Cartoon by Stephff on the recent complaint to the Constitutional Court linking the Future Forward Party to the Illuminati conspiracyMultimediaStephffFuture Forward PartyConspiracy theorythe IlluminatiConstitutional court
On Tuesday (24 December), a court in Lop Buri sentenced former Voice TV reporter Suchanee Cloitre to two years to prison in a defamation lawsuit filed against her by the Thammakaset Company.MultimediaStephffThammakaset CompanySuchanee CloitreDefamation Lawpress freedomfreedom of speechfreedom of expression
On 24 December, pictures of two men in Nazi uniforms at a New Year event at CentralWorld appeared, subsequently prompting a response from the Embassy of Israel in Thailand. A message from Meir Shlomo, the Israeli ambassador to Thailand, said that he is "disappointed to see the sad reoccurrence of incidents in which Nazi symbols are displayed on random occasions in Thailand."
Central Pattana Plc, the owner of CentralWorld, issued a statement insisting that neither it nor MasterCard, the event's co-organiser, has anything to do with the two men, and that the company has a policy not to support inappropriate activities that could cause offence.MultimediaStephffNazi uniformhistorical amnesiaEmbassy of Israel
Prachatai English interviews Polish political scientist Rafał Pankowski, Associate Professor at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, head of the "Never Again" Association's East Europe Monitoring Centre, and Deputy Editor of Never Again's magazine.
Rafał Pankowski (Source: BALAC Programme, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University)
Pankowski has published several academic works on the rise of right-wing extremism and nationalism in Poland. In August, Pankowski visited the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University and delivered a lecturer “Right-wing extremism in Europe - a challenge for democracy.”
We sat down with him after the lecture to talk about the rise of right-wing extremism in Central and Eastern Europe, its effects on the human rights situation, the role of social media, and the common challenges of our time.Europe turning right: The attraction of right-wing ideology
When asked why right-wing ideology has become so attractive in Europe despite the historical traumas experienced through the 20th Century, Pankowski said that the answer is to be found in the anxieties about identity.
“I think we have to look at the phenomenon of right-wing extremism in Europe today in the context of the crisis of values on different levels, that also includes the crisis of democratic values among young people, such as in some European countries,” said Pankowski, “Certainly in the context of Central and Eastern Europe, the crisis of democratic values is very real. Some people say it is directly influenced by the socio-economic issues, but I don't really agree with that. I think it is more complicated, because it is not just because socio-economic issues such as unemployment.
“Of course, those socio-economic issue are somewhere in the background of the phenomenon of right-wing extremism, but if you look at the case of Poland, for example, Poland was the only European country that did not have a recession during the times of the global economic crisis. This is not to say that Poland was not affected by the crisis in any way, but it was not affected as much as some other countries in Europe. But still, in the case of Poland, we see the growth of the popularity of some radical nationalist ideas, especially among younger people, so I think the answer has to be found in the field of culture, in values, identity and issues around national identity in particular, so a kind of anxiety involved in identity.”
Having noted in his lecture that a majority of far-right groups in parts of Europe is made up of young people, Pankowski explained that far-right groups now have a very successful strategy of influencing youth culture, making the ideology attractive to young people, a group which is often thought to be “naturally more progressive” than the older generation.
“I think this assumption about young people as naturally more progressive is very common, and historically, it was often very true,” he said, “but I think the situation in Central and Eastern Europe today shows us that that cannot be taken for granted and that you cannot take democratic values for granted if you don’t put an effort in it.
“I think in some ways the popularity of the right-wing nationalist ideas among the younger generation resulted from a certain deficiency of education, but by education I don't just mean the school system. Of course, the school system is important, the institutional framework of education is very important, but I am also thinking about other institutions which have an indirect role, for example the church or the family, or what I mentioned by the end of the lecture, the football club.
“There are different centres of influence on young people, and I believe those centres of influence did not do a good job in terms of democratic education, and those anti-democratic far-right nationalist groups enter into a kind of vacuum that is left -- the space that is open to them, but of course, they also influence the way young people think, the way young people experience reality.
“Those new far-right groups very rarely refer directly to the Nazi times or to Hitler, even if their ideology or their slogans are not so very different, but they use different symbols, so of course this rebranding of the far-right is a very important part of the phenomenon, but there is also something else.
“I mention the attractiveness of right-wing nationalism in the field of youth culture. I can give you an example of a very popular Polish rock singer, whose name is Paweł Kukiz. He was a popular performer, especially in the 90's in Polish rock music, and in 2015 he decided to become a politician, and he created a populist nationalist movement around them, and that was a very interesting the way he translated his name recognition and popularity as a musician, as a rock star, into political capital, as a political leader.
“What is interesting is that he, in contrast to the lyrics of his songs for many years, he also became influenced by the ideology of nationalism and many of his young followers who might come to know him because of his music, they were later influenced by his political ideology, which, in many ways, is very strongly influenced by right-wing nationalism. So I'd say this is just one of many examples how culture influences politics and of course how politics influences culture too.”Constructing the enemy
As for the effects of the rise of right-wing extremism on the human rights situation in Europe, Pankowski said there are two examples of areas where the far-right has a big impact on the situation: the refugee crisis and migration policy, and discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“I think 2015 in particular was a very important point in time, when the so-called refugee crisis happened in the south of Europe in the Mediterranean, and I think in a way, again paradoxically, it was exploited by the far-right forces that demanded a more restricted migration policy.
“Paradoxically, that also applies to the countries in Central Europe that were not really directly affected by the refugee crisis, because very few of those refugees went to the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but the refugee crisis was portrayed in the media and in political rhetoric in a very negative way: as a threat to national identity, and it was exploited politically by far right groups with success, so the creation, the construction of the enemy figure has been politically very successful in many countries in Europe, but also the far right has often been successful in changing or influencing the discourse on migration and human rights. That is one example.
“The second example, especially in countries of Central and Eastern Europe, is the ongoing campaign against the LGBT communities, especially in Poland in the last weeks, and again, I think the mechanism is a little similar here, so the far right tries to exploit a feeling of hostility against the minority group. They try to construct an enemy figure and they use it as a tool of political mobilisation, and again, it seems to be successful with a large part of Polish society that seems to easy manipulated by this kind of hateful propaganda against minorities.”
Nevertheless, Pankowski insists that not everyone in Poland is homophobic, noting that it was one of the first countries in Europe to decriminalize homosexuality, which it did in the early 1930’s, and that anti-LGBTQ campaigns as a political tool did not exist until the 21st Century. Such campaigns have been used as a political mobilisation tool by far-right groups within the last two decades, starting from the early 2000’s, but at the same time, he said that the LGBTQ rights movement has become more popular.
“I think what we can see in Poland at the moment is a degree of polarisation between people who are more open to the idea of LGBT equality on the one hand, and of course on the other hand, we have people who are violently opposed to any expression or recognition of LGBT equality,” he explained.
“It's also interesting to note one of the first openly gay politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Robert Biedroń, is a very popular figure in Poland too. I think that is also an interesting fact to note. He is now the leader of a new political party under the name "Spring" and he is one of the most popular politicians in Poland. In 2011, Robert Biedroń was elected to the Polish parliament for the first time. There was also another MP who was elected, Anna Grodzka, who was the first transexual member of parliament in Poland, and she was also elected by the people in Krakow to the Polish parliament, so I am saying this to stress that not everybody in Poland is homophobic, but homophobia is, unfortunately, a very strong tendency in Polish society today, and I think it is especially in the Polish Catholic Church, which has a big influence on Polish public opinion. But maybe it's also important to stress that this strength of homophobia in the Polish Catholic Church is very much in contrast with the teaching of the Pope. Pope Francis has been quite outspoken in expressing tolerance and respect for LGBT people, but this is not the kind of message that is popular inside of the Church in Poland.
