Prachatai English

Women Human Rights Defenders demands a new government that all deserve

Prachatai English - Mon, 2021-03-08 11:23
Submitted on Mon, 8 Mar 2021 - 11:23 AMWomen Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs)

The Community Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) Collective in Thailand statement on International Women’s Day demanding an end to state violence and for a new government – the government "we all deserve".

Over one hundred years ago when women in Russia, and in the US took to the streets, giving birth to International Women’s Day, it was not a celebration.  The women were in the street marching to end the violence of the State that had made life for them and their families impossible.  

International Women’s Day 2021 is not a day of celebration either.  We hear our sisters next door in Burma. With enormous courage they push back against the deadly violence of the military junta.  We raise our voices and our fists with theirs.  Doh A Yay!  Doh A Yay! (Our cause! Our cause!)

Women in Thailand are forced on a daily basis to confront the tyranny of the State. The majority of taxpayers and voters are women, yet we are not served by our government. Society and the government always rely heavily on women to protect and ensure the welfare of the family and society. During the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis they have leant on us harder but not given a single baht to mothers.  Instead of representing us they ignore us, instead of being our protectors they have become our bullies.  

It is women, especially mothers, who are doing the work of protecting children, grandchildren, parents, communities, and the natural world.  Across the country, women are the first to wake up, and the last to go to sleep.  We do the work of caring for the family, we work to earn the cash to care for the family, and many of us also do the work of defending rights and seeking justice.

Women are defending life, livelihood, and the land.   We live under a cloud of State violence, where we must constantly calculate the risk for even the smallest resistance like raising three fingers or wearing a white bow or sharing online.   For women in the Deep South simply going to the market carries a risk of State violence.  As mothers we also must calculate and prepare for the risks taken by our children and family. 

We demand change.  The current government must step down and let us, the people, build a new Constitution that can produce the kind of government we want and deserve.        

  • A government that is serious about taking away our poverty, not our homes, and livelihoods.
  • A government that serves us, not capitalism and greed.
  • We want a government whose laws don’t choke us when we try to make a living, and whose officials do not demand bribes at every turn.
  • A government that upholds our right to the security of citizenship and asylum.
  • A government that is anti-racists that respects self-determination and dignity of indigenous women and her community
  • A government that makes sure our children are safe in school, where education is free and available to all.  
  • A government that safeguards our right to land, defends us against the destruction of our natural resources and our way of life.
  • A government that respects our worth and guarantees the welfare of those of us who are disabled or elderly.
  • A government that represents all of us and does not tolerate hate or violence against any woman, including transgender women, and regardless of whether we love women, men, both or neither.
  • A government that does not imprison, harass, or threaten us, our children, or our family when we speak out in defense of life and fundamental rights and freedom.
  • A government that does not imprison more women than any other country in the world.
  • A government committed to justice, peace and an end to violence in the Deep South
  • A government that does not take part in or cover up killings and disappearances.
  • A government that ensures the soil is not poisoned, protects the rivers and the sea, and guarantees the air we breathe is not killing us.

We deserve to live free of State violence. We deserve a government that invests in caring not killing – “mouth stomach” not guns and weapons.

We demand an end to State violence in Thailand, for our sisters in Burma and others around the world. 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise …

Maya Angelou, a Black woman American poet and civil rights activist

The Women Human Rights Defenders Collective in Thailand is comprised of community and grassroots women human rights defenders currently representing seventeen different sectors. Indigenous women, Disabled women, Lesbians, Muslim women from the Deep South, Sex Workers, Women fighting for natural resources and environment e.g. resisting coal power plant, potash and gold mining, and mega-dam projects, Women occupying and farming land, Woman fighting for rights to the sea, Women fighting for land reform in the Northeast, Women for democracy, Refugee women, Migrant women, Former prisoners, Women lawyers who represent various communities under threat (and are under threat themselves), Rural women, Assembly of the Poor, Women from the Slum Communities, Garment Workers (Tri-Arm) and Women journalists. 

Pick to PostInternational Women’s DayThe Community Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) Collectivewomen rights
Categories: Prachatai English

Trash dumped and burned at court entrance

Prachatai English - Sun, 2021-03-07 13:23
Submitted on Sun, 7 Mar 2021 - 01:23 PMPrachatai

On 6 March, protesters marched to the judicial court complex on Ratchadapisek Road to express their anger at the lengthy and questionable detention of pro-democracy protesters and political prisoners.

Protesters marching to the judicial court complex.

The protest, designated by the Free YOUTH movement under the theme Restart Democracy (REDEM), was one among at least 4 pro-democracy protests held in Bangkok and nearby province, and 1 pro-establishment protest at the Central World, Ratchaprasong.

The protesters started the march at Lat Phrao intersection at around 17.40. However, a commotion took place nearby as SWAT police surrounded a number of the “We Volunteer” protest guards who were eating at the nearby shopping mall. Piyarat Chongtep, the group leader, was among those arrested. They were held in 3 police vans.

The arrest of We Volunteer team. Video is available in Piyarat's Facebook.

At the end of the protest, those arrested were divided into 2 groups: 18 were taken to Border Patrol Police Region 1, Pathum Thani, and the remaining 27 went to Paholyothin Police Station after protesters managed to surround the police van they were in and others managed to break out of another van.

The police had prepared water cannon trucks and crowd control gear to handle the protest. At around 13.00, razor wire, lines of police and nets were set up inside the court premises. However, the protest went off peacefully without any clashes.

At 19.02, protesters arrived at the court entrance and began the “burning rubbish” activity by piling up material and setting it alight. The fires went on until extinguished by volunteer guards at 19.10. 

A pile of burned materials extinguished by the protest guards.

It is reported that portraits of the King and the late King Rama IX were burned during the protest. Some protesters were seen trying to stop this. The demands for monarchy reform and repeal of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes insults and expressions of hostility against the king, queen, heir and regent, were also presented.

The burning of royal pictures has aroused wide interest after Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues, was arrested for allegedly setting fire to a large portrait of King Rama X in front of Klong Prem Central Prison on the night of 27 February.

At 19.30 a blown-up letter "in the People’s Name, to the People's Court", was placed at the King’s portrait. The letter condemns the courts for the unfair detention of pro-democracy protesters and political prisoners and demands their release.

The protest dispersed at around 20.55. Protesters were heard inviting others to join the march on Sunday, led by Jatupat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattararaksa, who started a 247.5 km march on 16 February from Nakhon Ratchasima to the Democracy Monument. The march is scheduled to finish on 7 March.

The protest on Saturday was the second under the REDEM theme. Their demands are for the monarchy’s power to be limited, for the military to stay out of politics, and for universal state welfare.

NewsREDEMWe VolunteerWeVoFree Youth MovementPiyarat Chongteppro-democracy protest 2021
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand: Release peaceful critics and de-escalate tensions amid fresh wave of protests

Prachatai English - Sun, 2021-03-07 11:06
Submitted on Sun, 7 Mar 2021 - 11:06 AMAmnesty International

Riot control police during the protest on 28 February 2021

  • Nearly one year after emergency decree, more than 380 protesters including 13 children face criminal charges while alleged protest leaders remain in detention
  • 61 people face charges for defamatory comments about the monarchy
  • More large-scale protests expected today

As protests in Thailand begin to intensify again, authorities must urgently de-escalate their current heavy-handed approach and stop trampling the human rights of peaceful protesters, said Amnesty International on Saturday (6 March).

Hundreds of peaceful protesters, including children, are facing criminal charges and several have been detained for weeks as large-scale protests are expected again today, Saturday 6 March 2021.

A resumption in mass protests began on Sunday, 28 February 2021, which was met with excessive use of force from the authorities including less-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets, batons, tear gas and water cannon laced with chemical irritants.

“The continued, frequent use of intimidation by the Thai authorities is a blatant assault on people's rights to voice their opinions and peacefully protest. Nearly a year since the Thai government imposed an emergency decree in response to growing peaceful discontent across the country, the picture is harrowing: 383 individuals are facing trumped up criminal charges, including 13 children, simply for gathering and expressing themselves,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, Emerlynne Gil.

"The Thai authorities have spent the past year in a new systematic campaign to repress people simply wishing to peacefully express their views.  We continue to urge the authorities to re-think their approach and instead resolve the situation by genuinely respecting human rights.

“It’s also shocking that authorities are repeatedly denying bail to prominent peaceful protesters detained since 9 February 2021, who face multiple criminal charges for voicing their opinions.

“Authorities must immediately drop politically-motivated charges against peaceful protesters, including children. They must release all those peaceful protesters and leaders still detained, effectively investigate the repeated instances of unnecessary and excessive use of force, and ensure these protests are policed according to international standards,” said Emerlynne Gil.

Heavy-handed response to last week’s protests

On Sunday 28 February, water cannon, batons, tear gas and rubber bullets were used against hundreds of protesters marching to the King’s Guard Battalion, current residence of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, in Bangkok. The Erawan Medical Centre reported 33 official injuries from the protest (23 officers and 10 protesters), while more than 100 protestors reported injuries.

A total of 23 people were reportedly arrested, including four children aged 15-16 years old and another four young people aged 18. Some were detained at the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Headquarters, Pathum Thani province.

