registered in Thailand. But vaccines are an expense that comes out of the national budget. If we develop them, they come at a cost and it will take some time before they are cheaper. That’s why I say there is no one single solution, no one method that will solve everything. All the measures need to be utilised together.”

Sungsit at Mahidol University agrees that integrating disease control measures, a so-called “One Health” program, is important. In the case of Aedes mosquitoes, they not only carry the dengue virus, but also yellow fever, zika, and chikungunya. They can also cause lumpy skin disease on cows with viral infections in their mouths. As a result disease control measures needs to consider livestock as well as people.

A Bangkok sewer and mosquito fogging smoke.

“We cannot say for certain that in the future, Aedes mosquitoes from our region will also spread yellow fever like in Africa and South America. But there are lots of other viral diseases. If we go south, Aedes mosquitoes are carriers of elephantiasis and Wuchereria pahangi, a name derived from Pahang state (in Malaysia).”

“Aedes breeding areas are close to humans. We make these breeding areas for them.  It is almost as if we make them to hurt ourselves. And now, we are responsible for the bigger picture … we have pets and livestock, and we are the source of Aedes mosquitoes,” Sungsit said.

International guideline aside, integrated control measure face challenges on the street of Thailands where public cooperation is often lacking and land-usage regulations remain weak.

“Clean water is on private land.  Water in public places is not that clean. It flows from abandoned buildings and plugged drainage pipes. When the rain falls, the water pools up.”

“Elsewhere in the world, people living in urban areas are told to take care of their property. Because if being left unattended, if a fire happens, if wild animals move in, it will affect adjacent houses. If you don’t take proper care of the water on your property, if you don’t thoroughly drain it, the ground becomes saturated, creating problems for you and your neighbors.”

Said the Thai City Planners Society president Assoc Prof Panit Pujinda, a man who once contracted dengue fever at a construction site, noted the problem of careless land management. According to Panit, the well-being of people in urban areas depends upon in two key factors: owner accountability for land mismanagement and strict law enforcement. Thailand lacks both.

“If we assume that everyone is a good person, we might conclude that they are unaware of the negative impact their actions have on others. In this case, the solution might be to engage in public relations so that they know what they are doing to others. This might reduce the problem by half.”

“But there is another group that thinks ‘I don’t give a damn’. These people require more management.  They need to be advised.  Active measures need to be taken to the extent of using the law to force them to change.  Measures from light to heavy should be employed … but at present, not even the first steps have been taken.”

In terms of law, Asst Prof Panit suggests that current land tax regulations that are not used in line with city zoning which determines the category of land in question. Landowners in urban areas can still avoid paying fines on vacant land by planting gardens. Gardens in densely-populated areas expose more people to mosquitoes.

When a city expands without good management, those who reside in undeveloped areas with cheaper places to live face the most mosquito exposure.

“Other cities in the world use the mechanism of land tax. Core urban areas fill up first. When land in the city is fully utilized, the undeveloped areas that are a source of disease, crime, illicit gatherings and dangerous animals disappear. As adjacent undeveloped areas decrease, less people die from contagious disease.”

“But in our cities, undeveloped areas can be found in the heart of town … Something else should be there but in the middle of Si Lom [in downtown Bangkok], people are still planting mango and lime trees. The area is prepared with power and water for 30-40 story buildings. Even electric rail transport. And then they say that planting lime and mango trees is all it takes to avoid paying for infrastructure. There is no incentive to solve the problem of underdeveloped urban land like this.  Instead, the city expands outerward.”

“Eventually, suburban areas are also infected with dengue because they located beside farm areas. If it was all farm, the virus wouldn’t affect people so much but when housing estates are locate close to farm area, mosquitoes from the area reach people,” said Panit.

This special report series is supported by Internews' Earth Journalism Network.

FeatureIn-DepthDengue feverpublic healthInternews' Earth Journalism Networkvector-borne diseaseSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/12/96379
Categories: Prachatai English

Laws admitted as obstruction in reporting on monarchy reform

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-12-11 14:38
Submitted on Sat, 11 Dec 2021 - 02:38 PMPrachatai

Academics, lawyers, a former Constitutional Court judge and a former television newsroom editor have discussed the Constitutional Court verdict outlawing the call for monarchy reform. Despite the different stances taken, the lèse majesté law and cultural values regarding the monarchy prove to have a serious effect on media freedom.

A snapshot of the panel, facilitated by Teeranai Charuvastra, the TJA vice president (right).

The discussion was held on 8 December, organized by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) following the Constitutional Court ruling on 10 November 2021 that claimed that calls for monarchy reform and monarchy-related activities organized by the protesters since 2020 are unconstitutional and after the meeting between the free-to-air television operators and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) who warned that coverage of monarchy reform must take care to be in line with the Court ruling.

Wasan Soypisudh, a former President of the Constitutional Court, said the media can be considered as an accomplice in crime if they published messages about the monarchy that are outlawed. However, te question of intent would also be taken into account when considering the case.

So he suggested that the media avoid reporting what may be regarded as illegal. The ten demands for monarchy reform can be reported with care. The parts that infringe the monarchy will have to be censored. 

Peerawat Chotthammo, President of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and former television newsroom editor, said there are many regulations that television stations must observe. Beside the lèse majesté law, there is also an NBTC law that can punish stations for broadcasting content that damages public order and morality.

There is also a business aspect to trying to report a controversial issue like the monarchy reform. Popularity and revenue are serious factors that can also determine how television presents news when new competitors from online platforms are overwhelming. Those are reasons why television newsrooms are sensitive about reporting monarchy reform. 

In the current situation, Peerawat said, news about the monarchy has gone back to the basics of ‘5W1H’, carefully reporting ‘who, what, where, when, why and how’. Footage may be allowed on air, but the sound track and visible messages may not always be put on display. 

Asst Prof Phansasiri Kularb, a journalism academic from Chulalongkorn University, said that the media in a democratic society ideally has a duty to give society well-rounded facts and a middle ground for discussion so that people can have enough information to determine their lives or resolve tensions.

On the issue of monarchy reform, the media must consider what aspect of coverage will benefit the people. In her opinion, what should be reported is its relationship with the public interest or the public’s daily lives. The media also has to fact-check the statements made by protesters as well as the ruling of the Constitutional Court. 

The journalism academic said that what is regrettable is the prosecution of people who spoke about the reform, which creates conditions that hinder the media from doing its duty. Culture also plays a part in media performance. The media should also question how society has become so sensitive and suppressive and design a communication method in order to create an impact on the public in finding a common resolution without deepening the ongoing conflict.

NewsThai Journalists Association (TJA)press freedomNational Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC)Wasan SoypisudhPeerawat ChotthammoPhansasiri Kularb
Categories: Prachatai English

Chana villagers returned to protest industrial project

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-12-09 16:52
Submitted on Thu, 9 Dec 2021 - 04:52 PMPrachatai

Villagers from Chana District, Songkhla Province, have returned to Ratchadamnoen Avenue to protest against the Chana industrial project after they were arrested on Monday night (6 December) while protesting in front of Government House.

Several Chana protesters praying at their camp in front of the UN headquarters

At around 15.00 on Wednesday (8 December), the villagers assembled in front of Government House and read out a declaration calling for the government to keep the promise it made during their last protest in December 2020, when they demanded that the project be cancelled and for a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be conducted to establish quality technical data for decisions about further development projects in the south.

At that time, Thammanat Prompao, the then Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, announced that a committee would be formed consisting of both those in favour and those against the project.

They also asked for updates on the committee and said that they have no intention of causing disorder in the society as the authorities claimed.

Protesters gathering in front of the UN headquarters

After they read out their declaration, the villagers moved from Government House to the UN headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and occupied the footpath in front of the building to wait for more community members to arrive. A representative of the group said that the move is to prevent another arrest or bail revocation, as they were given the condition that they must not stage another protest when they were released on Tuesday (7 December). The group also said they are using the space in front of the UN building to raise awareness about their issues for the international community as well as Thai society, and to wait for members of their network to join them from the south, before returning to Government House on 13 December 2021.

Earlier on Wednesday morning (8 December), activist Khairiyah Rahmanyah, 18, went to file a petition with the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice, and Human Rights calling for an investigation into the police operation on the Chana protesters on Monday night, and for an investigation into whether there was any violation of human rights during the implementation of the Chana industrial project.

NewsChanaChana industrial projectcommunity rightsSongkhlaenvironmentCommunity participationfreedom of assembly
Categories: Prachatai English

Civic space in Thailand remained repressive in 2021, says CIVICUS

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-12-09 11:45
Submitted on Thu, 9 Dec 2021 - 11:45 AMCIVICUS

Thailand’s civic space rated as ‘repressed’ as majority of countries in Asia are suppressing civic freedoms in 2021, stated by CIVICUS, a global platform tracking civic space and civil society.