“This issue is one that is polarising Polish society very strongly, and we saw this recently in the case of several LGBT rights demonstrations in Polish cities, and many of those demonstrations were physically opposed and attacked by far-right groups. In Białystok, for example, there was one publicized case in July. The LGBT equality demonstration had about 1000 participants, and the opposition to this event was estimated at around 4000 participants, so in fact, the opposition was much stronger than the gay rights march itself, which may or may not be typical for the balance of forces in Polish society, but it certainly shows that this opposition to gay rights is also a very strong movement.”
The explanation for this phenomenon, Pankowski said, comes down to the anxiety around national identity and gender identity, especially male identity.
“If you look at the opponents of the gay rights march in Białystok, for example, you see mostly young men who are often aggressively opposed to LGBT emancipation,” he said. “Interestingly, many of those young men are recruited and mobilized through the network of the football hooligan culture, which is perhaps not obvious, but it was very clear that many of them came from the stadium of the local football club, so this relationship between youth culture and sports culture and politics and also physical violence against minorities, it was very well illustrated in that case.
“Football hooliganism is not a new phenomenon in Europe. Especially in the 1980's and especially in England, it was a big problem, which spread to other countries. I think, now, in England, that's much less of a problem, but football-related violence is a big issue in countries such as Poland or Russia, in Eastern Europe, or countries in the former Yugoslavia, but it often comes with a certain ideological background, which is often racist and homophobic, so some of the far right groups that we are talking about here, they are also actively recruiting members and supporters in the football stadiums in eastern Europe, and they are also promoting their ideology in the context of football culture and the football stadium.
“I can give you an example from Sarajevo, from Bosnia. In September, they were going to organize the first gay pride march in the history of the country. I was in Sarajevo in May, and I had a very interesting conversation with the organizers of this event. They told me about how the opposition was already mobilizing in the months before the gay pride march, and the centre of the opposition was the local football stadium. Interestingly and strangely, the football hooligans who express their homophobia in the football stadium in Sarajevo express it through waving the national flag of Brunei, because of the homophobic legislation in Brunei. I thought that was a really interesting case of a certain kind of globalization in a negative way. You can call it a negative globalization, or a globalization of homophobia, or a globalization of intolerance, that I thought was a really interesting example.
“To cut a long story short, the football culture in the football stadium, I think it is an important site of socialization. It is where young people, in many cases especially young men, it is where they form their values, and unfortunately, in many cases, these are negative values, values of xenophobia, nationalism, and homophobia, but it does not have to be like that.”
“Our organization in Poland, the Never Again Association, has spent a lot of time and energy on researching the issue of intolerance in the football culture, but also promoting a positive version of football culture. Sports, football in particular, can also be a positive tool to promote a positive of respect for diversity and this is something that we did on a big scale around the European football championship in 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
“With the support of the European Football Federation, we had a very big educational campaign in football and around football under the title "respect diversity" and that was a very interesting experience, and of course, millions of people watched the European football championship, both in the stadium and especially on the television, and it was a fantastic opportunity for us as a civil society organization to promote respect for diversity through football, and I think it is really interesting now to hear about the plan for ASEAN to organize the World Cup in Southeast Asia.”
“I think it could be a very interesting opportunity for civil society in Southeast Asia to organize positive campaigns and if we can be useful, we would be very happy to exchange experiences. We actually exchange experiences quite a lot with Russian civil societies, because they had the football World Cup in Russia last year, and we were also very much involved in this process of sharing good practice on dealing with intolerance in football and through football.”
Pankowski's lecture at Chulalongkorn University (Source: BALAC Programme, Facutly of Arts, Chulalongkorn University)Social media and the rise of extremism
“The internet is a wonderful invention, but I think when the internet started, many people had a naive view of this technology as a great way to connect people, a great way to communicate, but the differences of culture, nationality, religion, et cetera. Of course it can be a wonderful way to communicate, but what is very clear over the years is that the hate groups are very effective in using this new tool to promote exclusion and hatred, and to construct communities through the internet, social media in particular, based on exclusion and hatred, which is of course one of the big paradoxes about our times.
“Once again, I want to stress we don't just talk here about speech, because hate speech leads to hate crime and physical violence, and the terrorist attack such as Christchurch in New Zealand can be mention here, but of course there are many other cases where hate speech leads to violence, for example in Sri Lanka and in Myanmar, and of course we know that social media has been an important tool of inciting hatred, so I think this is one of the biggest challenges of our times. How can we stop the social media from becoming a tool of hatred, hate speech and incitement?
“Nobody has the perfect solution to it, but I can mention also our organization Never Again is a part of an international group called International Network Against Cyber Hate, and I think there is still a long way to go, but there are many activities, both educational and other activities, trying to stop the social media being used as a tool for the extreme racist and nationalist groups. But also I think some of the big social media companies are just beginning to understand their responsibilities. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter, they still have a long way to go, but I think after the pressure from the civil society, they are beginning to realise the challenge and their own responsibility in this field.”The challenges of our time
While he said that it was not easy for him to comment on the situation in Southeast Asia, Pankowski said that there are common challenges experienced by people both in Central and Eastern Europe, such as in Poland and Hungary, and in other places, including extremism, authoritarianism, and populism. But for him, an important lesson and an important challenge of our time is that we can no longer take democracy for granted.
“I guess one important lesson that we have and one important challenge that is a common challenge is the fact that democracy cannot be taken for granted, or the democratic transformation, its result cannot be taken for granted. It is always an open question. It really depends on the people. It really depends on the citizens, but the outcome cannot be taken for granted. We cannot be certain about the outcome.
“I think in the 90's, it was a common assumption about democratic transformation as a kind of one-way street, as a kind of course that is irreversible. Today, unfortunately, we can see that this process is reversible, but the result is still open. It will always depend on the people and on the citizens what happens next.
“I think there is a role for everybody on every level,” Pankowski said when asked if there is a way of countering the turn towards extremism and politics of hatred. “I think it is very important for people to have civil courage. I think civil courage is important, and critical thinking is also very important, especially with the propaganda of hatred and the propaganda of nationalism.
“I believe what is very important nowadays, I think you can call it international solidarity. Solidarity on the level of civil societies is very important, but also on the level of individual people, and I think awareness is also very important. It is sometimes missing. I think all of us have a tendency just to look at our own problems in our own countries. In fact, many of those problems are common problems and the solutions can become common solutions. I think in this context, solidarity is the key issue. I know it is easier said than done, but I think it is a really important aspect of the challenge, but it's also an opportunity, and also technology provides us with the opportunities for expressing solidarity that maybe we don't have before but maybe we don't use it enough.”InterviewRafał PankowskiInstitute of Sociology of Collegium Civitas in WarsawNever Again Associationright-wing extremismNationalismPolandCentral and Eastern EuropeSocial MediaFar-right group
On 25 December the Constitutional Court of Thailand accepted the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)’s request to rule on whether the Future Forward Party (FFP) violated Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties by taking a loan from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and whether the party will be dissolved.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at the 14 December flashmob
Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties states that no political party or individuals holding office in a political party shall receive money, property, or other benefit if they know, or could be expected to know, that it was illegally acquired, or if they have reasonable cause to suspect that it was illegally acquired.
On 11 December, the ECT voted to submit a request to the Court to rule whether the FFP taking a loan of 191,200,00 baht from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is a violation of Article 72. The penalties include dissolution of the party and barring the party’s executive members from running in elections for a number of years.
The Court will also rule on a sedition complaint made against the FFP by lawyer and former advisor to the Chief Ombudsman Nuttaporn Toprayoon, who accused the party of attempting to overthrow the "democratic regime with the king as the head of state" according to Section 49 in the 2017 Constitution, and for being linked to the Illuminati, a fictitious secret organization believed by conspiracy theorists to be seeking world domination.
Nuttaporn’s complaint claims that FFP members are anti-monarchy and anti-religion, and that the party symbol points to its link to the Illuminati and the party’s hidden purpose. The complaint was filed on 18 June 2019 and the Court accepted it on 22 July.