At least 130 people have so far been detained without charge or judicial oversight at the facility between 13 October 2020 and 1 March 2021, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Alleged protest leaders denied bail as charges pile up

Since the Emergency Decree issued on 26 March 2020, hundreds of protesters face trumped-up criminal charges for their involvement in the peaceful protests which grew in scale throughout the past 12 months.

More than 380 people detained have been charged with provisions often used to criminalize peaceful protests, including sedition and assembly with threat of violence (Sections 116 and 215 of the Criminal Code, respectively), and violation of the ban on public assembly under the Emergency Decree and the Public Assembly Act.

Since November 2020, when authorities announced they would resume the use of lèse-majesté – or royal defamation – under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, 61 people have been charged, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. They are facing up to 15 years in prison for the defamation charge.

Pro-democracy activists Arnon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Patiwat Saraiyaem and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk remain detained while facing lèse-majesté charges for their participation in two protests in 2020. Their bail applications have been denied since their arrest on 9 February.

Background

Under international human rights law and policing standards, law enforcement officers must as far as possible stop and isolate individuals responsible for violent acts but not hinder others who want to continue to protest peacefully. Police may use force as a last resort: only when absolutely necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. The use of force should only be aimed at stopping violence, and exercised with utmost restraint with a view of minimizing injury and preserving the right to life.

Since the imposition of the Emergency Decree on 26 March 2020, officials have continuously detained and initiated criminal complaints against individuals engaged in peaceful protests and activities. Demonstrators have reported numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation by police officers solely for their involvement in peaceful protests, including ongoing student-led peaceful demonstrations calling for a new constitution, resignation of the government, monarchic reforms, and an end to harassment of the police opposition.

Pick to PostAmnesty Internationalstate violencefreedom of expressionStudent protest 2020student movementYouth movementcrackdownarbitrary arrestjudicial harassment
Categories: Prachatai English

Explainer: How is the constitutional amendment going?

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-03-06 17:34
Submitted on Sat, 6 Mar 2021 - 05:34 PMPrachatai

Containing promises and perils, constitutional amendment could be one of the most anticipated topics in 2021. Although it still has a long way to go, amendment of Section 256 may be decided this year.

After heated protests and government delaying tactics, in November 2020 parliament voted on 7 motions on constitutional amendment. Only two motions passed the first reading. One came from the opposition parties led by Pheu Thai and the other from the government coalition parties led by Phalang Pracharat. Both aim to amend Section 256 which itself sets out the process of amending the constitution.

Thanks to pressure from the protests, the government coalition and the opposition parties agreed that the government should remove from Section 256 the specification of how many votes are required in House of Representatives and the Senate to pass amendments. They also agreed to add to Section 256 provisions for a Constitutional Drafting Committee whose members must come from an election.

The Constitutional Drafting Committee will not, however, be able to amend any part of Chapter 1 (General Provisions) or Chapter 2 (the King) according to both proposals. This is even though there is no inherent restriction in the constitution against amending specific chapters or sections. Both proposals have been criticised by iLaw and the opposition’s Move Forward Party, which had their own proposals for constitutional amendment rejected. Without monarchy reform, the fundamental conflict between the protesters and the government is also very likely to continue in 2021. However, those two were the proposals that passed.

Still, the government coalition’s proposal differs from that of the opposition parties on three significant issues.

First, the government coalition and the opposition parties agreed to get rid of the specification of the number of votes required from the House or Representatives and the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment. However, the opposition parties want constitutional amendments to be passed by a majority vote of parliament while the government coalition wants it to be passed by three-fifths.

Second, the government and opposition parties agreed to add an elected Constitutional Drafting Committee to the amendment process. However, the opposition parties want all 200 members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee to come from an election based on constituencies. But the government coalition wants only 150 of the 200 members to come from an election.

The other 50 comprise 20 from parliament (around 13 from the House of Representatives and around 7 from the Senate), 20 academics with expertise in law and political science, and 10 from students and the Council of University Presidents of Thailand. The opposition parties are concerned that the government coalition’s proposal would pave the way for the government to install its own people to control the Constitutional Drafting Committee.

Third, the opposition parties want to remove the clause requiring a referendum for amending certain chapters and sections. Having an elected Constitutional Drafting Committee should be enough to make sure that the constitutional amendment is democratic. The removal of the referendum requirement will also speed up the amendment process, making it more possible to rewrite parts of the consitution under this government. However, the government coalition does not want to remove the referendum requirement for the amendment of those specific chapters and sections.

The current Section 256 says that amendments which require a referendum include those which involve Chapter 1 (General Provisions), Chapter 2 (the King), Chapter 15 (Amendment to the Constitution), or any sections which involve qualifications and prohibitions of persons holding positions under the Constitution, the duties or powers of the Court or Independent Organs, or rendering the Court or an Independent Organs unable to act in accordance with its duties or powers.

Since the government’s motion gained more votes in parliament, the government’s motion will be the first to be discussed in the second reading. The opposition parties will be able to request that their suggestions be added to the government coalition’s draft. However, if the government’s motion passes the second reading, the opposition parties’ draft will be automatically nullified. And because Section 256 is under Chapter 15 (Constitutional Amendment), the government must hold a referendum to approve the amendment after the third reading.

It is most likely that voters will face a similar dilemma to the one they faced in the 2016 referendum, choosing between rejecting any progress at all or accepting something which is not much of a progress. iLaw, an independent organization, also expects a worst case scenario in which the government amends the constitution to consolidate its power even more. In this scenario, iLaw notes that the current Section 256 will come in handy as the voters can use the referendum to reject the amendment in question. Without 20 percent of members of House of Representatives whose political parties do not hold positions as cabinet members, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, the amendment will also not be able to pass.

Without any tricks from the government coalition, the second and third readings for the amendment of Section 256 were expected to start at the end of February or in March, followed, if successful, by a referendum to approve the amendment in 60 days, which would have been around April or May, and the King’s signature around mid-2021.

But this just amends the amendment process itself. Substantial amendments, such as curbing the powers of the unelected Senate, would then be able to proceed after the election of a Constitutional Drafting Committee, which will be responsible for further constitutional amendments.

This timetable now seems hopelessly ambitious after the government coalition parties and the Senate voted on 9 February to petition the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the legitimacy of the two motions that have passed the first reading.  At best, this will delay the entire process by weeks if not months, and at worst will result in the motions for amendment being declared unconstitutional, bringing things to a dead halt. The Constitutional Court said they will vote on the constitutionality of the amendment on 11 March.

Round Up
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand ranked ‘Not Free’ in 2021 World Freedom ranking

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-03-06 13:51
Submitted on Sat, 6 Mar 2021 - 01:51 PMPrachatai

In Freedom House’s 2021 global freedom analysis, Thailand scores 30 out of 100, 2 points less than last year, due to a poor performance in many aspects of political rights and civil liberties. This has brought down the country’s status from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’.

A protester raising a three-finger salute during the police use of tear gas in November 2020.

Freedom House’s report Freedom in the World gives as reasons for the decline in status the dissolution of Future Forward Party, which the report describes as “a popular opposition party that had performed well in the 2019 elections,” and the crackdown on youth-led protests by the “military-dominated government”.

Scores are based on 2 categories. Thailand scores 5 out of 40 on Political Rights and 25 out of 60 Civil Liberties. 

Key Developments in 2020 raised by the Freedom House
  • According to University of Oxford researchers, Thailand registered under 7,500 confirmed cases and 63 COVID-19 deaths, making it one of the countries least severely affected by the pandemic. In March, the government issued an emergency decree, which it subsequently extended and tightened, that included measures widely criticized as empowering the regime against dissent rather than addressing the pandemic’s economic and social impact.
  • In February, the opposition Future Forward Party was dissolved following a Constitutional Court ruling that its founder had used an illegal donation to fund the party. The Court’s ruling also removed several legislators from parliament and banned 10 members of the party’s leadership from politics for 10 years.
  • Large youth-led protests, which began in February but were curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions, recommenced in July following an easing of lockdown measures. Hundreds of thousands of mostly student protesters participated in multiple anti-government protests throughout the country, calling for an end to harassment of activists, abolition of Thailand’s parliament, constitutional reform, and reform of the powerful monarchy.
  • In October, the government declared a “severe” state of emergency, banning gatherings of more than five people and initiating a crackdown against protesters and movement leaders. Beginning in November, lèse-majesté charges were leveled against dozens of activists, prompting human rights groups to express concern over the crackdown.

The 2014 coup, which led to a ban on many political activities and the appointment by the junta of senators and other officers of the state, is recognized as an obstacle in many aspects of political freedom. The 2017 constitution is also seen as an obstacle to free and fair elections and a strong parliamentary system. A propaganda-like public education system aiming to instil obedience to the monarchy and military is also mentioned.

The political role of the monarchy is mentioned in the report, such as the televised announcement condemning Princess Ubolratana’s bid to run for prime minister and the King’s statement on the eve of the 2019 election urging citizens to vote for “good people” to prevent “chaos”, a message widely understood as a royal endorsement of pro-military parties. 