  • Majority of countries in Asia restricting civic freedoms
  • Singapore downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’
  • Concerns about the deterioration of civic space in Myanmar and Afghanistan

Restrictions and attacks on activists and civil society has persisted across the Asian region according to a new report released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online research platform that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories The report, People Power Under Attack 2021, shows that out of 26 countries or territories  in Asia, four – China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam – are rated as ‘closed’. Eleven are rated as ‘repressed’ and seven as ‘obstructed’. Civic space in Japan, Mongolia and South Korea is rated narrowed, while Taiwan remains the only country rated as ‘open’.

In reality, this means that the basic freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly and association are not being respected in most countries in this region. This decline marks a trend worldwide, as data from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that 89% of the world’s population now live in closed, repressed or obstructed countries.

In Thailand where civic space is rated ‘repressed,’ the CIVICUS Monitor documented in 2021, excessive use of force around protests, the use of criminal defamation, lèse majesté and other repressive laws against activists and proposed plans for a restrictive NGO law.

Police attempted to disrupt protests and use excessive force to protesters. Some were detained and suffered injuries, including children. In February 2021, authorities placed dozens of containers along the road in front of the entire length of the compound of the army barracks in an attempt to block the protesters. Razor wire was also placed to prevent pedestrians from using the bridge in front of the barracks. The Thai police then shot rubber bullets and used water cannon and tear gas.  In August 2021, police forcibly dispersed at least ten demonstrations using rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas. Journalists, including those who visibly identified themselves as press, were also reported being hit with rubber bullets at protests.

In addition to cracking down on street protests, Thai authorities have continued their harassment of pro-democracy protest leaders and participants through legal processes including charges of sedition and “lèse-majesté”. There have been a significantly increase in the use of Article 112 of the Criminal Code (“lèse-majesté”) to criminalise protesters after almost a three-year hiatus. More than a hundred have been charged under Article 112, including children. Many of those charged for lèse-majesté have been subjected to a systematic denial of bail by the courts, both during investigation and pending trial. Critics have also been targeted. In January 2021, a woman was jailed for 43 years for criticising the royal family, the country's harshest ever sentence for insulting the monarchy.

Concerns continue to be raised about a draft law to regulate non-profit groups which could be used to muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The “Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations” contains provisions that would have a deeply damaging impact on those joining together to advocate for human rights in the country, in violation of their right to freedom of association and other rights.

This year, Singapore has been downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ as the government continues to use various tactics to silence dissent. A repressive “anti-fake news” law was used against government critics and independent media outlets. Journalists and bloggers also faced defamation charges with exorbitant fines imposed. A vaguely worded contempt-of-court law has been used to prosecute activists for criticism of the courts under the guise of protecting the judicial system, while activists organising peaceful gatherings, including solo protesters, have been arrested or charged. Civil society has also raised concerns that a new Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, passed in October 2021, will further curtail civic space

“A staggering number of people in the Asia region are living in countries with closed or repressed civic space where their freedoms to speak up, organise or mobilise are severely restricted. Now Singapore, which claims to be a democracy, is joining this notorious list, due to its array of restrictive laws used to stifle dissent, the attacks on independent media, and a chilling new foreign interference law,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS.

In Asia, the top civic violation this year is the use of restrictive laws in 21 countries, as governments use legislation to muzzle dissent. Human rights defenders were detained under such laws in at least 19 countries and in 11 countries they were prosecuted.

China continued to prosecute scores of human rights defenders under vaguely worded offences while in Hong Kong, the draconian National Security Law has been weaponised to target dozens of activists. In Vietnam, activists and bloggers are facing long sentences for ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing democratic freedoms’ while in Cambodia, ‘incitement’ laws are systematically used to target dozens of activists. Criminal defamation laws were deployed to criminalise activists and critics such as in Bangladesh for online dissent.

Another major violation is the crackdown on protests with protesters detained in at least 14 countries. In Myanmar, thousands of protesters were arbitrarily detained by the junta following the February 2021 military coup and some were even met with deadly force. In Indonesia, activists protesting the unilateral renewal of the Papua Special Autonomy Law.

Other major violations documented in the Asia region include the harassment and intimidation of activists, including surveillance, smear campaigns, cyber attacks, torture, ill-treatment and the detention of journalists.

“As authoritarian leaders in Asia seek to hold on to power they have deployed restrictive laws to arrest and criminalise human rights defenders. Scores of activists and journalists are behind bars, facing trumped up charges, and some have been tortured and ill-treated. Instead of listening to peoples’ demands, the authorities have also resorted to disrupting peaceful protests in numerous countries, at times under the guise of the pandemic, with excessive or deadly force. Despite these attacks, civil society have not relented and are finding new ways to push back and to demand their rights,” said Benedict.

Countries of concern in the region were Myanmar which saw a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms following the coup with the crackdown on protests, the arrest, detention and criminalisation of hundreds of activists, the targeting of journalists, as well as the torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners. Another country is Afghanistan - following the Taliban takeover, protests - especially by women - were met with excessive force leading to deaths and injuries, and there have been reports of intimidation and attacks on activists and journalists.

Despite these threats to civic freedoms, there has been some good news. Mongolia’s civic space rating has been upgraded from obstructed to narrowed. In April 2021 the country adopted a new law for the protection of human rights defenders, making it the first country in Asia to provide a legal framework for their protection. Other positive developments include progress in the campaign by activists to hold Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accountable at the International Criminal Court, and the decriminalisation of same-sex relations in Bhutan.

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021.

Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Pick to PostCIVICUScivic spacehuman rightsAsia
Categories: Prachatai English

Constitutional case to be filed over Thai-only Covid-19 cash handouts policy

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-12-09 11:13
Submitted on Thu, 9 Dec 2021 - 11:13 AM Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)

Migrant workers and stateless persons to file case with Constitutional Court concerning access to Ministry of Labour’s “Section 33, We Love Each Other” Covid-19 handouts for constitutional breach.

The Constitutional Court logo.

On 8 June 2021, representatives of the persons insured pursuant to Section 33 of the Social Security Act 1990 including migrant workers and stateless workers had submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman demanding an inquiry and recommendations to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Finance to rescind the criteria which require that an insured person pursuant to Section 33 has to be a Thai national in order to have access to the cash handouts.

The complainants demand that they and other insured persons who are stateless be given access to the remedy pursuant to the “Section 33, We Love Each Other” cash relief and other similar programs in the future. This will ensure an equal and fair treatment. The Ombudsman was also asked to propose this issue to the Constitutional Court in order for the court to rule if the program is an act which constitutes an unjust discrimination and segregation in breach of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand BE 2560’s Sections 4 and 27 or not.  

On 15 September 2021, the insured persons pursuant to Section 33 including migrant workers and stateless workers received a reply from the Ombudsman which states that the criteria of the “Section 33, We Love Each Other” cash relief which restrict access solely to a Thai national does not constitute a discrimination and is therefore not in a breach of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand BE 2560’s Sections 4 and 27 since the provisions which prohibit a discrimination on the grounds of differences in race do not include nationality (for more information, please read). 

The representatives of the migrant workers and stateless persons do not agree with the Ombudsman’s ruling and decide to file the case with the Constitutional Court for a review of the facts and to recommend to the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Finance and the cabinet regarding the “Section 33, We Love Each Other” program which only restricts its access to a Thai national and to adjudicate if it is in breach of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand BE 2560’s Sections 4 and 27 or not. The case will be filed on 9 December 2021 at 10 am.  

Pasuta Chuenkhachorn, Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), says that the case filed with the Constitutional Court is an exercise of the right to the remaining judicial mechanism to ensure the legal protection and uphold human rights of the people living in Thailand. The Constitutional Court is asked to determined if the Ministry of Labour’s and the Ministry of Finance’s policy to address the need of people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic constitutes an act of discrimination or not.

Pasuta thinks the Constitutional Court should accept to review the case and adjudicate it in light of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), an international human rights law to which Thailand is a state party. After all, Thailand has declared its commitment toward promoting and supporting respect and recognition of human rights and fundamental freedom of all human beings regardless of the reasons based on race, gender, language or religion.  

Pick to PostLabourLabour rightHuman Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)Constitutional court
Categories: Prachatai English

Construction tycoon sentenced to prison for black leopard poaching

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-12-08 21:44
Submitted on Wed, 8 Dec 2021 - 09:44 PMPrachatai

The Supreme Court ruled today (8 December) to sentence Ital-Thai Development President Premchai Karnasuta to 3 years and 2 months in prison for poaching in Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary.

Premchai Karnasuta (seated) when he was arrested at his forest camp

His driver Yong Dodkrua was sentenced to 3 years and 5 months in prison, while hunter Thanee Thummat got 3 years and 9 months. The Court also ordered all three defendants to pay compensation of 2 million baht to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), with an interest rate of 7.5% per year.