The Court said in a statement that no hearing would be held as it already has enough evidence, and that it will be ruling on the case on 21 January 2020 at 11.30.
These two cases are part of a storm of lawsuits thrown at the FFP since the start of 2019. On 21 November, the Constitutional Court ruled to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP for holding shares in a media company, despite the company having stopped operating in 2017.
On 14 December, thousands of people came together in a ‘flash mob’ on the Pathumwan Sky Walk, between MBK Shopping Centre and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in Bangkok, as well as in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and other provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand, following the ECT’s decision on 11 December, that it would recommend that the Constitutional Court order the FFP’s dissolution.NewsFuture Forward PartyThanathorn JuangroongruangkitConstitutional courtElection Commission of Thailand (ECT)judicial harassment
Amnesty calls for Thai govt. to drop charges against opposition members and activists holding flash mobs
Amnesty International calls for an end to judicial harassment of the political opposition, human rights defenders and activists in Thailand, as authorities began new criminal proceedings against members of the Future Forward Party and activists because of their recent peaceful protests.
The charges came after tens of thousands of Thais took to the streets on the evening of 14 December for a one-hour flashmob protest in Bangkok, as well as in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and other provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand. These peaceful protests followed the Election Commission’s announcement, on 11 December, that it would recommend that the Constitutional Court order the Future Forward Party’s dissolution.
The Thai authorities have filed a series of unwarranted charges against senior leaders of the Future Forward Party, including its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. A new opposition party, the Future Forward Party won 81 seats in the 2019 general elections. Both prior and subsequent to the elections, the authorities initiated measures to dissolve the Future Forward Party and disqualify Thanathorn as a member of parliament.
On the day of the protest, police charged party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and others with unlawful gathering in public and unlawful use of speakers under the Public Assembly Law.
On Monday, 16 December, Sonthiya Sawasdee, an MP for the majority Palang Pracharath Party, filed a lawsuit against four Future Forward members – leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, spokesperson Pannika Wanich, secretary Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and MP Pita Limjaroenrat. The suit accused the defendants of failing to notify authorities of the gathering, organizing a gathering within a 150 metre of the Royal Court and blocking access to public places; sedition under national security-related Section 116 of the Criminal Code; and violation of the royal institution under Article 6 of the Thai Constitution. If convicted, the party members would face a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment.
In Chiang Mai, the administrator of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy Facebook page – a separate group promoting the protest – was also charged with failure to submit a protest notice to authorities 24 hours prior to the event. This provision under the Public Assembly Law carries a maximum fine of THB 10,000 (approx. USD 3,300) and has been repeatedly used by the authorities to intervene and suppress gatherings throughout Thailand since its enactment under the military government in 2015.
Amnesty International calls on the authorities to stop using the provisions of the Public Assembly Act that excessively restrict the right to peaceful assembly, and Article 116 – Thailand’s sedition law – which is extensively used to stifle peaceful dissent of activists, human rights defenders, journalist and lawyer. These provisions should be repealed or amended to be in line with Thailand’s international human rights obligations and commitments. The authorities must fully respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalFuture Forward Partyjudicial harassmentfreedom of assemblyfreedom of associationfreedom of expression
Yesterday (24 December), the Lop Buri Provincial Court sentenced former Voice TV reporter Suchanee Cloitre to two years in prison in a libel case filed against her by the Thammakaset Company.
Suchanee Cloitre (Source: National Union of Journalists Thailand)
The company, a supplier of poultry to the agribusiness company Betagro, launched the libel lawsuit against Suchanee after she posted a tweet about the defamation case that the company filed against immigrant workers who had filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), claiming mistreatment by the company.
The workers’ complaint said that they had been forced to work up to 20 hours per day without a day off for 40 or more consecutive days, that they had been paid less than the minimum wage, were not paid for overtime, and that they had their freedom of movement restricted and their identity documents confiscated.
Starting in 2016, the Thammakaset Company sued them for defamation, claiming that their complaint damaged the company’s interests.
In September 2017, Suchanee retweeted a message from former Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) advisor Andy Hall, adding a comment which said that the court ordered the Lop Buri chicken farm owner to pay compensation for the 14 immigrant workers “for using slave labour.”
Yesterday’s ruling said that Suchanee’s post is considered defamation, as the phrase “slave labour” did not appear in Hall’s post and the court ruling he attached to his post. It is therefore considered damaging to the company. Because the court believed that Suchanee posted her tweet without considering the damage it could cause to the company, and that she had not checked whether her message was accurate, the court considered Suchanee’s action not in good faith. She was therefore sentenced to two years in prison according to Section 328 of the Criminal Code.
Suchanee has been released on a 75,000-baht bail. Her lawyer, Waraporn Uthairangsee, said that they will be filing an appeal.
From 2016 to May 2019, the Thammakaset Company filed complaints with the police, the Criminal Court, and the Civil Court against at least 22 individuals in 14 cases, including defamation complaints against human rights defender and former Thailand human rights specialist with Fortify Rights Sutharee Wannasiri, Mahidol University lecturer Ngamsuk Rattanasatien, and former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.
Criminal defamation carries a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment, a fine of up to 20,000 baht, or both, under Section 326 of the Thai Criminal Code. Defamation “by means of publication” is criminalized under Section 328 and carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,00 baht.
A 2018 report by the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises raised concerns over the increase in attacks on those who speak up against corporate impact on human rights and shrinking civic space, and called for businesses to not use criminal and defamation laws and to avoid strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPPs”) to silence human rights defenders.
A team of UN experts from the Working Group on Business and Human Rights also visited Thailand in April 2018, and at the end of their 10-day visit presented their preliminary observations on steps that should be taken by the Royal Thai Government and businesses to improve corporate respect for human rights and to strengthen access to effective remedies.
“One critical challenge for Thailand will be to end recurring attacks, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, union leaders and community representatives who speak out against business-related human rights abuse,” the experts said. “More must be done to protect civic space, including protecting human rights defenders against civil and criminal defamation law suits filed by companies to silence those who stand up for the victims of abuse."NewsSuchanee CloitreThammakaset CompanyLabour violationcriminal defamationStrategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP)
The key concerns include:
- Definitions of the crimes of torture and enforced disappearance, as well as of other key terms, that are incomplete or otherwise discordant with international law;
- The absence of provisions concerning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT/P);
- The inadequacy of provisions on the inadmissibility of statements and other information obtained by torture, CIDT/P and enforced disappearances as evidence in legal proceedings;
- The inadequacy of provisions relating to modes of liability for crimes described in the Draft Act;
- The inadequacy of provisions concerning safeguards against torture, CIDT/P and enforced disappearances; and
- The absence of provisions concerning the continuous nature of the crime of enforced disappearance and statute of limitations for torture and enforced disappearance crimes.
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”
Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
The events at dawn on 24 June 1932 can be counted as a point that divided Thai history into 2 eras, the old and the new, the era of the absolute monarchy and the era of democracy. But this has disappeared from the record of history as it is taught in social studies, just as the inheritance left behind by the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) is gradually being destroyed.
Thongchai Winichakul, of the History Department of University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, suggests that Thai history follows a paradigm of ‘royal-nationalist’ history, an account of the struggle for national sovereignty under the leadership of the monarch, which has no space for memories which may be unreconcilable with royal-nationalist principles, such as the events of 6 October and the revolution of 1932.
In her article “A Dark Spot on a Royal Space : The Art of the People’s Party and the Politics of Thai (Art) History” Thanavi Chotpradit, Department of Art History, Faculty of Archaeology, Silpakorn University, suggests that there have been attempts to destroy the reputation of the People’s Party and its cultural legacy since the collapse of the government after the coup d’état of 1947, giving as an example the article by M. R. Kukrit Pramoj in Siam Rath newspaper criticizing the People’s Party as having bad taste and no love for Thai arts and culture. This was one part of the criticisms of the revolution as ‘early ripe, early rotten’.