 

In 2019, King Vajiralongkorn also transferred 2 elite army units to the direct command of the palace.

In terms of freedom of expression, the report states that anyone perceived as a critic of the military or the monarchy remains at high risk of surveillance, arrest, imprisonment, harassment and physical attack. The Computer Crime Act is mentioned as a tool to restrict online expression, surveillance and censorship. The lèse majesté law (Criminal Code Section 112) is also mentioned as a tool to suppress the voice of critics.

Thailand scores low on freedom of assembly, civil society space, due process, an independent judiciary, academic freedom and the rights of marginalized people. The categories where Thailand scores the highest are freedom of religion, freedom of  movement and personal social freedoms.

The report is compiled annually by a team of in-house and external analysts and expert advisers from academia, think tanks and the human rights community. The 2021 edition involved over 125 analysts and nearly 40 advisers who collected and analysed data from many sources and was reviewed and published after a consensus among the analysts, outside advisers and Freedom House staff.

In the years since 2018, Thailand has scored 31, 30, 32 and 30, vacillating between ‘Not Free’ and ‘Partly Free’.

Among neighbouring countries, China scores 9, Lao PDR 13, Vietnam 19, Cambodia 24, Myanmar 28, Singapore 43, Malaysia 51, and Indonesia 59.  The 3 countries with complete freedom are Finland, Norway and Sweden.

NewsFreedom HouseFreedom in the WorldThailandFuture Forward PartymonarchyEmergency DecreeCOVID-19
Categories: Prachatai English

Indigenous Karen villagers arrested after returning to ancestral land

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-03-06 13:08
Submitted on Sat, 6 Mar 2021 - 01:08 PMPrachatai

87 members of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community, who travelled back to the location of their former village in the Kaeng Krachan forest, have been forcibly taken out of the forest and arrested by park officials, police, and military officers.

A number of Bang Kloi community members came to try to meet with their relatives after learning that those who returned to Chai Phaen Din were arrested. (Photo from the Northern Development Foundation)

The community members were taken by helicopter flights down from Chai Phaen Din, the former location of their village from which they were forcibly evacuated in 2011, on Friday morning (5 March).

Waraporn Utairungsee, a lawyer from the Human Rights Lawyer Association (HRLA), said that of the 87 people arrested, 36 are minors, but the authorities did not press charges and have released them. 29 others were arrested and received a fine, while 22 were taken to Khao Kling Prison.

Waraporn also said that the team from HRLA asked to meet the community members at 14.00, but were prevented from seeing them for around 4 hours, until the police held a press conference at around 18.00 to say that the community members were informed of their charges and were taken into temporary detention. She said that the authorities claimed that a lawyer from the Lawyers’ Council was already present during the inquiry, but she was not sure if the community members consented to this, as community representatives have already filed a request for a lawyer with HRLA on 25 February 2021.

According to Waraporn, it was too late to request bail on Friday (5 March). Later, on Saturday morning (6 March), HRLA announced on their Facebook page that they will be requesting bail for the 22 detained community members, and that they are arranging for 8 other community members for whom the police have an arrest warrant to turn themselves in on Monday (8 March). HRLA said that they will have to request bail for a total of 30 people, requiring a security of 60,000 baht each.

 As they will need at least 1,320,000 baht in security, HRLA is requesting that any academic or university lecturer willing to use their position as bail security for the detained community members contact them. They will be requesting bail for the community members on Monday (8 March) at the Phetchaburi Provincial Court.   

Transborder News reported that remaining community members at the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village went to the park administration office after they learned of the arrest earlier on Friday morning (5 March), but were not allowed to see their relatives.

Kriangkrai Cheechuang, co-ordinator for the Karen network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri (KNCE), told Transborder News that the authorities began the inquiry without waiting for the community members’ lawyer and without a representative of the community being present to act as an interpreter.

There were also reports that No-ae Meemi, son of Ko-i Meemi, the community’s late spiritual leader, has also been arrested and sent to prison, and that at least two of the women currently detained have young children.

Reports of No-ae’s arrest caused concerns among the community, as he has said on several occasions that he would commit suicide if he is forcibly evacuated from Chai Phaen Din again.

The Bang Kloi community has already been forcibly evacuated from their ancestral home twice: in 1997, and once again in 2011, when park and military officials burned down their houses and rice barns, and forced them to relocate to the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village.

For the past 25 years, the community has constantly faced unresolved community rights issues. They were not allocated land for agriculture as the authorities promised them, and the land they did receive was not suitable for growing crops, while they are not able to practice their traditional rotational farming method. Many members of the community are also still in the process of getting Thai citizenship, and missed out on land allocation and welfare. 

Community leader and indigenous rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen also went missing in 2014 after he was last seen in the custody of park officials. In September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) announced that they had found charred bone fragments in an oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Dam, DNA evidence from which matches Billy’s mother. However, even though the DSI laid charges against four suspects, including the then-national park chief and two other officials who took Billy into custody, the public prosecutor decided in January 2020 to drop all but one of the charges, that of official misconduct, against the park officials, citing lack of evidence that Billy had died.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also worsened their situation, as many community members employed outside the village began to lose income. Around 70 – 80 members of the community therefore decided to leave the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village in mid-January 2021 and returned to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional way of life.

The community would also like to perform the final funeral rites for Ko-i, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 107. The ceremony requires his descendants to grow rice on the land at Chai Phaen Din and use the rice to feed people who participated in the ceremony.

Since the start of February 2021, the community have faced intimidation from state officials. Park officials, police, and military officers were stationed in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village and have been patrolling the area every day, while food donations are blocked at park checkpoints and prevented from being delivered to the community members who returned to Chai Phaen Din. Community leaders faced pressure from the authorities, while phone signals in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village were periodically cut.

Despite the signing of an MOU with community representatives promising to allow the community to return to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional ways and to end intimidation against the community, there were reports on 22 February 2021 of helicopter flights taking military units up into the Kaeng Krachan forest, as well as reports that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had ordered all community members to be forced out of Chai Phaen Din by 18.00 of that day. By the end of that day, it was reported that 13 community members had been detained and taken back down to Pong Luek-Bang Kloi.

Thailand, along with 143 other countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Article 10 of which states “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” 

NewsIndigenous rightsindigenous peoplecommunity rightsKarenBang KloiChai Phaen DinKaeng KrachanForced evacuationstate violence
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Everything will be OK

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-03-05 16:16
Submitted on Fri, 5 Mar 2021 - 04:16 PMStephff

MultimediaMyanmar coupMa Kyal SinStephff
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Unicameral parliament: possibility of a more democratic legislature

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-03-05 14:19
Submitted on Fri, 5 Mar 2021 - 02:19 PMPrachatai political editorial team

In an era of political tension and ideological conflict, Thai society has reached a turning point. While the military government has paved its way to maintaining power, a new pro-democracy movement is trying to put rights and power back into the hands of the people.

The military-appointed senate is one element whose power and origins are questioned as an obstacle to democratization. For example, opposition parties have proposed an amendment to Section 272 which currently allows appointed senators to vote in the selection of a Prime Minister and Sections 270-271 relating to senators’ authority in legislation involving national reform and in legislation seriously affecting the administration of justice and amendment of penalties in cases of official corruption.

As dissatisfaction with the Senate is getting clearer and louder, the idea of unicameralism has emerged in the drive to real democracy in Thailand.

Historically related to military intervention

After the Siamese Revolution in 1932, Thailand initially adopted a unicameral parliamentary system with elected and appointed MPs. Appointees acted as consultants for elected MPs.

The 1946 constitution transformed the unicameral parliament to a bicameral one with a House of Representatives and a Phruetthasapha (Senate). 80 senators were selected by indirect election and had a major role in scrutiny, advice and acting as a check and balance to the work of MPs.

A year later, the 1947 constitution, criticized by some as a setback in Thai democratization as it increased the power of the monarch, determined that senators were to be appointed by the King and name of this house was changed from Phruetthasapha to Wutthisapha.

However, unicameral parliaments were re-established in Thailand when the military overthrew the government, including the 1952 coup by Field Marshal Phibun, which re-instated the 1932 unicameral parliament model with elected and appointed MPs, the 1976 coup led by Adm Sangad Chaloryu which established a Sapha Patirup Pokkrong Pandin (Reform Council), the 1977 coup under the nominal authority of Adm Sangad Chaloryu establishing a Sapha Nitibanyat Haeng Chat (National Legislative Assembly), and the 2017 coup by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha also establishing a Sapha Nitibanyat Haeng Chat.

It could be said that no unicameral parliament has ever been established by the people’s consensus and it seems to tighten the power of military dictators who disrupt democratization in Thailand. Nevertheless, bicameral legislatures also fail to promote democratization when the senate is appointed by the military.

According to Thamrongsak Petchlertanan, a political historian, a Senate seems to be unnecessary for Thailand since its role as a mentor for MPs is merely a political pretext used by civil servants to control democracy. The conflict between power from appointments and power from elections has been going on for more than 80 years.

Thamrongsak Petchlertanan

Elected MPs are beholden with a duty to respond to the people’s demands, while the military and civil servants believe that they are the country’s leaders so they expand the bureaucracy, centralize power and appoint military personnel to control major ministries.