Premchai, Yong, Thanee, and Nathee Riamsaen, who was their cook, were arrested by officials from the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary at their camp in February 2018. Carcasses of a black leopard, a barking deer, and a Kalij pheasant were also found at their camp.

They were later charged with carrying firearms in public without a license, poaching in a wildlife sanctuary, poaching protected animals, and illegal possession of carcasses of protected species.

On 19 March 2019, the Court of First Instance sentenced Premchai to 16 months in prison, Yong to 13 months, and Thanee to 2 years and 17 months. Meanwhile, Nathee was sentenced to 4 months in prison, but her sentence was suspended. She also received a fine of 10,000 baht. They also had to pay compensation of 2 million baht to the DNP.

The four defendants filed an appeal. The Appeal Court then ruled to increase their sentence. Premchai was sentenced to 2 years and 14 months in prison, Yong to 2 years and 9 months, and Thanee to 2 years and 21 months. Nathee received a prison sentence of 1 years and 8 months and a fine of 40,000 baht, but her sentence was suspended for 2 years.

However, the Appeal Court dismissed several charges against Premchai, including the poaching in a wildlife sanctuary and the illegal possession of carcasses of protected species. He was instead charged with assisting in the possession of carcasses of protected species.

Only Premchai, Yong, and Thanee appealed to the Supreme Court, whose decision to uphold the Appeal Court’s ruling brings an end to a long-running case which has captured public interest for the past 4 years and sparked public anger over the Thai elite’s perceived impunity and unfairness in the justice system.

NewsThungyai Naresuan Wildlife SanctuaryPoachingConservationWildlifeProtected speciesBlack leopardPremchai Karnasuta
Categories: Prachatai English

Myanmar: Unbridled destruction of freedoms as Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-12-08 15:06
Submitted on Wed, 8 Dec 2021 - 03:06 PMAmnesty International

Aung San Suu Kyi's prison sentence is "the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar," said Amnesty International yesterday (7 December). 

In response to the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah said:

“The harsh sentences handed down to Aung San Suu Kyi on these bogus charges are the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar. The court’s farcical and corrupt decision is part of a devastating pattern of arbitrary punishment that has seen more than 1,300 people killed and thousands arrested since the military coup in February.

“There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights. They must not be forgotten and left to their fate.

“As violence escalates, displacing tens of thousands of people and setting up a humanitarian crisis in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, the situation in Myanmar today is alarming in the extreme. Without a decisive, unified and swift international response this can and will get worse.    

“The international community must step up to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of grave violations to account, and ensure humanitarian and health assistance is granted as a matter of utmost urgency. The country’s healthcare system is in tatters, the economy is on a precipice, and food shortages loom. The world cannot sit back and defer to ASEAN — states must act now to ensure an end to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture and other gross violations, and to the decades-long pattern of impunity that has led us to where we are today.

“It is shameful that ASEAN has yet to fully implement its emergency consensus after more than half a year. Other than blocking military leader Min Aung Hlaing from attending a handful of meetings, ASEAN has remained shockingly weak as the Myanmar military continues to crush peaceful dissent, sow destruction, and wipe out freedom of expression.”

Background

Myanmar’s de facto leader State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on 1 February, along with other elected officials, activists and members of the Union Election Commission. 

The guilty sentences handed down on 6 December were for incitement against the military under Section 505 (b) and for alleged breaches of COVID-19 measures under Section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law. She is facing a total of 11 criminal cases, including under Section 67 of the Telecommunications Law, and the Export and Import Law (related to the possession of walkie talkie devices in her home). She has also been accused of violating Section 55 of the Anti-Corruption Law and the Official Secrets Act. All of her hearings have been closed to the public.

On 24 April, the ASEAN held an emergency summit on Myanmar in Jakarta. A Five-Point Consensus was reached at the summit, which was attended by Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has been barred from more recent sessions. 

The Consensus called for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, constructive dialogue among all parties, the appointment of a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate dialogue, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar. More than seven months on from the summit, it is clear that this approach has failed to yield truly meaningful results. ASEAN’s special envoy has been blocked from visiting Suu Kyi, who is being held at an undisclosed location in the capital Naypyidaw.

The military has continued to kill protesters, bystanders and other civilians, and arrest, detain, prosecute and imprison activists, human rights defenders, media workers, medical workers, artists, political opponents, and critics of the military for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB), as of 3 December, the military has killed more than 1,300 people and arrested more than 10,000.

Pick to PostAung San Suu KyiMyanmarMyanmar coupAmnesty International
Categories: Prachatai English

Villagers arrested for protesting industrial zone, ordered not to protest again

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-12-08 14:14
Submitted on Wed, 8 Dec 2021 - 02:14 PMPrachatai

On 6 December, 36 villagers from Chana District, Songkhla Province, were arrested after they camped in front of Government House, asking for an update on the promise made last year to reconsider a 16,700-rai industrial estate in the South that would affect their livelihoods.

A villager arrested by the police on Monday night. 

As of 7 December afternoon, the environmental law NGO EnLaw,, tweeted that the villagers had been released without bail at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau where they were detained for a night. The police set the condition that they must not stage any activity of this kind again.

According to the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), the villagers were charged with violating the Emergency Decree, causing traffic disruptions and refusing to follow official instructions. Among the villagers charged was a 70 year old.

“What the police have done to the people of Chana who came peacefully to demand answers from the government clearly shows that this is a government working for tycoons before the people,” said Pornpen Kongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation. “This further demonstrates that this government has no respect for the people.”

On Tuesday, 18-year-old Khairiyah Rahmanyah and other young protesters who had not been arrested gathered in front of the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission, opposite Government House, and declared they will keep fighting.

Meanwhile, Rungruang Rahmanyah, one of the protesters arrested last night, wrote a letter while in detention saying that the police told them that the authorities won't press charges against them if they stop protesting against the industrial project.

Ruangruang wrote that the protesters refused the offer, and that they will return to Government House once released.

"We are ready to give up our lives," he wrote.

On Monday night, community members were taken away in a detention truck, while crowd control police prevented reporters from recording the operation, threatening them with arrest and claiming that this was in line with an agreement between the Royal Thai Police and the media professional associations. Lights were intentionally directed against the photographers to prevent photographing. The police also stopped volunteer medics from reaching community members.

The incident caused #saveจะนะ hit Thailand’s twitter top trend on 6 and 7 December.

The Chana industrial project was approved by a resolution at the last cabinet meeting of the junta government which was installed after the coup in 2014. The project aims to construct an 18-billion-baht industrial estate on 16,700 rai of land. The area covers 3 sub districts with 1,500 residents.

The project is controversial because of questions about the public hearing process where those who opposed the project for a number of reasons, including its impact on livelihoods, homes and the environment, were barred from attending hearings.

The villagers had come to protest at Government House in December last year, demanding the project be cancelled and for a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be conducted to establish quality technical data for decisions about further development projects in the south.

At that time, Thammanat Prompao, the then Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, announced that a committee would be formed consisting of both those in favour and those against the project. Membership of the committee would be considered later and fieldwork carried out at the beginning of 2021.

On Tuesday (7 December 2021), Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha answered the media about the Chana protesters incident, saying that what Thammanat had proposed to the villagers was not agreed upon by either the cabinet or himself.

Gen Prayut was the one who fired Thammanat in September 2021 during the no-confidence motion after rumours of Thammanat’s attempt to topple him from within the ruling Palang Pracharat Party.

NewsChana industrial zoneSongkhla#Saveจะนะ #SaveChana
Categories: Prachatai English

Next steps on Thailand’s road to marriage equality

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 23:01
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 11:01 PMAnna Lawattanatrakul

On 17 November 2021, the Thai Constitutional Court ruled that Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code, which states that marriage can only be contracted between a man and a woman, does not violate Section27 of the Constitution, which states that all persons are equal, and equally protected, under the law.

It also observed that parliament, the cabinet, and other relevant agencies should draft legislation to grant rights to LGBTQ people.

Pride flags with the message "Marriage equality" hung above the Ratchaprasong Intersection during the 28 November 2021 protest

The ruling was made after a petition filed by Permsap Sae-Ung and Puangphet Hengkham was forwarded to the Constitutional Court by the Central Juvenile and Family Court. Permsap and Puangphet filed a complaint with the Central Juvenile and Family Court in early 2020 after they were denied marriage registration by the Bangkok Yai District Office and asked the Court to either order the registrar to register their marriage or to forward their complaint to the Constitutional Court to rule whether Article 1448 violates the Constitution.

The ruling sparked criticism from activists and members of the public, many of whom expressed their disappointment and anger at the Court’s decision and called for the law to be change so that everyone has equal rights, while some also noted that the ruling came a week after the Constitutional Court’s 10 November ruling that calls for monarchy reform are treasonous.