The Sala Chaloemthai cinema, built during the era of Plaek Phibunsongkram to be another national theatre, opened in February 1940. It was demolished in 1989, after a resolution from the cabinet claims that it obscures the scenery of Wat Ratchanadda and Loha Prasat, situated directly behind it. (Source: BBC Thai/National Archives of Thailand)
Kukrit supported the government to deal with buildings that were ‘not beautiful’ and ‘not suitable’ in the Rattanakosin Island area such as by demolishing the Sala Chaloemthai cinema and many commercial buildings along Ratchadamnoen Avenue were converted into the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall, showing exhibitions of the Rattanakosin era under the House of Chakri.
The revolution has also been overlooked by Thai historians. They have been inclined to focus on art of older and ancient periods that displayed nationalism and royalism. The art of the People’s Party was modern art and was therefore seen as not possessing Thainess and inappropriate for Thai society and can be regarded as historically eliminated as inconsistent with the prototype of history.
Thanavi’s argument is similar to that of Chatri Prakitnonthakan who says that there is a process of erasing the memory of the People’s Party which “the Thai state has been subtly implementing for decades”. The project in 2007 to demolish the Supreme Court complex built during the People’s Party era is an example of this process.
Left: The original Supreme Court complex
Right: A model of the new Supreme Court building
The war of memory has been more intense since the 2006 coup, through, for example, the demolition of the Supreme Court complex, the construction of the new parliament, the enclosure of Sanam Luang, the Rattanakosin Island conservation and development project and including the disappearance of the People’s Party plaque and the Constitution Defence Monument at Laksi.
The footpath around Sanam Luang opposite Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus. The Sanam Luang area is now enclosed by the green railing.Embeding democracy
The democratic Siamese state did not come about through the use of language, such as just by choosing the words of the first declaration of the People’s Party: “The time is over when those of royal blood will plough the backs of the citizens. The things that all people want, the greatest happiness and progress, known by the word ‘si araya [utopia]’, will occur for all citizens.”
Thanavi proposes that the establishment of this new government had to depend on an “performance in space”. Phraya Phahol Phahonphonphayuhasena’s reading of the first declaration of the People’s Party at the Royal Plaza in front of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall as the site of the sovereign power of the monarch is considered an “performance in space” and on 10 December 1936, a People’s Party plaque was embedded on the spot where Phraya Phahol read the declaration.
The People's Party plaque
The People’s Party plaque was a round bronze plaque, about 28 cm in diameter, embedded at a spot near to the Equestrian Statue of King Rama V. The inscription read “Here, at dawn on 24 June 1932, the People’s Party has brought forth a constitution for the progress of the nation.” The ceremony of embedding of the plaque on 10 December 1936 was led by Phraya Phahol, leader of the People’s Party.
After the revolution, but, many constitutional monuments were constructed not only in Bangkok, but around the provinces, some before those in Bangkok. Copies of the constitution were also handed out in various provinces.
A copy of the Constitution found in the office of the Loei privincial governor (Source: Ratchanach Wanichsombat)
Sarunyou Thepsongkraow, a History Department lecturer and author of “People-ocracy: Politics, Power and the Memory of the People’s (Party)”, says that most commemorative events took place in the northeast because People’s Party representatives from the northeast played an outstanding role at the time and the population was politically very active.
According to the account of Cpl Suphan Anantasophon describing the feelings of civilians in Udon Thani province on 24-27 June 1932, the people listened incessantly to the news on the radio even though they did not have much idea about the new system of administration, they knew only that the King was now under the law, citizens had equal rights, government officials were the equivalent of being the employees of citizens with the duty to help relieve the sufferings and maintain the happiness of the people.
1933 saw the Boworadet Rebellion. The northeast was politically very active both on the side that supported the People’s Party and the side that was hostile to it. Even though military forces from provinces and bases in the northeast supported the rebellion, since Prince Boworadet had held a position in the army at Nakhon Ratchasima, the civilian population of the northeast supported the government in defending the constitution.
In 1934, after the end of the disorder caused by the Boworadet Rebellion and the Holy Men’s Rebellion, Luang Angkhananurak (Somthawin Thephakham), Governor of Maha Sarakham Province thought that many people in the area still did not understand the system of constitutional government because they still believed the prophesies of the leaders of the Holy Men’s Rebellion who claimed they were magicians, so he thought of building the first Constitutional Monument in Thailand with the symbol of the constitution on its pedestal.
“What is interesting is that this was not initiated from Bangkok but came from the initiative of a provincial governor and provincial officials. Businesses and the people contributed to building the landmark,” says Sarunyou.
The Maha Sarakham Constitution Monument at its current location at the Maha Sarakham Municipal Office
Taking an overview of the monuments in different provinces, we see they were generally installed in the middle of the town and in a place that the public could access. For example, in Maha Sarakham, it was at the provincial hall before being moved to the Maha Sarakham town municipal offices. In Surin it was in the area of the provincial hall. In Buriram it was in the middle of a roundabout near the market before being demolished. In Roi Et it was on the island in the middle of Bueng Lan Chai.
These sites would be used to stage festivals or activities like celebrations of the constitution or national day celebrations which were biggest during the People’s Party era. The first were held on 10 December 1932 when the permanent constitution was promulgated, starting in Bangkok and then spreading to the provinces.
When the People’s Party lost power, constitution celebrations lost their importance and disappeared. Today Trang is the only province that still holds a constitution celebration. In other provinces they have all been transformed into Red Cross fairs.
Symbols of the new system appeared not only in the form of monuments but also in other places such as the pediment of Wat Pong Sanuk in Lampang Province, the front cover of school books, the crest of Thammasat University, the seal of Roi Et Municipality (until it was changed into the image of the city pillar) and the seal of Buriram Municipality.
Prateep Suthathongthai, of the Department of Visual Arts, Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Mahasarakham University, points out that the image of democracy as that of the constitution on its pedestal is problematic in itself since the image is unlikely to relate to the principles of the democratic system
“(The constitution on its pedestal) has been used since after the revolution as a symbol that most people can still remember. The problem is that when we think of democracy, we see the image of the constitution, which is like thinking of the image alone. We don’t know what meaning follows on from that, what the principles of democracy are. This doesn’t come from the idea of seeing the constitution on its pedestal. I think that is a limitation and a problem,” says Prateep.
The Democracy Monument when it was opened in 1940 (Source: Silpawattanatham)
8 years after the revolution on 24 June 1940, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Prime Minister at the time, led a ceremony to unveil the Democracy Monument, which is counted as the first monument that formally speaks about the people.
“The Democracy Monument and its Unseen Meanings” by Malinee Kumsupa states that there was a proposal by Luang Bijayendra Yodhin, Regent, who raised a question in the 4/2481 (1938) Cabinet Meeting whether the government had a policy to erect a monument to the promotors of the revolution and their assistants. But the proposal was twice rejected by the government out of concern that it would be censured as inappropriate or done for the benefit of themselves or their party. So it is not surprising that the Democracy Monument that was built later used symbols instead of images of individuals and also has no inscription of the names of the 99 promotors of the revolution.Uprooting Democracy
However, this kind of connection could last only 15 years, since the People’s Party lost power after the death of King Rama VIII and the coup of 1947, together with the return of conservative forces who wants to restore greater power to the monarchy which affected power relations in society.
The Monument to Suppressing the Rebellion or the Constitution Defence Monument in 1941. In December 2018, it disappeared from its location at Lak Si roundabout and has yet to be found.
When power changed hands, it had an undoubted effect on the process of creating historical memorials. The cultural legacy of the People’s Party became blemishes on the national landscape and something that must be thrown away. Chatri suggests that in fact Thai society had a Rattanakosin Charter or a charter to conserve Thai cultural artefacts, which controlled the idea of conservation in Thai society where people in society “do not want to know”, based on royalist nationalist principles and where the main point is to conserve only the legacy of elite culture under a system of royalist nationalism. So the cultural legacy of the People’s Party era, which in attitude opposes and rejects the authority and role of the monarchy, becomes something that must be thrown away.