“The 1997 constitution is the prototype that the military would most try to obstruct. So they must control and direct elections. They do not want MPs to have power to fight with a military state. They do not want any strong political party to emerge.”

Civil society group calls for unicameral parliament

While Thailand currently maintains its tradition of bicameralism, the political situation has generated critiques of military-appointed senators and calls for an entirely elected senate. A civil society group called Constitution Lab (ConLab) goes even further.

Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu, a co-founder of ConLab, made a speech at the opening of the Re-Solution group, a network of 4 groups (iLaw, Move Forward Party, Progressive Movement and ConLab), that are calling for a people’s constitution.

Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu

ConLab has proposed the idea of a unicameral parliament by illustrating the problems of the current appointed senate which include

1.) power to vote (alongside 500 elected MPs) on who becomes Prime Minister, which means mathematically that 1 vote from each member of the 100-member Senate selection committee is equivalent to 2 million votes from the general electorate

2.) power to appoint members of the Independent Organizations and power to vote on laws related to the national reform plan, which gives the Senate excessive political control.

3.) an appointments process that was marred with conflict of interest – of the 10-member Senate Selection Committee, 7 members of the selection committee appointed themselves to become Senators whereas another 3 members chose to appoint their relatives

4.) limited diversity in the professional make-up of the Senate, with 40% of Senators disproportionately coming from military and police backgrounds.

5.) failure to perform its function of checks and balances effectively - in the first year all 145 motions that were sent from the lower house to the Senate were passed, with an average approval of 96.1%.

Parit also said that by democratic standards, the power of the Senate and how its members were selected must be congruent and proportional. If senators were appointed, like the U.K., their power should be limited. But If senators were elected, like the U.S., they can democratically have more legislative power.

Thailand has historically not been too successful in implementing either of these models. The current set of appointed senators from the 2017 constitution wield excessive power, while elected senators in the 1997 constitution were not entirely effective in holding the executive branch to account due to a largely similar political base.

Parit then explained the benefits of unicameralism including faster passage of the law in a fast-changing world where agility is important, lower expenses amounting to at least 1,200 million THB per year, less time and effort required to design the ‘perfect’ Senate that can achieve an optimal balance between its powers and the origin of its members, and more and in line with global trends for unicameralism amongst countries that are – like Thailand – unitary and parliamentary in nature.

He also provided solutions for who would take over previous roles and responsibilities of the Senate, if it was abolished.

  1. To provide expertise in specific legislation: Parliamentary Committees in the Lower House can call on more experts or increase their quota of non-MP experts on the Committees.
  2. To protect the interest of provinces that have lower populations: the policy of decentralization would be a better solution for this issue.
  3. To appoint committee members of Independent Organizations: this power can be transferred to the lower house – if we want to ensure neutrality, we can add a further condition that any committee members must get a double approval from both a majority of government MPs, and a majority of opposition MPs.
  4. To recall political office-holders: the power can be transferred directly to the people so people can petition to initiate a request for recall.
  5. To check and balance the executive branch: there are 2 solutions.
    1. Increasing the power of the Opposition by automatically giving more important parliamentary positions to the Opposition, such as Vice Speaker of the House, or Chair of the Annual Budget Committee in Parliament;
    2. Equipping people with the ability to directly examine the government by increasing access to Government data or other crowdsourced investigative platforms.

Parit told Prachatai about 3 missions of ConLab: Firstly, they work to educate people about the problems of the current constitution and to lay out potential solutions and design choices for a new constitution draft. For example, if we want to move away from the current problematic model of the Senate, which model is most preferable: bicameral legislature (elected or appointed senators) or unicameral legislature.

Secondly, ConLab acts as a platform to collect data and opinions of people about their preferences regarding the Constitution. Parit explained that the word ConLab plays on words “Constitution Laboratory” and “Collaboration”. They organized ConLab workshops all over the country and the workshops were in a form of hackathon-style event where people come together to brainstorm and draft their ideal constitution across key areas, such as freedoms and rights, the parliamentary system, and the electoral system. Then, ConLab would collect data in each workshop and publicize the data on people’s preferences.

Thirdly, ConLab collaborated with other agencies in working to mobilize constitutional amendments on-ground. For example, in 2020, they had collaborated with iLaw to collect signatures for an amendment proposal submitted to Parliament.

The constitutional amendment proposal submission at the parliament in September 2020.

Parit also said that even though iLaw’s proposal was rejected, some may see that another constitution campaign in 2021 is necessary because there are several issues that remain unsolved and could become problematic, for example Section 272 that gives the Senate power to vote on the Prime Minister, or state attempts to limit discussions about Chapters 1 and 2 of the Constitution. Regarding the controversial the lèse majesté law, people can also submit a proposal to amend the legislation to Parliament if the petition collects more than 10,000 signatures.

Possible impossibility

The idea of unicameralism seems to be a rational solution but its possibility is still questioned.

Due to its reputation of being the choice of military juntas, it might not be feasible because to amend the constitution needs the senators’ vote.

An amendment to the charter needs no less than 84 senators to vote to accept the motion in the first reading. Even worse, one-tenth of senators have the right to submit a petition to the Constitutional Court to rule whether the draft is unconstitutional.

The power of senators to deny the possibility of unicameralism was shown in the vote on a motion to remove the undemocratic power of the Senate to vote in the selection of the PM (the amendment of Sections 159 and 272). 56 senators voted for the motion in the first reading, well short of the minimum of 84 votes.

Even though the number seems positive, will the Senate be willing to abolish their own power? Should we be discouraged from promoting a unicameral legislature?

Research published by National Democratic Institute for International Affairs , an organization funded in part by the US government and loosely affiliated with the Democrat Party, shows that 55 countries (54 with a unitary form of government and 1 with a federal form) out of 83 have a unicameral parliamentary system.  (The research does not discuss the case of Thailand.)

Attempts to change the parliamentary system in Sweden took more than 20 years before converting to a unicameral parliament. The Swedish bicameral system consisted of elected upper and lower houses based on the U.S. and Norwegian models. However, the clash of ideologies between 2 houses (a conservative majority in the upper house and a liberal majority in the lower house) caused political deadlock that was eventually solved by changing to a unicameral system in 1967. 

In New Zealand, the first reform demand was for the upper house to be elected but the demand was not accepted.  Abolition of the upper house was proposed by Prime Minister Sidney Holland of the National Party in 1947 on the grounds that members of the upper house were appointed by the government of the day and had little autonomy. So new majority members of the upper house, a so-called “suicide squad”, were appointed to pass the bill and the abolition bill went in effect on 1 January 1951.

Comparing countries that are unitary states like Thailand, the above examples show that the transformation process into a unicameral system was time-consuming.

Therefore, it might not be impossible for Thailand but would require a lot of work from civil society to achieve social consensus. But details may need to be discussed further as disruption of democratization by the military is important to take into account in the possible establishment of democratic unicameral parliament in Thailand.

“2020 is the year that demonstrated to us that the unexpected can happen”, said Parit. “I think that if we recall to10 December last year (2019), on the day that ConLab was established, even we did not expect that the Constitution issue would gain as much attention and momentum as it did in 2020.”

“Even the government was forced to respond to the issue and submit a proposal to Parliament to kickstart the process of drafting a new constitution. So, we should not limit the possibilities of this country based on the past actions or behaviour of this government. We simply need to find new ways to increase awareness, mobilize the people and drive society forward,” said Parit.

FeaturesenateSenatorUnicameral parliamentpoliticsParit WacharasindhuThamrongsak PetchlertananConstitutional amendment
Categories: Prachatai English

185 accounts related to Thai military information operation removed by Facebook

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-03-05 10:50
Submitted on Fri, 5 Mar 2021 - 10:50 AMPrachatai

In its February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report, Facebook says it detected and removed 77 accounts, 72 pages, 18 groups and 18 Instagram accounts originating in Thailand, targeting audiences in the Southern provinces.

Soldiers with assault rifles lining up for a patrol. (Source: ISOC Region 4)

The investigation found links to the Thai military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a powerful and unaccountable military-led organization.

The report identifies Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour as “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation”. It is divided into 2 categories depending on who operates it - either non-government or foreign, or government actors.

In Thailand, the accounts, pages and groups were removed for violating Facebook policy against government interference. The people behind the network used both authentic and fake accounts to manage groups and pages, including overtly military pages and pages that were not openly affiliated with the Thai military.

The network primarily posted about news and events in Thai. It also posted content supporting the Thai military and the monarchy, calling for non-violence, regional COVID-19 updates, alleged violence by insurgent groups in Southern Thailand, and criticism of separatist independence movements and civil society organizations.

One interesting example given by the report is a post from a page named Comprehending the operation (รู้ทันขบวนการ). The post criticizes Amnesty International, an international human rights NGO, and also other NGOs as a whole, labelling them as uncaring of local people unless they can benefit from them financially.

Another example is a page named Truth about my home, Pattani (ความจริงปัตตานีบ้านฉัน). The post states that the insurgency movement’s idea of creating an uprising against non-Muslim believers clearly violates Islam. 