Meanwhile, during Thailand’s Universal Periodic Review session on 10 November 2021, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Thani Thongphakdi said during his opening statement that the Thai government is working on promoting LGBTQ rights and is in the process of revising the law on gender equality and “developing a specific law on civil partnership.”

LGBTQ rights activist Matcha Phorn-in, founder and executive director of Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project, V-Day Thai coordinator, and co-president of International Family Equality Day (IFED), said that considering the overall human rights situation in Thailand, the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the call for monarchy reform, and the fact that the hearing has been repeatedly postponed, she was prepared for the ruling to not be in favour of the movement, although she said that the Thai government’s promise to the international community during the last UPR session gave her hope.

“Part of me was prepared, but once the ruling was issued, I felt horrible, because it reinforces the idea that the state, and the Constitutional Court as the representative of the state’s mindset and power, does not see that what we are facing is a violation of human rights and sees that not allowing LGBTQ people to marry equally does not contravene the principles of the Constitution, and if we go back to the Constitution, which says that people must receive equal treatment in Thai society, it is not reflected at all in practice and in the law,” Matcha said.

Matcha (Centre) with her family during their 100-kilometre run to campaign for marriage equality and the right to a family (Photo from Matcha Phornin)

Nevertheless, Matcha said that she received support from other activists, and that she will keep going. On 30 November, Matcha and her rainbow family – her partner Veerawan Wanna and their daughter Siriwan Phorn-in – along with other LGBTQ and ally team members, ran 100 kilometres from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son as part of their 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign for marriage equality and the right to a family, aiming to raise awareness and demand acceptance and legal protection for other rainbow families and LGBTQ couples. 

No heaven for LGBTQ

Despite the Thai government’s attempt to promote the country as a heaven for LGBTQ people, the LGBTQ community in Thailand continues to face discrimination and violence. Students at many universities continue to have to file documents requesting permission to dress according to their gender identity, while trans people face discrimination in their workplace.

At the same time, LGBTQ couples are not allowed to register their marriage, depriving them of the legal rights, protection, and recognition that comes with being legally married and of their right to found a family.

This lack of legislation protecting LGBTQ people in Thailand, Matcha said, reflects the discriminatory attitude and homophobia still present in Thai society, which leads to hate crime. Such homophobic and transphobic attitudes are also the reason the law needs to be changed to ensure equal rights.

A protester during the 28 November 2021 protest has a sign taped to their back

Matcha said that there are many LGBTQ families in Thailand whose children are suffering in school because their parents are not recognized by law and are bullied and discriminated against – a violation of children’s rights. She also said that in many cases, only one parent is legally recognized, which affects the child’s safety in cases of emergency if their parent is not able to sign certain documents.

“There are many other LGBTQ parents who are not accepted by society, their family, and the law. In practice, they care for their children as their children, but legally the law does not accept them, so it is as if they are not in the same family,” Matcha said.

Matcha herself was not able to legally adopt her daughter Siriwan, because she was not accepted by her daughter’s biological family due to her sexuality, even though they have been a family almost 11 years. Whenever documents are required by her daughter’s school, she must have Siriwan’s biological father sign a proxy authorization.

However, this is not possible for more official procedures. Matcha said that she and her partner once wanted to take their daughter on a family trip to Japan, but found that they were not able to get their daughter a passport. She also said that Siriwan was once invited to join a conference, but was not able to travel for the same reason, depriving her of her right to travel, and if Siriwan wants to take out a student loan, Matcha would not be able to be her guarantor because they are not each other’s family in the eyes of the law.

The lack of legal protection and recognition forces LGBTQ couples to seek legal loopholes in order to be granted protection. Matcha said that there are cases where one partner would have their parent adopt their partner so that they would be legally recognized as family. Matcha said she does not oppose to this, but finds it painful and unacceptable in terms of human dignity, as people who are partners in practice have to be recognized as siblings in the eyes of the law in order to have the rights and benefits which come with being a family. She also said that they can never be sure whether this method would truly grant them legal recognition and that it forces them into a situation where they do not have the same protection as everyone else.

“Thailand has always been deceiving the world that it is a heaven for LGBT people, but there is not even a single law protecting us, so I think that it is time for us to strip away Thai society’s mask and make sure people know that the situation facing LGBT people in Thailand is as bad as anywhere else in the world. It is not good at all,” Matcha said.

“The overall situation of democracy, human rights, and LGBT rights in Thailand is very bad, so it is something we have to take in order to make the law in our country better so that we are protected and are granted the same dignity as everyone else, and then we will be able to say on the international stage that we have a law protecting everyone without discrimination.”

A protester during the 28 November 2021 protest holding a sign saying "Marriage equality = human right"

The issue could also lie in the text of the existing law itself, which is still very much based on the gender binary. Section 27 of the Constitution states that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights,” and when Permsap and Puangphet first filed a complaint with the Ombudsman in early 2019 after they were denied marriage registration by the Phasi Charoen district office, their complaint was dismissed on the grounds that denying marriage registration to LGBTQ couples is not discrimination because the law only considers gender assigned at birth.

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, explained that, when the Constitution was drafted, the main issue was equality between men and women, and so the text was written in such a way to be clear. When it was said later that the concept of gender identity should also be included in the Constitution, there was an argument that every gender is already included in the terms “men and women.”

However, Khemthong said that this is not true in practice. Despite the constitution drafting committee’s claim that there is no need to include the concept of gender in the Constitution because every identity is included by the terms “men and women,” when it comes to the Ombudsman or the courts, gender identity is not recognized.

Khemthong said that we may need to change our interpretation of the law, and if everyone understands that when the law says “men and women,” every gender identity is included, amending the text itself may not be necessary. Nevertheless, he said that, if society is very conservative and refuses to change its way of reading the law, an amendment could be more effective. 

The road ahead

An activist stood on top of scaffolding during the 28 November 2021 while wearing a wedding dress and wrapped in clothes the colour of the LGBTQ Pride flag as part of a campaign for marriage equality

Currently, two bills on marriage for LGBTQ couples are already waiting to go before parliament.

In June 2020, the Cabinet approved of the Civil Partnership bill proposed by the Ministry of Justice, which defines “civil partnership” as a union between two people of the same gender, both of whom must be at least 17 years old and at least one of whom must be a Thai national.

The Civil Partnership bill has previously been criticised by NGOs and LGBTQ rights activists, who questioned the need for separate legislation legalising LGBTQ marriages and raised concerns that the bill will deepen the stigma against the LGBTQ community in Thailand. They also criticized it for not giving LGBTQ couples the same rights as heterosexual couples and for being unclear about whether certain rights are granted, such as whether a person in a civil partnership is allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner, or whether they are allowed to take their partner’s last name.

Later, in July 2020, a bill proposing amendments to the sections on marriage and family in the Civil and Commercial Code was put up for public consultation. It was proposed by Move Forward Party MP Tunyawat Kamolwongwat and proposes that the terminology used in the law be changed to use “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman.”

The bill also proposes to raise the age at which a person can legally marry from 17 to 18 years.

The proposed amendments will allow individuals to be legally married regardless of gender, and ensure that they receive equal rights, duties, and protection under the law. If the bill passes, LGBT couples who have registered their marriage will be able to adopt children together, make medical decisions on behalf of their partner, and in cases where one partner dies, the other will be able to inherit from their partner and make legal decisions about their partner’s assets.

Both bills still have to be approved by parliament before becoming law. The bill proposed by Tunyawat already appeared on parliament agenda in early 2021, but has yet to appear before parliament.

Love Wins: A documentary

Valentine 2020 : Bangkok's district office denied LGBTQ marriage registration

Gender equality network demands democracy for all

Despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling, these processes should be able to keep going. Khemthong said that the bills waiting to go before parliament have to wait their turn, but going through the judicial channel is seen as a fast track, as getting a court order would speed up the process because the court would normally set a time limit for legislation to be enacted.

Khemthong explained that the legislative process is usually a political process, and it is not necessary for the courts to be involved; it is merely an option for those involved to decide whether they want to go to court. He also explained that the channel is available to ensure that no legislation is enacted that contravenes the Constitution or is not in accordance with the overall legal system.

He said that the Court’s ruling, in which it says whether something is right or wrong and what must be done, is clear and binding for every organization, which, if the order is not followed, will be considered to be neglecting their duty. In the case of the recent amendment to the abortion law, the Constitutional Court ruled that Article 301 of the Criminal Code, which criminalises abortion, violates the Constitution and ordered the law to be amended within 360 days of the ruling – a tactic Khemthong said is used by Constitutional Courts in many countries to reduce tension, since it gives parliament time to amend the law instead of having the law immediately become invalid.