On 14 March 2017, there were reports that the People’s Party plaque had been uprooted from its site. Until now there is no information on where it has disappeared to and whether it has been destroyed. It is thought that the People’s Party plaque was removed between 1-8 March 2017, but no one knows exactly. It has been replaced with a “fresh-faced plaque” which is engraved with the message “Long live Siam forever. Happy, fresh-faced citizens build up the power of the land. Loyalty and love for the Triple Gems is good, for one’s state is good, for one’s clan is good and having a heart loyal to one’s king is good. These are the tools to make one’s state prosper” which is the same as a proverb on the royal seal on the Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri created by King Rama V to honour King Rama I.
Dusit District Office affirmed that it did not change the plaque. The Fine Arts Department claimed that the plaque was not its responsibility as it was not a historical artefact according to the law “since it is not considered to be movable property of historical value and because the plaque is merely a marker of the place where the speech was made announcing the revolution.”
The "fresh-faced plaque" which replaced the People's Party plaque
Later, in the middle of the night of 28 December 2018, the Monument to Suppressing the Rebellion or the Constitution Defence Monument was moved from its position in the middle of the Laksi roundabout under circumstances controlled by the police and military. During the move, people, reporters, activists and academics who went to observe the removal were detained. To this day no one knows where it was moved to or whether it still exists.
One day before the disappearance of the monument, Prachachat Turakij Online reported that the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority had held a quiet ceremony to carry out the permanent removal of the monument to the BMA construction centre in the Nong Bon area. This report was then deleted from the website. Sakchai Boonma, Director-General of the BMA’s Department of Public Works, later confirmed that it was not taken to the Nong Bon construction centre as had been reported and that he knew nothing about the removal at all.
The Monument to Suppressing the Rebellion or the Constitution Defence Monument as it was being moved for the first time in November 2016, before being moved again and disappearing in December 2018.
There was increasing concern that the legacies of the People’s Party would one by one disappear or be destroyed, including large structures like the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Some laughed on hearing this, but the book “The Democracy Monument and its Unseen Meanings” states that in 1969 there was a proposal to replace the central structure which includes the image of the constitution with a statue of King Rama VII in the pose of bestowing the constitution, but this proposal was rejected. Later, in 1980, a statue of King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) was unveiled at the Parliament Building (opposite Dusit Zoo).
In her doctoral thesis “Revolution versus Counter-Revolution: The People’s Party and the Royalist(s) in Visual Dialogue”, Thanavi says that the image of King Rama VII in the pose of bestowing the constitution is an expression of the returning influence of the monarchy in Thai politics and the construction of a new memory related to the origin of the democratic system in Thailand. The construction of this statue is one part of the process of creating the ‘early ripe, early rotten’ discourse, designating the People’s Party as the side that was rushing to change the country when the people were not ready. King Rama VII then becomes the father of Thai democracy,
However, destroying the cultural legacy of the People’s Party means both conscious, deliberate destruction and unconscious destruction because history in this period has been erased from the stories of the past, so that people cannot remember. Destruction can then easily occur.
The case of Buriram Province is one example. On 6 November 2014, the Buriram provincial constitutional monument was removed. The Mueang Buriram municipality claimed that it was removed to solve traffic problems. It had earlier been moved from a roundabout to a site in front of the provincial hall. But it was moved again when a replica royal funeral pyre was built at the time of the royal cremation of King Rama IX. Eventually, in October 2019, the Facebook page of Phalo discovered that the pedestal part of the Buriram monument had been dumped at the Public Works Department of the municipality.
The demolition of the Buriram provincial constitutional monument on 6 November 2014 (Source: Wiwat Rojanawan)
When there are no celebrations of the constitution or festivals connected to constitutional monuments, people in the locality forget how they are important to the point of forgetting that they exist, so many of them are removed, replaced or destroyed. At present there remain only 5 constitutional monuments in the northeast: in Maha Sarakham, Surin, Roi Et, Khon Kaen and Chaiyaphum.
As the legacy of the People’s Party was disappearing piece by piece, on 9 October 2019, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha presided over the opening of the Si Sitthisongkhram Room and Boworadet Room in the Royal Thai Army Museum in Honour of His Majesty the King. The two rooms are named after Prince Boworadet, leader of the Boworadet Rebellion, and Colonel Phraya Si SithiSongkram (Din Tharab), a core leader of the Boworadet Rebellion and the grandfather of Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont.
However, after the 2006 coup d’état, the narrative of the “People’s Party” was again much talked in terms of heroes and as a symbol of the fight against the royalist ideology which dominates Thai society today. Chatri suggests that this was a “second birth” of the People’s Party. So the removal of the People’s Party plaque and the Monument to Suppressing the Rebellion may similarly be called the “second killing of the People’s Party”, but it is not yet clear whether it will be successful since efforts are still being made to preserve the memory of the People’s Party.
In March 2019, the Dean of the College of Politics and Governance, Mahasarakham University, made a request to install a replica People’s Party plaque as a learning resource for students, but the University refused, giving as a reason that it was a symbolic expression and not within educational objectives. It also feared that it would create division within the University. Finally there was a compromise that the finished plaque would be placed on a shelf for display. Also, a replica People’s Party plaque can be seen at the sculpture park beside the large auditorium and in the Pridi Banomyong Memorial Room in the Dome Building, Thammasat University, Tha Prachan Campus.
A replica of the People's Party plaque in the Pridi Banomyong Memorial Room in the Dome Building, Thammasat University, Tha Prachan CampusBibliography
Chatri Prakitnonthakan. Thai Architecture after the 19 September 2006 Coup d’État. 1st Edition. Bangkok: Aan Press, 2015. [in Thai].
Thongchai Winichakul. “Thai royalist-nationalist history: from the era of disguised colonialism to neo-royalist-nationalism or the cult of the royal father among the modern Thai bourgeoisie” Silapawattanatham. 23(1): November 2001, 56 – 65. [in Thai]
Thanavi Chotpradit. “A Dark Spot on a Royal Space: The Art of the People’s Party and the Politics of Thai (Art) History” Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia. 1(1): March 2017, 131 - 157
Thanavi Chotpradit. Revolution versus Counter-Revolution: The People’s Party and the Royalist(s) in Visual Dialogue. Doctoral Thesis in Art History, Birkbeck College, University of London, 2559. Accessed 1 November 2019 from https://www.academia.edu/29635672/Revolution_versus_Counter-Revolution_The_Peoples_Party_and_the_Royalist_s_in_Visual_Dialogue
Malinee Kumsupa. The Democracy Monument and its Unseen Meanings. 1st Edition. Bangkok: Vibhasa Press, 2005 [in Thai]
Suthachai Yimprasert “On ‘fresh-faced’ culprits stealing plaque” Prachatai. 26 April 2017. Accessed 19 November 2019 from https://prachatai.com/journal/2017/04/71195 [in Thai]
Sarunyou Thepsongkraow. People-ocracy: Politics, Power and the Memory of the People’s (Party). 1st Edition, Bangkok: Matichon, 2019. [in Thai]FeaturePeople's Party1932 revolutionDemocracy MonumentPeople's Party plaqueConstitution Defence MonumentArchitectureArt historyIconoclasmMemory politics
Thai authorities should immediately drop all politically motivated charges against opposition leaders and pro-democracy activists who held peaceful rallies in Bangkok and other Thai provinces, Human Rights Watch said today (18 December).
A sign held by one of the protestors on Saturday (14 December)'s rally
On 16 December 2019, police filed charges against the Future Forward Party leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, for organizing a rally on December 14 at Bangkok’s Pathumwan Intersection to oppose the government’s attempts to dissolve the party. More than 10,000 people attended the rally, the biggest political gathering since the May 2014 military coup.
“The Thai government’s prosecution of opposition politicians and activists for holding peaceful protests shows how unwilling it is to ease its chokehold on fundamental freedoms,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s latest crackdown makes a mockery of his promises to restore democracy and respect for human rights in Thailand.”