Statistically, about 703,000 accounts followed one or more of those pages, about 100,000 accounts joined at least one of those groups and about 2,500 people followed one or more of those Instagram accounts. The network has spent about 350 USD in Thai baht for ads on Facebook and Instagram.

The Deep South of Thailand is an area where military operations have been deployed for decades to suppress an insurgency demanding autonomy. Martial law and the Emergency Decree have been in force since 2004 and 2005 respectively. Severe human rights violations such as arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and enforced disappearance have been reported from time to time.

The Bangkok Post reports that over 7,000 people have been killed during the conflict.

The quasi-civilian ISOC Region 4 has been responsible for various operations including surveillance and intelligence gathering to create soft power domination via projects, events and cultural activities.

ISOC Region 4 has been accused of being an agency which oversees ‘Information Operations’ (IO), targeting the insurgents’ narratives or civil society organizations who promote issues in opposition to the state. 

In the February 2020 parliamentary censure debate, Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn exposed how the Prime Minister, through ISOC, had ordered IOs to sabotage activists and the peace process in the Deep South, a method which was later found to be used against politicians and the pro-democracy movement.

In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 Thai Twitter accounts deemed to be part of a state-linked IO. The analysis showed that they targeted opposition parties and the pro-democracy movement and tried to counter criticism of the military and government.

NewsDeep SouthFacebookInstagramInternal Security Operations Command (ISOC)Information Operation
Categories: Prachatai English

ARTICLE 19 calls for the repressive lèse-majesté provision to be repealed

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-03-04 17:06
Submitted on Thu, 4 Mar 2021 - 05:06 PMARTICLE 19

Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, which criminalises defamation, insults, and threats to members of the monarchy, is fundamentally incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, said ARTICLE 19 in a briefing published on 4 March.

Photo source: ARTICLE 19

The Thai government should immediately end all criminal proceedings under Section 112 and repeal the provision in its entirety.

“Thai protesters deserve to have their demands heard, even if they concern the most powerful individuals and institutions in the country,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director of Programmes. “No public official should be beyond criticism. It is especially important that people can speak freely about monarchs and other unelected officials, who cannot be held accountable at the ballot box.”

The briefing, “Breaking the Silence: Thailand’s renewed use of lèse-majesté charges”, examines the history and recent use of Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code. It analyses the provision against international standards relating to freedom of expression and concludes by providing recommendations to the Thai government.

Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code is one of the strictest lèse-majesté provisions in the world. It states, ‘Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years’.

In 2020, youth-led, pro-democracy protests swept across Thailand, with protesters calling for a new government, a new constitution, and the end to the harassment of activists and government critics. As the movement gained momentum, protesters began to openly question the monarchy, a development without precedent in modern Thai history. Activists called for curbs on the power of the monarchy, Thai social media users posted about the long periods of time the king spends outside the country, and protesters donned costumes poking fun at the king’s fashion choices.

Authorities at first tried to stymie the protest movement and suppress discussion of the monarchy by applying other laws and using force to disperse protesters. However, as these efforts failed, the government resorted to renewed application of Section 112. In November 2020, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha announced that the government would consider bringing lèse-majesté charges against protesters, ending a two-year de facto moratorium on the use of Section 112.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Thai police have opened investigations into at least 59 individuals under Section 112 since 24 November. Most are prominent activists associated with the protest movement. Several face investigations in multiple cases and could spend decades behind bars if prosecuted and convicted.

An ARTICLE 19 consultant, Pimsiri Petchnamrob, is the subject of an ongoing lèse-majesté investigation relating to her participation in a peaceful protest. A summons issued by the police indicates that her investigation stems from her citation of a UN expert during a speech at a peaceful protest. In the speech, she quoted a statement by former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye that Section 112 is incompatible with international human rights law.

In January, courts convicted two individuals on lèse-majesté charges in relation to alleged insults to the monarchy made years earlier. In one case, a Bangkok court sentenced a civil servant to 43 years’ imprisonment under Section 112 for reposting videos on Facebook and YouTube.

Most of the lèse-majesté cases initiated since November 2020 are in the investigation stage and the accused remain at liberty. However, on 8 February, the Attorney General formally charged four prominent activists under both Section 112 and Section 116, which punishes the crime of sedition. The Bangkok Criminal Court denied their request for bail, and they now await trial behind bars. The Attorney General’s office is expected to decide whether to formally charge at least 16 more activists with violations of Section 112 later this month.

Section 112 does not comply with the Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression. While the right to freedom of expression can be limited to protect the reputation of others, criminal penalties are never a proportionate penalty for reputational damage. Moreover, laws offering special protection to heads of state and high-ranking public officials invert the fundamental democratic principle that the government is subject to public scrutiny. Human rights experts and bodies have repeatedly warned against lèse-majesté laws and called on Thailand to repeal Section 112.

“Section 112 is archaic. It is a threat to democracy and human rights and should be excised from Thailand’s legal code,” said Diaz-Jogeix. “You cannot change people’s minds by silencing them. Thai law should be the guarantor of freedom of expression, not its enemy.”

Pick to PostArticle 19Lèse-majestéSection 112Article 112freedom of expressionSource: https://www.article19.org/resources/thailand-lese-majeste/?fbclid=IwAR09QlJ2stACKqf6TwWMp85T8rgdWdyyz-xILzVChtksCjFE7WFfG2HLUDk
Categories: Prachatai English

Another ‘Penguin’ message from prison questioning the lèse-majesté law

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-03-04 15:00
Submitted on Thu, 4 Mar 2021 - 03:00 PMPrachatai

On 24 February, the Facebook page of Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak released another letter he has written from prison, where he is being held after being denied bail while he awaits trial for lèse majesté. This letter is addressed ‘From the prison to the palace’ and speaks to the king directly.

Right: Parit Chiwarak raising a 3-finger salute before entering the police station. (Source: File photo).

As of 4 March, Parit's latest bail request, fourth in total, submitted by Sureerat Chiwarak, Parit's mother was rejected by the court. The court stated that as long as the circumstance of the case remained unchanged, the decision will not change (Source:Matichon).

The letter questions the surge in Section 112 prosecutions and detention pending trial and whether there has been an order to start enforcing the law again or not. The letter urges the King or Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol, the Lord Chamberlain, to clarify the facts in writing within 7 days.

“To King Vajiralongkorn: In the contemporary world, it is a universal principle that an institution or individual who expends the people’s taxes must then be subject to audit and criticism by the people. The Thai monarchy is sustained by the Thai people’s taxes. The Thai people ought to have the right to criticize the monarchy.

“For this reason, Section 112 of the Criminal Code, which forbids criticism of the monarchy and stipulates a severe punishment, as if criticism was a dreadful crime, is a barbaric law in the eyes of many countries and the Thai people themselves. The use of this law both silences the Thai people and degrades the reputation of the monarchy.”

In the letter, Parit concerned that the implementation of Section 112 may be condemned and criticize by the global community, which may affect his return to  Germany.

Parit has been detained in Bangkok Remand Prison since 9 February along with Anon Nampa, Patiwat Saraiyaem, and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, other prominent pro-democracy activists during series of protests since the beginning of 2020.

The detentions were ordered pending trial on royal defamation and sedition charges relating to the 19-20 September 2020 protests. Parit is also charged with royal defamation for a speech given at the protest at the Democracy Monument on 14 November 2020.

The Court has denied every bail request, 3 in total as of 2 March, using the same grounds as previous court orders – because they are likely to repeat the offences – and there is no reason to change existing orders.

The international community has criticized the implementation of lèse majesté law due to its lengthy jail sentences, wide range of interpretation and low rate of bail granted, where many suspects end up being jailed during the trial, defying the legal presumption of innocence.

Despite being jailed and prevented from using a mobile phone and the internet, Anon’s Facebook account and Parit’s page are somehow able to post messages, claiming to be from themselves. These facts have already stirred an investigation to find out who is using their accounts.

According to the Bangkok Post, on 25 February, Thanakrit Jitareerat, Secretary to Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin, and a legal team representing the Department of Corrections has filed a complaint to the Technology Crime Suppression Division police to investigate Penguin and Anon’s letters and to find out who else is involved.

Thanakrit stated that Parit’s message to the Palace sparked an outcry among those loyal to the monarchy.

Aryut Sinthopphan, Director-General of the Department of Corrections, has ordered a panel to investigate whether Parit was directly involved in the Facebook posting or not. If so, further legal action will be taken against him.

Section 112 of the Criminal Code criminalizes individuals who defame or express hostility to the King, the Queen, the Heir Apparent or the Regent. It carries a 3-15 year jail sentence.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (THLR), at least 58 people have been charged under Section 112 in 44 cases in relation to the protests since July 2020. 23 cases were filed by ordinary citizens, 3 by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society and the rest by the police.

Round UpParit ChiwarakPenguinLèse-majestéSection 112Article 112King VajiralongkornKing Rama X
Categories: Prachatai English

“Lost Faith” shirt wearer arrested again

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-03-04 14:03
Submitted on Thu, 4 Mar 2021 - 02:03 PMPrachatai

Tiwagorn Withiton, a Facebook user who went viral in 2020 for posting a picture of himself wearing a shirt printed with “I lost faith in the monarchy,” was arrested again this morning (4 March) by around 20 police officers.