However, in the case of the marriage law, the Court ruled that it does not go against the Constitution, but observed that new legislation should be drafted to grant rights to LGBTQ people. An observation, Khemthong said, is only a recommendation and not an order, and therefore would not be legally binding in the same way as a ruling and does not affect the ongoing parliamentary process, only that this specific complaint would be closed. 

Nevertheless, Khemthong said that the Court should only rule whether something is right or wrong, as making observations would seem like the Court is trying to tell the government what it should do, and the government might not know how it should handle such recommendations.

“Personally, I think that the court should avoid making observations. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. If it’s right, it’s right, and that’s it, because an observation turns the court into what some people would call a ‘government by court’,” Khemtong said. “The court is using its own personal opinions about social or political issues to make recommendations to the government. Something like this is not part of a ruling or the court’s legal authority. This is like the court is saying more than the law allows it to say. The law only allows the court to say whether something is right or wrong, but the court said that this is not wrong, but personally this is what the court likes. It’s beyond what the law allows it to do.”

He also speculates that, even though the court said that new legislation should be enacted, it does not mean that the Civil and Commercial Code will never be amended. Even though it seems like the Court wanted there to be a separate legislation for LGBTQ marriages, one can never say for sure until the full text of the ruling is released.

An activist at the 28 November 2021 protest wore a wedding dress and held a placard inviting people to back the new marriage equality bill

Meanwhile, civil society is moving to put their own bill on marriage equality before parliament. On 28 November 2021, during a protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection, the Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality, a network of over 40 civil society organizations and activist groups, launched a petition proposing amendments to the Civil and Commercial Code to allow marriage registration between two people of any gender.

The petition proposes to amend Article 1448 of the Civil Commercial Code, which governs marriage, so that marriage registration is allowed between two people of any gender, instead of only between a man and a woman. It also proposed to raise the age at which people can legally marry from 17 to 18 years old.

The petition also proposes to replace the terms “man” and “woman” in every article of the Civil and Commercial Code relating to marriage with “person,” as well as to replace “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” and “father” and “mother” with “parents.”

The amendments will grant LGBTQ couples the same rights, duties, and legal recognition as heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt a child together and be recognized as the child’s parents, the right to have the power of attorney to make medical decisions of behalf of one’s partner and to press charges on behalf of one’s partner, the right to use one’s partner’s last name, and the right to inherit property from each other without the need for a will.

The rationale of the proposed amendments says that gender-neutral language is used so that the same rights, duties, and legal recognition are granted to persons of every gender and sexuality.

Within 24 hours of its launch, the petition gained over 150,000 signatures, ten times the number legally required for a bill to be put before parliament, and as of 22.20 on 3 December 2021, it has gained over 260,000 signatures.

Protesters during the 28 November 2021 protest flashed the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute, now a well-known resistance symbol in Thailand

During the 2020-2021 pro-democracy protests, LGBTQ rights were among the major campaign issues in the movement.

A report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, published in February 2021, noted that “an unprecedented movement for gender equality” emerged during the protests, as women and LGBTQ people became increasingly outspoken about gender issues and various women and LGBTQ rights groups were formed. Young people spoke out against gender stereotypes, gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and rape culture, and called for better representation of women and LGBTQ people on protest stages, marriage equality, decriminalization of sex work, abolition of the gender pay gap, and a democratic system that respects and promotes gender equality.

Meanwhile, young women and LGBTQ people have been at the forefront of the movement, both as participants and as protest leaders and organisers. Young women made up the majority of participants, while high school girls played a key role in protests against the outdated school system and the abuse they face.

For Matcha, she saw a contrast between the older and younger generations. She noted that many young people are identifying as LGBTQ or said that they are alright with having LGBTQ friends and tend to support them. However, Matcha also said that these young people are marginalized and their voice is never listened to. They are excluded from participating in policymaking and the legislative process, while the older generation, many of whom are homophobic, sexist, or even anti-democratic, still rules over the political space. 

Matcha said that what has made her feel that LGBTQ people are still not accepted is that, after the Court’s ruling, she received very little support from people outside the LGBTQ community, and that people of her generation who are not LGBTQ did not stand with her and her community or show their support.

She said that the lack of support from outside the community reflects Thai society’s homophobic attitude, as many people are worried that if they say they support LGBTQ rights, others will think that they are also LGBTQ, while many LGBTQ people are still unable to come out to their family or to speak out for their own rights.

While Matcha sees that LGBTQ individuals in Thailand are suffering due to lack of legislation, she believes that things can get better with the development of democracy. She said that the pro-democracy movement, which includes young people and marginalized people who are speaking out for their rights, from the right to resources and indigenous rights to abortion rights and marriage equality, is a movement that will change the conversation about human rights in the country.

“I see the possibility. No one can stop the change towards something better, so what is still lacking in Thai society is that those who are in power are not listening to the voice of the people and are not allowing them to participate in making changes,” Matcha said.

“Changing the Constitution will allow changes in legislation and policy on participation and make the democratic system better, but now the Constitution can’t be changed. We don’t have a full democracy. Elections are not transparent and can’t be investigated. These things go back to the fact that we are still in an oppressive society, and the wave of young people who are not backing down and every marginalized person who are being oppressed, whether they are farmers, or people who work hand to mouth in the business sector, everyone is now angry at the unjust social system and we are about to change the face of Thailand.”

Featuremarriage equalitymarriage lawsame-sex marriageLGBTQLGBT rightsDiscrimination against LGBTConstitutional courtArticle 1448human rightsgender equalityMatcha PhorninKhemthong TonsakulrungruangRight to found a family
Categories: Prachatai English

Student activist sentenced to 2 months in prison for contempt of court

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 22:16
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 10:16 PMPrachatai

Student activist Nutchanon Pairoj has been sentenced to 2 months in prison on a contempt of court change relating to a protest in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court on 30 April 2021 to demand the release of detained student activist Parit Chiwarak.

Nutchanon Pairoj (Photo by iLaw)

The Criminal Court ruled on 2 December that Nutchanon was guilty of contempt of court for his role in the protest, which took place on the evening of 30 April 2021, after Parit’s mother Sureerat Chiwarak filed another bail request for her son, who was on a hunger strike at the time.

During the protest, Nutchanon gave a speech through a megaphone calling for the release of detained activists and demanded that judge Chanathip Muanpawong, who denied bail to several activists, listen to their demands. Meanwhile, other protesters held up signs saying “They did nothing wrong. Why did you lock them up?” and “Shitty motherfucking court,” among other messages. They also scattered pieces of paper containing the names of those who signed a petition calling for the release of detained activists in front of the court. Some of the papers were thrown inside the court ground.

The court ruled that Nutchanon’s speech, calling for other protesters to shout “free our friends” over and over, and attempted to pressure judges is considered rude behaviour and causing disorder on court premises, violating court regulations.

Nutchanon was sentenced to 2 months in prison, but was later released on bail using a 50,000-baht security. Meanwhile, student activist Benja Apan, who gave speeches at the same protest, received a fine of 500 baht.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), since 18 July 2020, at least 26 people have been charged with contempt of court. Of this number, at least 14 have been charged for demanding bail rights for detained activists.

Benja Apan

Both Benja and Nutchanon were previously sentenced to prison on a contempt of court charge stemming from a protest at the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court on 29 April 2021 to demand the release of detained activists. Benja was sentenced to 6 months in prison – the highest possible sentence for the charge – while Nutchanon was sentenced to 4 months, but was released on bail using a 50,000-baht security.

Benja is currently detained pending trial on royal defamation charges relating to protests on 26 October 2020 and 10 August 2021. She has been detained at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution since 8 October 2021.

NewsNutchanon PairojBenja Apancontempt of courtright to bailfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Facebook user charged with royal defamation for editing Emerald Buddha photo

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 22:05
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 10:05 PMPrachatai

A Facebook user from Phitsanulok was arrested on Thursday (2 December) on a royal defamation charge, after she posted a picture of King Vajiralongkorn changing the seasonal decoration of the Emerald Buddha, edited so that the Buddha is wearing a dress.

King Vajiralongkorn changing the Emerald Buddha’s seasonal decoration in a ceremony on 20 November 2021 (Picture from royaloffice.th)

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Warunee (last name withheld), 30, was arrested at her home in Phitsanulok at around 7.00 on Thursday (2 December) on an arrest warrant issued by the Criminal Court and taken to the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) headquarters in Bangkok. TLHR also said that she never received a police summons before being arrested.

Warunee was reportedly accused of royal defamation for posting a picture of King Vajiralongkorn changing the Emerald Buddha’s seasonal decoration in a ceremony on 20 November 2021, edited so that the Buddha is wearing a purple ball gown with a Yorkshire terrier sitting next to the base of the Buddha, along with the message “Emerald Buddha x Sirivannavari Bangkok”.

A complaint against her was then filed by Nopadol Prompasit, a member of the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims, an online royalist group whose members have filed numerous lèse majesté charges against many netizens and activists, including Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, and Panusaya Sithijirawattankul.