The authorities accused Thanathorn of holding a public assembly without permission under the Public Assembly Act and using loudspeakers without permission under the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act.
In addition, Sonthiya Sawasdee of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party filed a police complaint against Thanathorn and other key members of the Future Forward Party under the Public Assembly Act for not notifying authorities of the rally and holding it within 150 meters of a royal residence. He also accused the party’s leadership of committing sedition and showing disrespect toward the monarchy, which are both serious criminal offenses in Thailand.
In Chiang Mai province, the police brought charges against pro-democracy activists who opened a Facebook page called “Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy,” which invited people to join a rally at Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai to coincide with the gathering in Bangkok.
The ban on a public assembly – imposed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military junta – was lifted in December 2018. But more than 100 people in Bangkok and other provinces faced illegal assembly charges in 2019 under the arbitrary and overbroad language of the Public Assembly Act, and in some cases faced sedition charges, for holding peaceful rallies.
International human rights law, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has stated that those wishing to exercise their right to peaceful assembly should not be required to obtain permission.
Imposing criminal penalties on people who fail to ask the government for consent to exercise their right to peaceful assembly is an unacceptable interference with their basic rights, the rapporteur said. The government instead has an obligation to facilitate peaceful assemblies “within sight and sound” of their intended target. When it fails to meet that obligation, arresting and prosecuting those who seek to assemble in a more appropriate venue is a disproportionate and inappropriate response.
“Concerned governments should urge Thai officials to drop these politically motivated charges against the Future Forward Party leadership,” Adams said. “There should be no rush to return to business as usual with Thailand until the Prayut government seriously commits to respect human rights.”Pick to PostHuman Rights Watchjudicial harassmentFuture Forward PartyThanathorn JuangroongruangkitLiberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for DemocracyInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)freedom of assemblyfreedom of expressionfreedom of association
A participant in the flashmob on Saturday has faced online attacks and was fired from her job at the television channel MONO29 after the right-wing media site TNews posted her picture and profile on its Facebook page.
The young woman, now a former MONO29 employee, went to the Saturday flashmob at the Pathumwan Skywalk with a sign saying “Fuck U Dictatorship.” A picture of the sign then appeared in the internet, in the background of which is a portrait of King Bhumibol on the side of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) building.
After the picture was widely shared, some netizens started to dig around for details of her personal information and published them online. These details, along with her picture, were then shared by the right-wing online media site TNews, along with those of at least two other people who also went to the flashmob, with its followers firing attacks at the three people in its comment section.
On Sunday (15 December), Mono Generation, the company which owns MONO29, issued a statement saying that they had formed a committee to investigate the issue, but claimed that she willingly resigned from the company.
Following the release of this statement, the hashtag #แบนMONO29 (#banMONO29) trended on Twitter as netizens expressed support for the young woman and criticized Mono Generation for firing her because of her political expression.
Suthep U-on, Future Forward MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Labour of the House of Representatives, issued a statement in response, saying that “termination of employment, pressuring employees to resign, or firing employees based on company regulations that have nothing to do with work and violate fundamental freedoms is not allowed,” and that “no one should lose their job because of their participation in politics.”
Meanwhile, Wanvipa Maison, another FFP MP, said that in such cases, the employer must pay compensation, and that the Ministry of Labour has received a report of the issue and will be launching an investigation.
Newsonline harassmentDoxxingCyberbullyingTNewsfreedom of assemblyfreedom of associationLabour violationMono GenerationMONO29
The Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) and Greenpeace held a press briefing last Thursday (12 December) at the Heinrich Böll Foundation Southeast Asia office in Bangkok, in which representatives of the two organizations called for a new global convention on the plastic crisis and for a whole-cycle approach to managing plastic waste.
Barbara Unmüßig (left) and Tara Buakamsri (right)
Barbara Unmüßig, President of HBF, gave a presentation on information published in a new report “Plastic Atlas: Facts and figures about the world of synthetic polymers,” which HBF and the Break Free from Plastic movement published together in November 2019. Data in the report shows that more than half of the plastic ever produced has been made since 2000, the majority of which is made into plastic packaging, most of which is single-use. The report also states that only 10% of the more than nine billion tonnes of plastics that have been produced since the 1950s have been recycled, and that 40% of plastic products become waste after less than a month.
“The world does not only face a climate crisis, but very much so a plastic crisis,” said Unmüßig. She also stressed that despite the omnipresence of plastic in our daily life and our economy and the idea that it has become indispensable, plastic is a new invention and that it is possible to live without it.
Unmüßig also emphasized that it is important to hold to account the main players in the production of plastic, such as the food industry and the petrochemical industry, since both plastic production and consumption contribute to climate change, and that it is also important to reduce plastic production.
According to Unmüßig, we should come up with new packaging and new recyclable materials. She stressed that it is important that we take a full life cycle approach to managing plastic waste, including chemicals and microplastics, in order to solve the plastic crisis, which goes hand in hand with solving the climate crisis.
“Only to ban plastic bags, to ban single-use items is a good first step, but definitely not enough,” Unmüßig said. “We need full life approach, including chemicals and microplastics. We have to look at the whole life cycle and come up with solutions that really fit into that.”
Unmüßig also said that it is important we have a global convention to address the plastic crisis, and that Southeast Asian leaders must step up and take the lead.
“We have no conventions on the plastic issue,” Unmüßig said. “This is why, together with many actors, like the coalition Break Free from Plastic, we have Greenpeace as our partner; we are asking for a global UN convention that is really addressing the plastic crisis from the source to the consumer and this is why we are so much behind that issue, because we need political action now, not tomorrow.”
Tara Buakamsri, Country Director of Greenpeace Thailand, then gave a presentation on the waste trade in Southeast Asia. He noted that plastic waste is not covered by the Basel convention, which restricts the importation of hazardous waste, unless it is contaminated.
He also noted that, according to Greenpeace’s data, Southeast Asia received 2.2 million tons of plastic waste in 2018, and that Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines are the main destination for plastic waste coming from the western world, mostly from the US.
All of these countries, with the exception of Thailand, now have restrictions on plastic waste imports, and while the Thai government said they will ban plastic waste imports by 2021, Tara said that nothing is being done.
Greenpeace data also found that 47% of plastic production in Thailand becomes single-use packaging, such as plastic bags, 80% of which becomes plastic waste. Tara also presented marine biology research data, which found that 300 marine animals die from eating plastic each year in Thai waters.
“To effect change, we have experts who are sharpening the point, and then we need the hammer of public opinion to actually nail it. This is the challenge,” Tara said. “We need to work together with experts to mobilize public opinion, and to fight overconsumption, we need to build human relations, instead of material ones.”NewsClimate crisisplastic crisisGreenpeaceHeinrich Böll FoundationBarbara UnmüßigTara Buakamsriwaste managementwaste reductionwaste trade
Civil society groups urge Laos, Thailand to investigate enforced disappearances, reveal fate of Sombath Somphone and Od Sayavong
On the seventh anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the Lao and Thai governments to investigate enforced disappearances, and demand Vientiane finally reveal Sombath’s whereabouts and ensure justice for him and his family.
Considering the Lao police’s protracted failure to effectively investigate Sombath’s enforced disappearance, a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts should be established without delay. The new body should have the authority to seek and receive international technical assistance in order to conduct a professional, independent, impartial, and effective investigation in accordance with international standards.
Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that Sombath’s vehicle was stopped at the police checkpoint and that, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also showed an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center. The presence of police officers at Sombath’s abduction and their failure to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ participation in Sombath’s enforced disappearance.
Lao authorities have repeatedly claimed they have been investigating Sombath’s enforced disappearance but have failed to disclose any new findings to the public since 8 June 2013. They have met with Sombath’s wife, Shui Meng Ng, only twice since January 2013 – the last time in December 2017. No substantive information about the investigation has been shared by the police with the family, indicating that, for all intents and purposes, the police investigation has been de facto suspended.