Tiwagorn Withiton (right) with his lawyer at the police station

He was taken to Tha Phra Police Station in Khon Kaen. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that he was arrested on a warrant issued by the Khon Kaen Provincial Court on 3 March 2021 on charges under the lèse-majesté law and sedition law, or Sections 112 and 116, as well as the Computer Crimes Act.

The charges were because of Facebook posts he made on 11 and 18 February 2021. Tiwagorn denied all charges. 

TLHR said he was immediately taken to prison, as his temporary detention request hearing was conducted through video conference. His lawyer is currently in the process of requesting bail. 

The police also had a search warrant and seized three “I lost faith in the monarchy” t-shirts, as well as computers and smart phones found at the house.

Tiwagorn previously went viral for posting a picture of himself on his Facebook profile page wearing a shirt which said “I lost faith in the monarchy.” As a result, he was summoned by the authorities who asked him to stop wearing the shirt. However, he continued to wear the shirt and posted about wearing it in public. He also published a post explaining that losing faith does not mean that he wants to abolish the monarchy.

He was among those who joined the Red Shirt protests in 2009 – 2010. His family said that he experienced stress and depression following the 2014 military coup and that they asked him to consult a psychiatrist.

Tiwagorn was previously seized by police officers in July 2020 and forcibly admitted to Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital. He was held there for 15 days and discharged after a public campaign calling for his release.

NewsTiwagorn WithitonSection 112Section 116lese majesteSeditionfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Media associations condemned the detention and prosecution of journalists in Myanmar

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-03-04 12:15
Submitted on Thu, 4 Mar 2021 - 12:15 PMPrachatai

Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concerns over the threats journalists met from the authorities amidst the soaring crackdown in Myanmar. They demand the Myanmar government to release them unconditionally and to drop the charges against them.

On 2 March, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a report about the media situation in Myanmar, expressing dismay by the intensification of the ruling junta’s “crackdown on journalists”.

According to the report, at least 28 journalists have been arrested during the past month of pro-democracy street protests. As the junta suddenly began deploying much wider use of deadly force, the state responseห to the media has changed in a similar way. Some detained journalists were also injured from the police beatings.

According to the information obtained by RSF, which has not been confirmed by the authorities, the ten journalists currently being detained are to be charged under article 505 (a) of the penal code with spreading false information, which carries a possible two-year jail sentence. Those close to Ye Myo Khant, one of the photographers arrested on 27 February, said they shared this fear.

On 26 February, before this wave of arrests, RSF posted a video of Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese reporter and documentary filmmaker, being arrested in Yangon. He was released the same day. Wai Yan, a Chinese photo-journalist working for the Xinhua news agency, was also briefly arrested on 26 February.

Two Monywa-based reporters, Tin Mar Swe of MCN TV News and Khin May San of The Voice magazine, were quickly released after being arrested on 25 February but have been charged under article 505 (a) of the penal code.

“We call on Myanmar’s government to order the immediate and unconditional release of all the journalists currently detained, and to drop the charges against them,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. 

“It is absolutely crucial that reporters should be able to cover this dramatic moment in Myanmar’s history. The generals who took power must realize that the world is looking at them and that history will judge them.”

Myanmar is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

On 2 March, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded the Myanmar authorities to release all journalists arrested for covering anti-coup protests in the country, and drop any charges filed against them.

At about 10:30 p.m. on 1 March, police in the southern city of Myeik raided the home of Kaung Myat Hlaing, a reporter with the independent Democratic Voice of Burma news broadcaster, and arrested him, according to the outlet’s editor-in-chief, Aye Chan Naing, who communicated with CPJ by email, news reports, and a statement released by the news organization, which CPJ reviewed.

Police fired shots before raiding the reporter’s house, and officers threw a rock that hit Kaung Myat Hlaing in his head, injuring him, Aye Chan Naing said, adding that the journalist is detained for questioning at a military camp in Myeik.

The journalist live-streamed the police raid on his apartment until he was taken into custody.

“Myanmar’s military regime must immediately and unconditionally release reporter Kaung Myat Hlaing and all other members of the press being held for their work, and stop detaining journalists in retaliation for their news coverage,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. 

“Journalists must be allowed to cover Myanmar’s anti-coup protests without fear of arbitrary arrest.”

 

Round UpMyanmar couppress freedomReporters Without Borders (RSF)Committee to Protect Journalists
Categories: Prachatai English

Standard Deviations

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-03 16:40
Submitted on Wed, 3 Mar 2021 - 04:40 PMHarrison George

So before we have to appear at this UPR thing at the UN, …

What’s UPR?

Ah yes, being police you wouldn’t know.  Universal Periodic Review.  Every member of UN comes up every 4 years or so and gets questioned on their human rights record.  We’re up soon so we want to be able to respond to the inevitable questions about crowd control.

None of their business.  Our internal affair.  As true Thais we will not be lectured on …

Yes, yes.  But it’s part of being in the UN.  We have to do it and embarrassing as it is, we have to be ready with some plausible answers.

Answers to what?

Well, you claim, and the PM claims, that your crowd control methods follow international standards and don’t violate anyone’s rights. 

That’s right.  That’s what we’ve been told to say.

But what international standards are you using?  Is it the UN standards?

Pardon?

What exactly do your standards say? 

Er, …

You must have something written down, some document or handbook or something.

Oh, they’ve probably got something at HQ.

Have you read it?

No, why should I?  They tell us what to do.  Reading stuff takes too long.

OK, so someone gives you a briefing on the standards you have to follow.

Well, not really.  See, first we get kitted out ahead of time and if they give us batons, or tear gas, say, then we know we have to use them and if the water cannon are then we know they’ll be used.

Yes, but how do you know how to use them?

How to use a baton?  Well you hit people with it.  I mean, like it’s obvious, isn’t it?

But where do you hit them?

Oh I see what you mean.  Well, not where there are any press or cameras around, so behind a wall or something.  Between parked cars is good.

No, I mean where on the body do you hit them? 

Ah, well now, there are different opinions on that.  Some of the lads say go for the head, but my experience is that they’ll put their arms up or some of them even have hard hats, so I go for cracking them on the back of the knees first.  Get them on the ground and then you can hit them where you like.  Others say go for the goolies, but it’s hard to get a really good swing for that.

I see.  Have you been told that you must not direct blows to sensitive parts of the body? 

You mean we can’t hit them in the goolies?

No, nor in the stomach, or on the head, or the kidneys, or …

What?  That’s ridiculous.  What’s the point if you can’t knock them out or at the very least knock them down and give them a hiding they won’t forget? 

OK, so let’s talk about warnings.  You do give warnings before you use any crowd control measures, right?

Erm, yeah, sometimes.  Actually, now I come to think about, we were told about that.  What was it?  It’s coming to me.  Ah yes, I remember.  See, they’re supposed to get a permit before they can protest and they never do, and even if they asked we’d never give them one, and they all know that, so like they already know they’re in trouble.  So that’s as good as a warning.

That’s not exactly what the Public Assembly Act says, but what I mean is, do you tell the protestors that you going to use batons, for example, or water cannon?

Well, they’re not stupid.  They can see we’ve got batons or if the water cannon come up.  Most of them are the same lot as before anyway.  They know what’s coming.  Why do they need a warning?

OK, let’s turn to rubber bullets.

We don’t use them.

Pardon?

Rubber bullets.  We don’t use them.  Unless we get caught on camera using them or somebody picks up a round somewhere and shows it on the internet.  Then we are allowed to say we use them.

So let me get this straight.  You don’t give any warning that you’re going to fire rubber bullets …

Definitely not

… and if you do use them, you deny it.

Yeah, that’s what we’ve been told to do.  But you should be asking about this at HQ.  They are the ones who keep changing their story from one day to the next.

OK, but under what circumstances do you use rubber bullets?  Is that set out in your international standards?

Well, maybe not in so many words.  See, we don’t all have the rifles for it, so it’s just special blokes and we are supposed to sort of crowd round them so they can’t be spotted.  Then when they want to fire, we open up and give them space.  The bigwigs of course tell us to be careful about getting snapped on somebody’s cell phone, but give me a break.  Everybody’s got one.

What I mean is what would cause you to use rubber bullets in the first place?

Er, well, first we’d have to have them issued to us and would you believe they’ve sometimes sent us out without any?  And, er, there has to be a protest, of course. 

This is not going to look good at the UN.  If you have never read anything about international standards, have you watched any training films, say?

Oh yeah.  We watch YouTube clips of riots and the police all the time.  Russia, South Africa.  You can pick up some good tips. 

Tips?

Yeah.  That lot in Myanmar are really good at it.  We’re learning a lot from them.

OK, well, thank you for your time.  It’s been, er, enlightening.

No problem.  And best of luck with your URP thing.

We’ll need it.