Nopadol claimed that the edited image insulted and made fun of the King, and that the post was rude and inappropriate and could affect national security, as well as insulting the religion. He also said that the dress edited into the photo was designed and worn by the King’s youngest daughter Princess Sirivannavari to attend VOGUE Thailand’s 2020 Vogue Gala event.

Warunee was charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, entering into a computer system data which is an offence relating to national security under Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act, and insulting an object of religious worship under Section 206 of the Criminal Code.

During her interrogation, Warunee denied all charges and asked the inquiry officer to summon Nopadol to explain his accusations and to point out which component of the image was offensive.

The police then confiscated her phone and laptop, and detained her overnight at Thung Song Hong Police Station. She was taken to court on Friday morning (3 December) for a temporary detention request.

Her lawyer then requested bail for Warunee on the grounds that she has bipolar disorder and needs to receive continuous treatment. She was later granted bail using a 100,000-baht security.

Since November 2020, 163 people are facing royal defamation charges for political expression in 167 cases. According to TLHR, of this number, 81 cases are a result of complaints filed by members of the public.

NewsSection 112Royal defamationlese majesteEmerald BuddhaKing VajiralongkornWaruneeNopadol PrompasitThailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying VictimsComputer Crimes ActTechnology Crime Suppression Division
Categories: Prachatai English

Struggling with mosquitoes (1): The past and present of dengue control in Thailand

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 14:12
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 02:12 PMYiamyut Sutthichaya

The rainy season comes and goes, leaving behind hundreds of thousands dengue fever patients. Each year, hundreds die of the disease. The recurring outbreak was bad enough before. Now mosquitoes have developed improved resistance to control measures, creating a new challenge for public health officials.

“My little brother and I thought it was just a head cold. But then we had strange symptoms. I lost my appetite and had diarrhea. My brother began vomiting. Our symptoms got worse.  I often get a little dizzy, but with this, I was so dizzy I could barely get up. All I could do was sleep. We were like this for almost a week.”

Thananchanok, who request to has her identity hidden.

Thananchanok Saengmanee, 17-year-old student from Bang Kachao subdistrict, Phrapradaeng district, Samut Prakan province, shared her experience of coming down with the Dengue fever a few years back. She had a fever and a sore throat. She also had ulcers in her mouth and diarrhea. Her little brother had similar but more severe symptoms. A blood test revealed that they had contracted dengue fever.

Thananchanok’s case ended well. Her brother recovered with treatment and she was able to look after herself after receiving medicine from a local health centre. But not all victims of this seasonal disease are so lucky.

The Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the Ministry of Public Health reports that there were 67,538 dengue fever cases with 49 deaths in 2020. The numbers were higher in 2019 - a total of 116,647 patients and 129 deaths. In 2005-2019, the average number of patients was at 77,000 people per year and 86 deaths per year.

At the global level, World Health Organization (WHO) data indicates that dengue is spreading across the world. In the decade after 1967, the disease was only reported in 9 countries. At present, it is in more than 100 countries, many located in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the past 20 years, the number of patients worldwide has also risen sharply, from 505,430 in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2020. Clearly, dengue fever and the Aedes mosquitoes that spread it are a becoming a serious public health issue around the globe.

New Age Mosquitoes: strong, tough

According to Dr. Darin Areechokchai, Deputy Director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, Ministry of Public Health, dengue fever is among the seasonal diseases with high mortality rates. Cross-border migration is a significant factor in local outbreaks. As outbreaks happen every year, continuous efforts are required to control Aedes mosquitoes.

Aedes mosquitoes share a history with people. Studies suggest that dengue-carriers like Ae. Aegypti migrated from Africa to the rest of the world along with humans. They later spread westward along Portuguese and Spanish slave-trading routes between West Africa and the Americas.

Along the way, Aedes mosquitoes adapted to changing environmental conditions. They switched from drinking animal blood to human blood.  They also learned to lay eggs in man-made containers of still water and in closed spaces like ships, allowing them to reproduce and travel across the globe with humans.

Dr. Darin Areechokchai

At present, the movement of Aedes mosquitoes and dengue fever is still linked to human migration and trade. A report of the Pan American Health Organization notes that dengue fever moved with crowds of spectators attending the 2011 Pan American Games at Guadalajara, Mexico, as well as the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2016 World Cup in Brazil.

Aedes albopictus entered the Netherlands in 2005 along with imported lucky bamboo. Aedes aegypti rolled in with imported used tires. A 2008 study in Bangkok found that Aedes albopictus, Asian tiger mosquitoes, have increasingly taken up residence in human households, an adaption necessitated by the expansion of urban areas and diminished green space.

Climate change or “global warming” is another factor contributing to the spread of Aedes mosquitoes. Higher temperatures accelerate their growth and hasten the spread of the dengue virus serotype 2.

Mosquito-borne dengue spreads well in temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius.  Mosquito larvae also need less time to incubate. At 30 degrees Celsius, they spend 12 days in incubation. At 32-35 degrees Celsius, they only need 7 days to hatch.

Control measures also appear to be compromised. Previously, larvae were killed by putting abate sand granules in waterways. Repellent smoke was also sprayed to kill adults. Experiments conducted by Damrongpan Thongwat and Nophawan Bunchu in 11 villages scattered around 8 provinces in Northern Thailand found that larvae not killed by temefos, the active chemical used in abate sand granules, develop immunity to the repellents generally used in Thailand.

These contain pyrethroid, a synthetic chemical similar to pyrethrum or pyrethrins, which is found in plants from the chrysanthemum family. It is often used in agricultural and public health sector. Synthetic pyrethroids are modified to stick to surrounding surfaces for longer.

A study by Patcharawan Sirisopa et al. using samples collected from multiple sites around central and southern Thailand indicates that mosquitoes from all areas have developed a moderate to high level of resistance to synthetic chemicals in the pyrethroid family.  This includes commonly-used substances like bifenthrin, cypermethrin and deltamethrin.   The latter substance is found in  spray can chemicals and high-altitude fogs.  The mortality rate was reportedly less than 10%.

A further study of households at the Bang Krachao river bend, Phrapradaeng district, Samut Prakan province by Pathavee Waewwab et al. in 2016-2017 found that Aedes larvae were also developing immunity to temefos.

Houses built on top of the canal at Bang Krachao.

Commenting on the matter, Sungsit Sungvornyothin, a lecturer specialising in Medical Entomology at Mahidol University, pointed out that abate sand granule concentrations in the experiments were fairly low. He also added that fogs are usually composed of many different types of Pyrethroids, increasing their efficacy. However, he acknowledged that routine and repeated fogging by local administration organisations may be accelerating mosquito immunity.

Dr. Darin believes that abate sand granules and pyrethroid sprays, if properly used, are still effective for mosquito control in Thailand. Temefos is photosensitive and if not stored properly, may lose its potency. Similarly, the improper mixing of chemicals for fogging, using the wrong type of fogger, or daily spraying conducted at the behest of politicians may also cause Aedes to have better survival rates and increased resistance to fogging.

Big city, big problem

Huai Khwang , a 15 sq km area with a registered population of 84,000 plus tens of thousands of unofficial residents, is one of the smaller districts in Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok. It is at the top of the tier in terms of its dengue infection rate in many years.

One occasion, hundreds of Chinese workers caught the virus while constructing the basement of a new building, sending Huai Khwang ranked at the top of Bangkok’s dengue infection list. The district was also a home to the deceased actor Tridsadee ‘Por’ Sahawong, who passed away from dengue fever in 2015, attracting massive media attention to health issues in the area.

Naphatson Rattanatayakon, a public health professional in the district, noted that dengue control measures were necessarily tailored to land use. One method was used with free-standing homes, another with apartments and office buildings and yet another with slum areas.

Naphatson Rattanatayakon

“The well-off households have more areas to plant trees. Sometimes we can’t manage to spray there. They don’t want us to go in. When we campaign, they come out to talk, but offer excuses and don’t let us in. Some let us in. Some have breeding places with a lot of Aedes mosquitoes. It is an obstacle. It keeps us from covering the whole area.

“They only let us spray after they get sick. But when we first knock on their doors, they pretend they don’t hear us.”

Pradoemchai Bunchuailuea, a Pheu Thai Party member of parliament for Huai Khwang, and a former member of the Bangkok Municipal Council (BMC) and Huai Khwang District Council, has been involved in mosquito fogging and mosquito control efforts for 30 long years.   

Pradoemchai Bunchuailuea

According to Pradoemchai, Bangkok administrative efforts still fall short of the mark because of residential areas that are not formally registered as communities, housing estates and townhouses where there is little interaction between residents and government officials.

Registered community areas have a community council and Village Health Volunteers (VHV) who have been trained in dengue control. Statistics which Pradoemchai has indicate that the number of dengue cases in these areas were lower than in the housing estates and townhouses.