We also call on the Lao and Thai governments to resolve all cases of enforced disappearances in their countries. The most recent case is that of Od Sayavong, a Lao refugee living in Bangkok, who has been missing since 26 August 2019. Over the past several years, Od engaged publicly in drawing attention to human rights abuses and corruption in Laos, and met with the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on 15 March 2019 in Bangkok, prior to the latter’s mission to Laos. The concerns regarding Od’s case were expressed in a joint statement that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three Special Rapporteurs issued on 1 October 2019.
We would also like to draw particular attention to reports that Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatcharn Buppawan, and Kraidej Luelert, five Thai critics of the monarchy and Thailand’s military government living in exile in Laos, went missing between June 2016 and December 2018. In the case of the latter three, the bodies of Chatcharn and Kraidej were found about two weeks later on the Thai side of the Mekong River, mutilated and stuffed with concrete, while a third body - possibly Surachai’s - reportedly surfaced nearby and then disappeared. DNA tests carried out in January 2019 confirmed the identity of Chatcharn and Kraidej.
We call on the Lao and Thai governments to investigate these cases in line with international legal standards with a view towards determining their fate and whereabouts.
Both the Lao and Thai governments have the legal obligation to conduct such prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and to bring all individuals suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and gross human rights violations to justice in fair trials.
We also urge the Lao and Thai governments to promptly ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Laos and Thailand signed in September 2008 and January 2012 respectively, to incorporate the Convention’s provisions into their domestic legal frameworks, implementing it in practice, and to recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other states parties.
Finally, we call on the international community to use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to demand the Lao government promptly and effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The third UPR of Laos is scheduled to be held on 21 January 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.
During the second UPR of Laos in January 2015, 10 United Nations member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance.
Until the fate and whereabouts of those who are forcibly disappeared are revealed, the international community should not stop demanding that they be safely returned to their families. The Lao government should be under no illusion that our demands will go away, we will persist until we know the real answer to the question: “Where is Sombath?”
 OHCHR, Thailand/Lao PDR: UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao human rights defender, 1 October 2019, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25087&LangID=EPick to PostAmnesty InternationalSombath Somphoneenforced disappearance
After twice having to move the location of their press conference, the group behind the “Run Against Dictatorship” finally launched the event in front of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University.
Tanawat Wongchai (centre) at this morning's press conference (Source: Banrasdr Photo)
The “Run Against Dictatorship” launch event was previously scheduled to be held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), but that had to be cancelled after reported police pressure. A statement from FCCT stated that the police asked them to cancel the group’s booking and threatened FCCT with “serious consequences” if they did not comply, while the superintendent of Lumpini Police Station denied this.
The press conference was then re-scheduled to today (16 December) at 10.00 at Rattanakosin Hotel. However, Tanawat Wongchai, one of the organizers, said that the hotel informed him that they have been pressured by “those in power” into cancelling their booking. The group therefore decided to move the launch to the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University.
“Why are you afraid of a press conference about a running event?” Tanawat asked. “We have been prevented from holding a press conference twice. The first time was at the FCCT. The second time was today at Rattanakosin Hotel.
“If this country is really a democracy, why is it not possible for us to hold a press conference, which is one of our fundamental rights? This shows that Thailand is not under a democratic regime as the government claims to be, but we are under a dictatorship which is hiding behind the word ‘democracy’.”
The “Run Against Dictatorship” is a 6 kilometre mini-marathon organized by activist Tanawat Wongchai and other student activists. It will take place between 4.00 – 8.00 on 12 January 2020. Runners will start at 5.00 from the football field at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus.
“We insist that a demonstration is our right under the constitution, and we must be able to do it,” Tanawat said, but he also insisted that they will really be running and that it is not a protest.NewsRun against DictatorshipTanawat Wongchaifreedom of speechfreedom of expressionfreedom of assembly
Bangkok : Thousands took to the street in Bangkok’s central shopping district on Saturday (14 December) after Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP), called the protest on Friday (13 December).
Thanathorn invited people to join him at the Pathumwan Skywalk, after the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) moved to dissolve FFP.
The party has been seen by the military-aligned establishment as its main rival since 2019 election.
“We believe that it’s time for the people who will no longer tolerate the NCPO regime to show themselves, to show their willingness to participate in politics.” Thanathorn said in a Facebook video on Friday.
The demonstration took place on Saturday at Pathumwan Skywalk, between MBK Mall and the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC), at 17.00. Protestors arrived with signs, shouting “Prayuth get out!”
As Thanathorn arrived at the protest site, participants waved and held up their hands in the three-finger Hunger Games salute.
“This is just the beginning,” Thanathorn told the protester at Pathumwan Skywalk. “Today is a show of our strength so that in future others may join us. We’re just here today as a test run. Prayuth, don’t be afraid yet. The real thing is next month.”
Meanwhile, FFP Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said “today is the beginning of showing our force, the expression that it is the people who has power in this country. This is the fight of the future for all of us Thai people.”
Before joining the protest, Thanathorn also signed an agreement with six opposition party leaders in an event at Thammasat University, pledging to push for amendments to the 2017 constitution, which was drawn up by the junta.
Police in Pathumwan district said they had not received a request for a gathering in line with a law on public meetings, but have not said they would try to block it.NewsThanathorn JuangroongruangkitFuture Forward PartyprotestBangkok
Regional lawmakers call out ASEAN governments’ failure to commit to raising climate ambition at COP25
As the COP25 drew to a close, regional lawmakers today denounced the failure of any ASEAN government to join the alliance of nations who intend to submit enhanced climate action plans for 2020 and urged their leaders to do so as a matter of urgency.
The first climate strike in Bangkok, which took place on 20 September 2019
On 11 December, COP25 President and Chile Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt announced that 73 nations have joined the alliance of countries determined to submit an enhanced climate action plan (NDC) for 2020. None of the ASEAN member states joined. Only Timor-Leste took the brave decision to join the alliance and committed to increasing its climate action plan by next year.
“Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. From capital cities to villages and island archipelagos, people are already feeling its effects: in the Mekong, livelihoods are ravaged by saltwater intrusion; in the Philippines, people are being hit more and more by vicious typhoons; and entire modern metropolises like Bangkok are predicted to be underwater by 2050,” said Sarah Elago, Member of the Philippines House of Representatives and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
“How many times do we need to explain to our leaders that there is no more time to ponder - bold action is needed now in 2020. The situation is critical: our youth are mobilizing and striking because they know that there are only 10 years left for governments to act for them to have a decent future. Why is it that children are doing more than the governing adults?” continued Sarah Elago.
Raising climate ambition is critical to stabilizing our world’s temperatures and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. According to the UN Environment Program, currently, the world’s climate ambition plans are considerably underperforming and not on track to meet the Paris agreement’s objective of limiting temperature increases to “well below 2°C.” Rather, our collective climate action plans are on track for a 3.2°C increase in the world’s temperatures this century; a catastrophic scenario for the people of Southeast Asia.
APHR calls on all ASEAN governments to protect their people, as well as the rest of the planet, by officially signaling their intent to submit enhanced climate ambition plans for next year.
“Our climate plans are underperforming. We must raise ambition for our future generations, our children, those most vulnerable in Southeast Asia, and for our own sake. Virtually all people’s human rights are at stake and it is each government's duty to defend and protect these rights,” said Meity Magdalena, former Indonesian Member of Parliament (MP) and member of APHR.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, Indonesia and Singapore’s climate action plans are highly insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goal. Vietnam’s is deemed “critically insufficient” on a par with countries such as the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, APHR calls on ASEAN governments to join the alliance of countries, and non-state actors committing to net-zero emissions by 2050 in line with the latest scientific information.
APHR welcomes the initiative of cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Quezon City, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and other non-state actors to commit to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 but this will not be enough. In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, ASEAN governments must commit to this target too.