Alien ThoughtsHarrison GeorgeUniversal Periodic Review (UPR)Student protest 2020pro-democracy protest 2021
Categories: Prachatai English

A famous pop singer arrested for allegedly burning a portrait of the King

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-03 15:17
Submitted on Wed, 3 Mar 2021 - 03:17 PMPrachatai

Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues, is among 3 people against whom the police have requested an arrest warrant for lèse majesté, arson and computer crimes over the burning of a King Rama X big portrait in front of Klong Prem Central prison on the night of 27 February.

The portrait in front of the prison was set on fire and later extinguished.

Bangkok Post reported that the police have arrested Chaiamorn in 00.40 of Wednesday morning. However, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that he was arrested at Ratchathani Hospital in Ayutthaya while tending to his illness. He was transferred to the Police Hospital in Wednesday morning.

According to Khaosod, the Criminal Court issued the arrest warrant on 2 March against Chaiamorn. It is not confirmed whether the warrants against the other 2 have been issued yet.

Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, earlier stated that the police requested the warrant based on CCTV footage and other material evidence. He confirmed that the police have clear video footage of before and after the incident as well as the escape route.

Prachachuen Police Station, which oversees the area, reportedly collected the video evidence and found that there were 3 perpetrators, one being a famous male singer and activist. The singer was the one who set fire to the portrait of the King while the other 2 remained in a car. The police were ready to make an arrest as soon as the warrant was issued.

Despite the surge in verbal and symbolic expressions about the monarchy, the expression via burning is not new. In 2017, 6 youngsters in Chonnabot and Phon districts, Khon Kaen Province, were arrested after successfully setting fire to 2 arches honouring King Rama X. They were charged with lèse majesté, criminal association and arson.

In 2019, the Appeal Court dropped the lèse majesté charge due to the inability to verify their intentions. However, they were still found guilty of the other charges.

In Thailand, portraits and arches are widely used by local authorities to honour members of the monarchy. According to a brief Prachatai survey in 2020, the cost of an arch ranges from ten thousand to millions of baht depending on the size and design.

According to the Facebook page of Watchdog.ACT, in 2020 provincial administrative organizations (PAO) had a 381,736,295 baht budget for building royal arches countrywide. The page also claims that Lampang PAO corruptly profited by 5,849,000 baht from overbudgeting an arch construction project.

NewsChaiamorn KaewwiboonpanThe Bottom BluesKing Rama XKing VajiralongkornArchlese majesteArticle 112Section 112Source: prachatai.com/journal/2021/03/91933
Categories: Prachatai English

A collection of blind alleys: murder cases from the 2010 protest crackdown going nowhere after 10 years with nowhere in the world to file a lawsuit (yet)

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-03 15:13
Submitted on Wed, 3 Mar 2021 - 03:13 PMSorawut Wongsaranon

Story by Sorawut Wongsaranon
Cover picture by Kittiya On-in

It has been 10 years since the Abhisit Vejjajiva government dispersed the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protests which had been going on for 3 months since March 2010, demanding the dissolution of parliament and a re-election. That is half of the statute of limitations. We want to review the situation, especially progress in the 94 murders stemming from the crackdown involving 84 civilians and 10 officers (cited from The People's Information Centre (PIC) report ‘The April-May 2010 Crackdowns,’ which includes 3 deaths that occurred after the event, but resulting from the crackdown).

We first have to restate that protests in that era were mostly prolonged in an attempt to achieve their demands. The UDD protests started on 12 March. The main masses, other than urban dwellers, included a large number of people from other provinces ready to hunker down and stay for a long time.

On 7 April, the government announced a severe emergency situation so as to exercise authority under the Emergency Decree. The Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) was established, with the Deputy Prime Minister for security mattters, Suthep Thaugsuban, as the Director, and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan as the Deputy Director.

Suthep Thaugsuban

The committee members consisted of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Commanders-in-Chief of all the armed forces, the National Police Chief, permanent secretaries of various ministries, the Attorney-General, etc. All operations in the protest suppression originated here. Many of the personnel who sat in the CRES at that time are currently placed in various positions of power today.

Three days later, the CRES deployed military forces equipped with war weapons to suppress the protest for the first time, under the gentle-sounding operation name of ‘requesting return of the area’ on Ratchadamnoen Road on 10 April, before a second operation equipped with war weapons was deployed under the friendly-sounding name of ‘securing the area’ where soldiers circled the Saladaeng area from 13 May and successfully suppressed the protest on 19 May.

Transferring the case from the police to the DSI – opening a channel without a timeframe

The night of 10 April was an important starting point since it was the first incident to cause a large number of casualties. Next on 16 April, the CRES decided to hand all cases related to the UDD protests to the DSI. Tharit Pengdit was the Director-General of the DSI and part of the CRES at the same time.

This step is very important, because transferring the cases to the DSI became a significant obstacle and has led to the cases of almost 100 murders not going anywhere even today, since the DSI law does not have a time limit for murder investigations as ordinary cases do.

We must understand the legal process first. If there is an unnatural death, including murder or death during detention or medical treatment involving state officials, no matter if they are military personnel, police, Department of Corrections personnel or doctors and nurses, a ‘death examination’ is required, according to Section 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This clearly stipulates that the police and public prosecutor must conduct an investigation within a maximum of 247 days, allowing for all possible extensions, before the case is sent to court for a death examination. After the court has ordered a death examination, a criminal prosecution then gets underway.

The process, in summary, is as follows:

  1. Local police and the Scientific Crime Detection Division collect and examine evidence
  2. The police, public prosecutor, administrative officials and forensic physicians jointly conduct an autopsy
  3. The police send the case to the public prosecutor
  4. The public prosecutor examines the case then requests the court to hold a death examination
  5. The court examines the death and issues an order on who the dead person is, where the death occurred, cause of death, and who is the perpetrator.

According to Article 150, no matter how long this takes, it cannot take longer than 8 months before reaching the court without the involvement of the DSI. The court’s investigation process may take from 1 month to 2 years, depending on the number of witnesses.

Sergeant Kacharat Niamrod (left) and Sargeant Saruengkarn Tawecheep (right), two soliders who were called by the DSI to testify as witnesses about the events on Rama IV Road. 

When a case reaches court, a public trial will be held (even though many times, in cases of the protest suppression, the judge ordered a ban on recordings or did not allow journalists to listen, claiming privacy for military witnesses). The public prosecutor will call witnesses to testify about the incident and present evidence on who the dead person is, and when, where and how they died. The deceased’s family can appoint a lawyer to examine witnesses, ask to look at the prosecutor’s evidence and present additional witnesses and evidence to the court. But when these cases landed in the hands of the DSI, it created a delay, because when the local investigative officers had conducted an autopsy, instead of sending it straight to the prosecutor, the case file had to be returned to the DSI for further investigation. The 2004 DSI Act does not stipulate a timeframe of how many days it must be completed in, so it is not strange that there is barely any news of movement in the cases.

However, the cases of the 91 deaths (official statistics) made some progress for a short while during the administration of PM Yingluck Shinawatra, before power was eventually seized in the coup. As far as Prachatai has been able to investigate, the deaths of 33 people have already been examined in court. After the courts issued investigation orders, the cases were returned to the DSI again to make the criminal case file, then handed to the prosecutor for consideration of whether to prosecute the case as a criminal case (or not).

Results of the examinations of 33 deaths

  • In 11 deaths, the courts have issued clear orders that the cause of death was due to the actions of soldiers.
  • In 16 deaths, the courts only indicated that the bullets came from the side of the military but do not know the perpetrator (in 3 of these cases, the courts stated where the bullet came from but did not state that this area was already under the control of the military).
  • In 6 deaths, the courts did not indicate either the perpetrator or the bullet trajectory
Waiting to learn of progress in the cases from the DSI

After the coup, no progress was seen in these cases for more than 6 years. In May 2020, Prachatai wrote a letter to the DSI requesting to be informed of the progress in the remaining cases of death, asking them what step they had reached at that time. The DSI refused to provide information, claiming confidentiality for the case file. Prachatai then wrote to the Official Information Commission (OIC). The OIC judged that the DSI must provide the information since the request was only for progress, not for information in the case file. On 16 Oct 2020, the DSI responded “All case files on the remaining deaths have already been sent to prosecutors at the Department of Special Litigation” (list of names can be seen below).  Additionally, Prachatai wrote to the Office of the Attorney General on 11 Sept 2020 to ask for progress on all the cases and how many cases had been investigated and whether any cases had been criminally prosecuted. As of November 2020, the Attorney General had not replied, other than a telephone call from an official who said that they were in the middle of collecting data from the Department of Special Litigation. In other words, after 6 months spent following the progress of the cases from the 2 agencies, the conclusion is that there is no clear answer.

Civilian courts do not accept cases - military prosecutors do not file charges

There appear to be at least 2 death cases where there has been some progress:

  • Phan Khamkong. His family and lawyer filed a lawsuit in the Criminal Court themselves. The Criminal Court and Court of Appeal did not accept it, claiming that it is in the jurisdiction of the Military Courts.
  • Kamonked Akhad. The DSI gave an opinion to order a prosecution and passed the case to the military prosecutor. The military prosecutor dismissed the case, claiming a lack of evidence.