“Lots of people living in housing estates suffer from dengue. There are more cases in the townhouses than in the slums. The slums have the health volunteers. The district works with them during the campaigns. They help distribute abate sand granules and make sure that anything containing stagnant water gets drained.

“This was before COVID. After COVID, district officers have not gone out into the field as much.  The COVID situation made it tough for officers to go.  They have had to adopt preventive measures,” Pradoemchai said.

The fogging method advised by the Ministry of Public Health is limited to a 50 sq m area around a house.  In contrast, Pradoemchai’s fogging team tries to cover as wide an area as possible. With 3 fogging machine and 6 sprayers, his team is even larger than the district’s, which has only 2 machines and 2 sprayers.

A sprayer from Pradoemchai's team conducts a mosquito fogging.

Sprayers know that they are not solving the problem, however. The mosquitoes invariably prevail. And fogging can sometimes be difficult in densely-populated areas where residents hold different opinions.

“The number of mosquitoes never decreases. Every year when the rainy season ends and winter begins … the ground is waterlogged.  Mosquitoes lay their eggs and the virus spreads. Are less people getting sick? Not really.   And the number of mosquitoes doesn’t decrease either.  There are always more of them.”

“The sprayers try to provide people with basic information and ask for their help in draining containers with water where mosquitoes lay eggs and spread the disease. Otherwise more will hatch than can be killed by fogging. But some people think that fogging helps, that it will keep them safe, and they feel more secure,” Pradoemchai said.

“[Before going to spray at a site where someone has been infected] I have to call and check with the person who is ill. It may not be convenient. I have to ask about their surroundings. If there is a store, it has to close. There can be problems. For cases in the field or in office environments, the chances of getting bitten by a mosquito are low. But things need to be thought through. We can’t just spray and caused negative side effects. I was once grabbed by the collar and almost punched by a guy who had a pet chicken valued at tens of thousands of dollars.”

“The Ministry [of Public Health] would rather we didn’t spray. They told us that it is better to take care of the breeding spots and mosquito larvae.  Once they mature, they are harder to kill and die more slowly. Young adults fly away.  If we spray and it hits them directly, it’s possible to kill them but they don’t all just drop dead. The older ones might. People think fogging helps. I think we spray to make them feel better,” Naphatson said.

Money matters can sometime be a boon for mosquitoes. For example, a 2020 policy to collect taxes on unused land in Bangkok caused ‘farms’ pop up on previously vacant lands. Having more green spaces may sound like a good thing but is also created new mosquito breeding areas.

“Sometimes they left big spaces for water storage or created raised-bed orchards to plant trees. There was a loophole in the law.  Instead of paying an expensive tax on an abandoned space, people could plant trees and register their property as agriculture land with a lower tax rate.

A sewer lid in Bangkok and a floating mosquito fogging smoke.

“People living in nearby condos were affected and asked us to fog because there were lots of mosquitoes. But we couldn’t get in because the property was fenced off. It is still an issue. It’s a problem when empty lots have water sources, stagnant or clean. It is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, especially Aedes mosquitoes. We can’t do anything and don’t know how to address the problem,” Pradoemchai said.

“Huai Khwang also has them, swampy places covered in sedge grass. Where there’s water, there are Aedes mosquitoes. In the past they had us attend to these places as well, but it was just too much.  There are whole fields out there; how could anyone put down enough (pesticide) to cover them?  The immediate problem is here with the empty spaces in Bangkok.  The owners don’t fill the land.  It gets covered weeds and becomes a water source,” Naphatson said.

Resources lost to COVID-19

According to Dr. Darin, mosquito control operations were transferred from the Ministry of Public Health to local administrators over a decade back. Ministry officials now act as consultants. The plan was to increase local cooperation in control efforts.

A face mask littered in a roadside drainage.

In recent years, the spread of the COVID-19 has also drawn public health officers’ attention away from dengue. The listed number of cases in 2021 of about 8,000 may not be accurate as officers have not had enough time to collect data.

At the Bang Kachao river bend where Thananchanok got sick, the number of dengue cases has slowly decreased, from 5 in 2018, to 3 in 2019 and only 1 in 2020, defying a terrain full of swamps, overgrown gardens and households built over canals.

Thananchanok believes that the number of mosquitoes has greatly declined. In the past, mosquitoes would land on her arms and legs as soon as she went out to cook in the kitchen.

This may be due to prevention measures. Chamaiphon Saengdaengchat, director of the Bang Kachao Tambon Health Promoting Hospital (THPH) explained that the hospital has been training health volunteers, community leaders and people in the area to control mosquito breeding areas.

Chamaiphon Saengdaengchat

“We focus on training programs for village leaders. We invite them to the training and after it is over, we go around the villages with them to talk to villagers. We have done it 2 times. We only asked for that much budget. In addition to two training sessions, we also campaign together with village volunteers and municipal officers 4 times a year.”

“After the campaigns, we have health volunteers check for mosquito larvae.  A team evaluates what they find and takes steps to eradicate larvae … it supports the project.”

With the spread of COVID-19, the hospital had to reallocate resources, reducing the budgets for other projects. Health volunteer control efforts were continued but measures had to be taken to protect the people involved. As at Huai Khwang, the need for social distancing over the past couple of years ended house-to-house campaigning.

A mosquito controll rally staged by the Bang Kachao Tambon Health Promoting Hospital.

The situation is similar in Ban Krachao subdistrict, Samut Sakhon province. According to Patawee Puakphromma, a public health official at the Bang Krachao THPH, there have yet to be any cases reported in 2021. Normally, twenty people get the virus each year.  The number was higher in 2015-2016, with 30 cases. With the spread of COVID-19, resources have been diverted from earlier projects but mosquito larvae extermination activities and household checks continue as normal.

According to Dr. Kittipoom Chuthasamit, director of the Phusing Hospital in Srisaket province, the number of dengue cases there has fallen as a result of drought.  Normally the area has 25-30 patients a year but after a two-year drought, only 8 cases were reported this year. This is fortunate as there, too, the spread of COVID-19 diverted resources away from mosquito control.

“We were very active before COVID-19. Dengue is one of the first diseases we need to prevent because it breaks out almost every year. But when COVID-19 came, we had to start disease control, give swab tests and vaccinations. We allocated resources to COVID-19 and may have neglected dengue. Actually, it’s not neglected.  We has reprioritise.  It was no longer the most important task. It was second or third.”

More cooperation is needed

According to Kittipoom, dengue control in Thailand consists of 3 parts: 1) getting rid of mosquito larvae breeding areas by eliminating stagnant water and pouring abate sand granules into stored water, 2) getting rid of adult mosquitoes with fogging and 3) providing patients with rapid treatment to prevent further disease transmission by mosquitoes. Officials at every hospital agree.

The challenge is often about getting people with limited resources to cooperate and address the needs of big populations in complex urban settings. It has to be done.  Not dealing with larvae breeding spaces in one area places surrounding areas at risk.  The shadow of dengue remains, everywhere.

“In densely populated, congested areas, people have different hygienic practices. In congested communities, garbage increases. At dumps sites, larvae can actually be found in the garbage; after it rains Aedes larvae hatch in water-soaked containers,” Patawee said.

“We humans need to be aware. We need to know which parts of our house can become breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes. At the same time, mosquito control officers need to understand how people behave. A plastic container, a water barrel – these things are used differently in different homes. Containers serve different purposes. When we tell people to turn them all upside down, it is simple idea that doesn’t really reach people. Other mechanisms need to be involved,” Sungsit said.

Naphatson agrees that if people pay more attention to getting rid of Aedes mosquito larvae in their own areas, it will cut the breeding cycle of disease carriers and greatly decrease the risk of dengue.

“People lack awareness and concern. They are not interested and don’t cooperate, unless we spoil them. Sometimes, when we provide them with knowledge, they don’t understand."

“People don’t do enough to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. If we all cooperate and help each other, we can do it, but if people request fogging and don’t do anything else, it is not enough. Destroying breeding spots is the best preventive measure,” Naphatson said.

With ongoing calls for cooperation and repeated efforts to control this vector-borne disease, dengue continues to spread in Thailand. How can dengue disease control be made truly successful?

Read the answer in part two of this special report soon.

This special report serie is supported by Internews' Earth Journalism Network.

FeatureIn-DepthDengue feverpublic healthInternews' Earth Journalism NetworkBang Krachaovector-borne diseaseSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/11/96103
Categories: Prachatai English

Dramatic spike in threats to Southeast Asian MPs in past year, report finds

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 13:56
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 01:56 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

Lawmakers across Southeast Asia have come under drastically increased threats and harassment in the past year, in-part due to the military coup in Myanmar, but also troubling developments elsewhere in the region, a new report by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has found.