Currently, only Lao PDR has joined the alliance and stated its intention to commit to net-zero CO2 emission by 2050. APHR commends this step and urges other ASEAN governments to follow suit. APHR further highly commends Timor-Leste for joining both alliances and urges ASEAN countries to follow its example.
“We cannot stay on the sidelines of this catastrophe. Southeast Asia is contributing to climate change through its reliance on coal, its deforestation and haze crisis, and its lack of ambition in its climate action plans. We call on all governments to reverse this shameful historical trend and right our past wrongs on the climate,” said Abel Da Silva, MP of Timor-Leste and member of APHR.Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)COP25Climate crisis
Seafood Working Group Urges Thai Govt to Address Labor Abuses in Wake of U.S. GSP Program Suspension
On October 25, 2019, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it would suspend $1.3 billion in trade preferences for Thailand under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) due to Thailand’s failure to adequately provide internationally recognized worker rights, particularly lack of protection for freedom of association and collective bargaining. In 2015, the USTR warned Thailand of its failure to meet the eligibility criteria for the GSP program with respect to freedom of association, collective bargaining, acceptable conditions of work, and forced labor.
"The decision to revoke GSP benefits shows the Thai government that the international community intends to hold countries that repeatedly and consistently violate fundamental worker rights accountable,” said AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold. “Workers in Thailand on farms, in factories, and on the seas have a right to decent, safe work, and their abuse must end now,” said Feingold, who also serves as deputy president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
Thai trade unions and worker rights organizations in Thailand have for decades been calling for legal reforms to guarantee all workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining and to end egregious labor rights abuse. They have participated in multiple committees and consultations with the government on proposals for labor laws. They have submitted a variety of recommendations on labor law reform. Every step of the way they have been ignored or marginalized, or worse, harassed and persecuted.
“This statement is to send a clear message to the Thai government and companies that the Thai labor movement and migrant workers in the country have international solidarity and support not only from labor organizations, but also other types of organizations concerned with business and human rights involved in the Seafood Working Group,” said the International Labor Rights Forum’s Senior Seafood Campaign Coordinator, Kimberly Rogovin.
GSP program eligibility will be revoked for 573 products on April 25, 2020, including for all seafood products, according to a statement from the USTR: “due to longstanding worker rights issues in the seafood and shipping industries.” Members of the Seafood Working Group and other organizations have consistently documented labor abuse and forced labor of migrant workers in the seafood and fishing sectors, linking such exploitation to legal discrimination against migrant workers and denial of their fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
“The fundamental problem is Thailand’s labor laws don’t meet international standards and a lack of serious enforcement means companies easily get away with abuses. Law reforms are urgently needed to ensure workers can establish and lead their own unions, regardless of nationality, and to prevent retaliation and firings of union leaders for standing up for their rights,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.
A global coalition of human rights, labor rights, and environmental organizations, the Seafood Working Group is extremely concerned about widespread abuse and denial of workers’ fundamental rights across the whole economy, concerning Thai and migrant workers alike. Members are calling on the Thai government to reform labor legislation, end legal and judicial harassment of labor rights defenders and collaborate with worker organizations to end labor exploitation.
The statement also urges leading companies exporting and sourcing seafood from Thailand, particularly members of the Seafood Task Force, to call publicly on the Thai government to reform national legislation in line with international standards and ensure workers’ labor rights are respected in workplaces within their own supply chains.
“Companies should assume their responsibility to ensure internationally recognized worker rights in their supply chains, and work with their suppliers in Thailand to eradicate abuses and enable the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Now is the time for Thai seafood companies and their buyers, such as global supermarkets, to walk the talk, act to end abusive practices, and show how it can be done systematically,” said Art Prapha, Oxfam America’s Senior Private Sector Advisor.
The Thai government was given six months, until April 25, 2020, to make changes to become eligible for trade privileges again in 2021. The group strongly urges the Thai government and all relevant companies to act quickly and support meaningful reforms that are long overdue.Pick to PostSeafood Working Groupfishing industryInternational Labour Organisation (ILO)labour abuseWorkers' rightsGeneralized System of Preferences (GSP)
Business leaders have a key role to play to address intimate partner violence as a workplace issue. When workplaces understand, recognize and respond to violence against women, women can continue to work and access the support they need, a UN Women report says.
With the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, UN Women is launching today, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, case studies showing how 14 diverse organizations across the Asia-Pacific region are addressing intimate partner violence as a workplace issue. ‘Ending Violence is Our Business: Workplace Responses to Intimate Partner Violence in Asia and the Pacific’ showcases the many roles organizations of all types and sizes can play in joining the movement to prevent and respond better to violence against women in the workplace and in their communities, and the benefits it can have for companies and organizations.
In Asia and the Pacific, the levels of violence against women remain unacceptably high. Over 37 per cent of women in South Asia, 40 per cent of women in South East Asia and up to 68 per cent of women in the Pacific have experienced violence at the hands of their partners.
Violence directed against women by their boyfriends, partners or husbands has devastating physical, emotional, financial and social effects on women, children, families and society. Intimate partner violence is not only harmful to women, it impedes economic growth and stalls societal development. Growing evidence shows that there are tangible economic benefits for companies that address all forms of violence including violence that occurs outside of the workplace.
Businesses are not immune to the grave consequences of intimate partner violence. The costs for businesses have been widely documented. Violence—both at home and in the workplace—ultimately results in lost productivity, absenteeism, isolation from co-workers, slowed career progression, and increased training and recruitment costs for employers. In Australia, domestic and family violence is estimated to cost Australian businesses AUD$ 609 million annually (US$ 416 million).
Aside from being the right thing to do, there are many compelling business reasons to invest in developing workplace responses to intimate partner violence. It supports women’s economic advancement and empowerment in the workplace – opening the doors for more talented, diverse, and safe workplaces. Workplaces can contribute to preventing violence against women by helping women stay employed so that they have more options to leave abusive relationships. The support provided by an employer can be the difference between an employee staying in an abusive relationship or taking action to address it. It also has benefits for businesses. Workplace responses are smart investments that can result in financial benefits for companies. Supporting survivors of violence to stay employed not only increases morale and productivity from employees who feel safe and supported but also reduces absenteeism, employee turnover and associated administrative costs.
An effective workplace response should encompass a range of measures, policies and procedures that help to create a positive and supportive work culture, and support and promote gender equality and zero tolerance to violence. As many of the case studies highlight, having a policy alone is not enough: a demonstrated commitment as well as financial and practical support, and a culture that encourages employees to access the benefits provided in the policy is also vital. Similarly, one-off training or self-paced courses have been shown to have limited impact, particularly when they are carried out in isolation from other workplace measures.
Training of workers, supervisors and managers to recognize and respond to intimate partner violence should be part of a comprehensive approach. Some of the promising practices showcased by the organizations in this report are such as gender and safety assessments, flexible work arrangements, paid leave, referral to support services and trainings and communication on the causes and consequences of intimate partner violence, and how to recognize signs and respond to disclosure of abuse.
These organizations identified leadership commitment as a key factor in the success of their responses to intimate partner violence. Regional Director of UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Mohammad Naciri, emphasized that, “While everyone has a role to play in eliminating all forms of violence against women, executives and board directors, senior leaders and managers across organizations are especially effective when they challenge behaviours and norms that perpetuate, accept or ignore violence and drive workplace cultures that prioritize equality and respect.”
To end violence against women and support women who experience violence, changing the acceptance of violence against women as a private matter is needed. This includes promoting a business culture that does not tolerate, condone or look away from any form of violence against women, whether it occurs inside or outside of the workplace, from sexual harassment to intimate partner violence, and holding all perpetrators accountable.
In sharing the lessons learned from organizations across the region, UN Women invites business leaders and chief executive officers to commit to taking action to prevent and respond to intimate partner violence. If more business leaders commit to playing their part in ending violence against women in Asia and the Pacific, significant progress could be made in reinforcing the message that violence against women is never acceptable and support is available.Pick to PostUN Womenintimate partner violenceViolence Against Womensexual violenceDomestic violencegender-based violence