The message "This country belongs to the people" was written on the street at the Pathumwan Intersection in Bangkok during the 14 November 2021 protest against the Constitutional Court's ruling that the call for monarchy reform is treasonous. 

The number of Members of Parliament (MPs) detained in Southeast Asia has dramatically risen this year, from just one in 2020, to 91 in 2021, APHR found in its new report Parliamentarians at Risk: Reprisals against opposition MPs in Southeast Asia in 2021. This sudden spike was largely due to developments in Myanmar, where the military seized power in a coup in February, however there have also been alarming developments elsewhere in the region, including Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia, APHR said. Although not featured in detail in the report, former opposition lawmakers have also been targeted in Cambodia.

“This year has been yet another dark year for human rights in Southeast Asia, and as our region slides deeper into the grasp of authoritarianism, elected lawmakers have been among those heavily targeted, particularly those standing up for basic decency, human rights, and democracy,” said Teddy Baguilat Jr, an APHR Board Member and former Philippines Member of Parliament (MP). “Developments in Myanmar have been particularly troubling, where the political opposition has come under assault by the junta, but there are also concerns elsewhere, with governments utilizing COVID-19 to undermine opposition MPs, and erode the important oversight role they play in a democracy.” 

“On top of MPs being locked up merely for fulfilling their mandates as representatives of the people, we have also witnessed threats to lawmakers for doing their jobs, as well as orchestrated campaigns of judicial harassment and disinformation, aimed at both discrediting and silencing them,” Baguilat said. 

Amid the ongoing human rights catastrophe in Myanmar, the political opposition, in particular members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the 2020 election in a landslide, has been among the most prominent targets. The junta has suspended all national and sub-national parliaments, and stripped democratically elected MPs of their seats without legal or constitutional justification. At least 90 parliamentarians remain in detention or house arrest, while many others have gone into hiding to avoid the same fate.

“Not content with stealing the result of the 2020 election away from the people, the military junta in Myanmar has sought to justify its power grab by shutting down parliament, declaring groups formed by democratically-elected MPs as ‘illegal’, and jailing almost 100 of those MPs on the most spurious of charges,” said Charles Santiago, APHR Chair and a Malaysian MP. “Over the past year, the Myanmar people have said loud and clear who their representatives are – those they elected in the 2020 election – and all international actors, including ASEAN, must condemn the Myanmar military in the strongest possible terms, call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained since the coup, including MPs, and for the country to be put back on the democratic path.” 

While the situation in Myanmar has dominated headlines, lawmakers were also at risk elsewhere in Southeast Asia, notably Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, APHR said. 

In Malaysia, in January the government of then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to impose a state of emergency, while parliament was suspended for more than seven months. Opposition politicians were among those targeted in a growing crackdown on dissent, with at least ten lawmakers interrogated or charged for expressing criticism related to human rights abuses or the suspension of parliament.

In the Philippines, disinformation campaigns, threats and so-called “red-tagging” of opposition lawmakers rose alarmingly ahead of the general elections taking place in 2022, while President Rodrigo Duterte and other senior officials made baseless accusations against left-wing lawmakers, claiming they support an armed communist insurgency. Senator Leila de Lima remains in prison, and has now been arbitrarily detained for close to five years.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the government and its allies continued to level trumped-up criminal cases against Move Forward Party (MFP) lawmakers, while opposition MPs were also the target of widespread abuse online, often through highly coordinated “information operations” orchestrated by state-affiliated actors. 

“An attack on an MP is an attack on democracy. The systematic harassment of MPs – whether online, offline, judicial or otherwise – is clearly aimed at preventing them from doing their jobs, and acting as a check and balance on behalf of the people,” said Baguilat Jr. “The role of MPs is absolutely crucial in a democracy, particularly during the pandemic of the last two years, or as elections approach, as is the case in the Philippines and Cambodia.” 

“Amid the assault on democracy we are witnessing across the region, those working to protect it must come together and act as one unified voice. We call on our governments across Southeast Asia to do everything in their power to protect the human rights of all MPs, and urge our fellow parliamentarians to call out the abuses they see at every turn,” Baguilat said.

Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)Member of parliamentoppositionauthoritarianismfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Freedom of speech swimming pool

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 13:43
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 01:43 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Freedom of speech swimming pool

 

MultimediaStephfffreedom of speechfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Rights groups call on ASEAN to address Myanmar human rights crisis

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-12-03 13:32
Submitted on Fri, 3 Dec 2021 - 01:32 PMFORUM-ASIA

Under the Chairmanship of Cambodia in 2022, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must meaningfully address the regressive human rights crisis in the region, including the rapidly deteriorating situation in Myanmar, said rights groups at a webinar yesterday (2 December). 

The webinar titled ‘Cambodia as ASEAN Chair: Prospects for Human Rights in 2022’ organised by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) discussed the human rights situation in the region and how the ASEAN has responded in 2021 as well as its trajectory as Cambodia spearheads ASEAN next year.

Eleven months after the coup and eight months since ASEAN leaders adopted the five-point consensus, the human rights and humanitarian crisis continues unabated in Myanmar ‒ at least 1,200 people including children have been killed and 10,568 arrested. The deteriorating situation affects not only the daily lives of the people on the ground but also the human rights and political discourse at the regional and international level. 

Questions remain as to what extent the regional bloc can effectively bring immediate progress to the situation of Myanmar or if it will just be used to legitimise the military regime.

‘While we welcome the decision by ASEAN to exclude the military junta from ASEAN Summits, we are deeply concerned about the lack of substantive actions to mitigate the Myanmar crisis. The whole country is now dealing with a multi-level crisis. It is not sufficient for ASEAN alone to tackle this crisis. Therefore, we call on ASEAN to cooperate with the UN and international mechanisms to take immediate concrete actions. Further delays in actions will allow the junta to commit more atrocities and this means more bloodshed for the people on the ground,’ said Khin Ohmar, Chair of Progressive Voice.
‘As the next chair, Cambodia has a huge task ahead to ensure that ASEAN unity and credibility is not lost. If ASEAN allows the junta to continue in this manner, the Myanmar crisis will further impact the regional stability and development. ASEAN needs to understand that it is in its best interest to work with the National Unity Government and the people of Myanmar,’ she added.

‘We want ASEAN leadership to have a strategic vision and action plan. ASEAN will not be able to implement its five-point consensus alone, particularly after the junta military has blatantly denied their commitment in the consensus. Under the Cambodia Chairmanship, ASEAN must engage with NUG, the United Nations, dialogue partners, and civil society. What is happening is not only a crisis to Myanmar but a crisis to the credibility of ASEAN and threats to security in general,’ said U Bo Hla Tint, Myanmar National Unity Government Ambassador to ASEAN.

According to the CIVICUS Monitor, fundamental freedoms in half of ASEAN Member States are rated as ‘repressed’. The year 2021 has also shown how restrictive laws have been used to stifle dissent and prosecute human rights defenders in numerous ASEAN countries and new laws passed that would curtail civic space. Further there has been a crackdown on peaceful protests and the use of extra-legal tactics, including online surveillance and smear campaigns, as well as torture and ill-treatment. In Cambodia specifically, CIVICUS documented the arbitrary arrest of dozens of activists, judicial harassment, and intimidation of opposition party CNRP members and families, and reprisals on journalists. 

‘It is difficult to see how ASEAN would meaningfully progress on human rights issues with Cambodia at the helm. It has become a de facto one-party state after dismantling the opposition. Civic space has also continued to shrink in the country and those speaking up have faced blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. At the same time, we need to keep the pressure on them and support Cambodian civil society,’ said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher of CIVICUS.

Under the pretext of COVID-19, Cambodia has introduced draconian measures such as the National Internet Gateway to increase online surveillance. This adds to the long list of concerns including the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of defenders and political opposition in the country. Cambodia’s degrading human rights record raises concerns about whether it has the political will to take the steps needed to improve on the human rights situation of ASEAN.

‘Cambodia should strive to improve the dire human rights situation it is facing domestically – especially considering the fact that elections are fast approaching – while also seeking to ensure regional peace and stability. As ASEAN chair, Cambodia must rally its ASEAN partners to answer the calls for support coming from Myanmar, and take concrete action rather than hide behind the argument of non-interference,’ said Sopheap Chak, the Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

ASEAN’s prospects of human rights in 2022 remain rocky and uncertain, reflecting on the domestic situation ASEAN Member States, particularly its Chair, must deal with. Nevertheless, the panelists called on civil society and various actors to keep monitoring the progress, or lack thereof, by ASEAN in responding to the situation of human rights and civic space in the region, particularly on immediate measures to bring an end to the crisis in Myanmar.

Pick to PostASEANCambodiaMyanmarMyanmar couphuman rightsCIVICUSAsian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Categories: Prachatai English

Pages

Subscribe to ประชาไท Prachatai.com aggregator - Prachatai English