At the stage of the death examination, the Courts of Justice think that these two cases have enough evidence to rule that the deaths were due to the firing of war weapons by the military. These are the only two cases which have progressed to the point of criminal prosecutions. Although the prosecutions followed different paths, they ended up at the same point, that is, unable to move forward, and with nobody taking responsibility.

“If it went according to the normal judicial process, it would not be like this. This is not normal, because someone made it not normal. It’s not like how it should be,” Chokchai Angkaew said.

Chokchai Angkaew is one of the lawyers assisting the families of many victims of the crackdown in death examinations. He also acted as the lawyer for Phan Khamkong’s family. Victims’ relatives tried to ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the DSI, and the public prosecutor to press charges against the perpetrators, but eventually it all came to a stop, as if they were being obstructed on every path. In the end, they had to be self-reliant and prosecute the perpetrators themselves.

“We started the lawsuit on Phan Khamkong’s death in September 2019 because the court had issued a clear order on the death examination, saying that the death resulted from actions by military personnel. The evidence was relatively clear, including video clips, witnesses who know the military unit responsible, and the operation commander. We pressed charges against the operation commander for the actions that were the cause of death of Phan Khamkong, but the court issued an order not to accept the case,” Chokchai said.

The lawyer explained that when a lawsuit is filed against soldiers jointly committing an offence against a civilian but without knowing who was responsible, normally the court will accept the case first then investigate if there are any civilians or other related parties that have not yet come to press charges. But when the court issued an order not to accept the case, they appealed. In the end, the Court of Appeal issued a verdict upholding the Court of First Instance. However, he insists that there is still a way to continue the lawsuit, but they may do it at an appropriate time – when we are fully democratic.

Military barricade on Ratchaprarop Road in the afternoon of 14 October 2010

“Before the power seizure, I knew that there were many corpses where they had carried out the death examination, but then it went silent after they took power, such as, Cher’s case (Samaphan Srithep),” Chokchai said.

The NACC dismisses the case against Abhisit-Suthep-Anupong since it came under the Emergency Decree

In the past there have been attempts through other channels. One was the case that the DSI prosecuted against those who issued the orders: Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban. But all three Courts had the same response – dismissed, claiming that the Courts were not authorised to examine the case, as it came under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions where the investigation authority is with the NACC.

The NACC also resolved to dismiss the complaint against Abhisit, Suthep and Gen Anupong Paochinda, so that there was no offence as accused, because at that time they had proclaimed a severe emergency situation. The Court had also stated that the UDD protests were illegal assemblies and that there were also individuals who used firearms at the protests.

Abhisit Vejjajiwa and Suthep Thaugsuban (left) and Tharit Pengdit, former DSI director (right)

The DSI’s action in prosecuting Abhisit and Suthep at that time caused Tharit, former Director-General of the DSI and three other DSI officers, to be sued by Abhisit and Suthep for the wrongful or bad faith exercise of official duties, with the intention of persecuting others to receive criminal penalties according to Articles 157 and 200. They claimed that the summary case file submitted to prosecute Abhisit and Suthep at that time was a distortion of the facts and intentional persecution of the two of them. Even though the Court of First Instance dismissed the case against Tharit and the DSI officers on the grounds that the evidence had little weight, on 5 March 2020, the Court of Appeal reversed the verdict and sentenced Tharit and the other three officers to 2 years’ imprisonment. This case is not yet finalized and all four have been granted bail to fight the case.

Chokchai spoke about the case the DSI had brought against Suthep and Abhisit. At that time the  relatives of the deceased were also co-plaintiffs, but in the end the court gave a verdict of a kind that the DSI investigation was unlawful since it was within the jurisdiction of the NACC. The issue then became that the channel for prosecution was wrong, and the investigation was wrong, but there was no opportunity to examine whether the actions of the defendants were really offences or not.

“Actually, the proclamation of the Emergency Decree clearly stipulated that actions must be taken only when necessary and in good faith. The situation that arose is beyond what the emergency decree covers. The order for the crackdown was not in line with international standards. Real bullets were used. We can clearly see that the operation went beyond what the law will protect,” Chokchai remarked.

Chokchai also said that in the 2007 constitution, there was a channel under Section 275 enabling victims to submit a complaint to a full panel of the Supreme Court to request an independent investigator to examine the case, in cases where the NACC dismissed an investigation into a political office holder, but this channel was removed in the 2017 constitution.

Chokchai thinks that in this case we have to hope that the government is intent on bringing about justice. But for this government, it would be like crashing into a wall. There are still 10 years left for criminal cases with a 20-year statute of limitations, but for crimes of malfeasance in office then there is only 5 years left since the statute of limitations is only 15 years.

Unable to file a case in the Civil Court or the Administrative Court

Apart from the criminal lawsuits almost coming to an end, civil procedures were also finalized when compensation was paid for injuries and deaths during the Yingluck government, since a condition for receiving compensation money was that no further civil lawsuit may be filed.

The Administrative Court also lacked authority to examine the case since Section 16 of the Emergency Decree stipulates that administrative orders issued under the authority of an Emergency Decree are not administrative offences.

The Administrative Court passed the case to the Constitutional Court to adjudicate on this issue and on the issue of whether the Administrative Court is authorised to examine the case or not since Section 16 of the Emergency Decree excluded the Administrative Court from consideration of cases arising from government orders issued under the Emergency Decree. On 9 June 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of a severe emergency situation was reasonable since there was a riot and damage to lives and property, so there was a necessity to exercise state authority to end the situation.  The fact that Section 16 of the Emergency Decree excluded the Administrative Court’s authority to consider cases was so that state activities can be exercised quickly in solving a situation, and in addition to the Emergency Decree, other laws also exclude the authority of the Administrative Court to examine cases. The Constitutional Court therefore ruled that Section 16 of the Emergency Decree was not in conflict with the 2007 constitution.

From all that has been said, it seems that the judicial process in the country almost cannot work to restore justice to the victims of this situation. Those connected to the violent actions are also still in power in the government or the army to this day.

Avenues of legal action outside the country to call for justice were once the topic of discussion, after the 10 April 2010 incident led to 25 deaths. A few days later, Chaturon Chaisang talked of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the first time, saying that those who dispersed the protest may be prosecuted there.

Thai state did not ratify the ICC for fear of affecting the protection for the Head of State

The ICC is a court established on 1 July 2002 under the Rome Statute and has jurisdiction in prosecuting international criminals for 4 offences: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression; and on 3 conditions: the severity of the case, the state party does not wish to take or is not capable of taking legal action, and the accused has never been found guilty by any other court for the same crime. This Court has special jurisdiction to examine cases before the establishment of the Court. Cases that are well-known and were examined by the ICC are war crimes in Libya, Sudan, Iraq, etc.

Even though Thailand signed the Rome Statue on 2 Oct 2000, the state did not proceed with the ratification process. This is an important step for the Statute to be put in effect and will allow the ICC to expand its jurisdiction to cases in Thailand.

When the Yingluck government was elected to replace the Abhisit government in 2011, campaigns urging the Thai government to ratify this Statute increased, with special pressure from victims like the UDD. The question of Thai government becoming a state party was also raised at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in the same year, but the government did not respond.

When the government remained unresponsive, Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer from the Amsterdam & Partners law firm which Thaksin Shinawatra had hired to provide help to the UDD, took action on his own by gathering information on the crackdown and requesting the ICC to carry out an initial investigation, also demanding that the United Nations Security Council file a case with the ICC. But these efforts faced an important obstacle, which is that as long as the Thai government does not complete its ratification as an ICC state party, nothing can proceed.

During that time, the opposition also came out to voice their opinions. They emphasised that a country’s head of state must be under the jurisdiction of this international law, according to Article 27 of the Rome Statute which makes all persons equal without the ability to claim official authority and their status as the head of state to protect themselves. Thailand’s Head of State means the King. On 1 Oct 2013, the Ad Hoc Committee on Senate Affairs expressed the view that acceptance of the ICC reduces the protection of the King against violation which exists in Thai law. If an ill-intentioned person filed a complaint with the ICC, accusing the Thai Head of State of various offences, it may have an impact on the Thai King even though His Majesty is above any and all conflict. Thailand will not be able to prevent it at all. Additionally, the Committee saw that Thailand’s judicial process can still be applied and there is no need for the ICC to supplement the Thai justice system.

Thida Thavornseth, former President of the UDD, said that after the crackdown, she and Amsterdam, together with academics like Thongchai Winichakul, visited the ICC to explain Thailand’s situation and clarified that although Thailand’s loss of life was not as great as in other countries, for Thailand, the number is not as important as the frequency of this kind of repeated violence.

Thida continued, saying that later in November 2012, Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, travelled to Thailand and met with Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Yingluck government to explain the steps needed to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction. This occurred in the midst of discussions of whether completing the ratification required prior parliamentary approval or not, according to Article 190 of the 2007 constitution. But in the end, the Yingluck government did not do anything until power was seized in the coup of May 2014.

“If the Yingluck government had ratified to join the ICC at that time, the coup may not have happened,” Thida said.

The UDD’s former president believes that the 2014 coup was connected to the massacre of people in 2010 because in the period of the Yingluck government, more than 30 cases of deaths entered the death examination process. Although none of the cases had yet been prosecuted as a criminal offence, the death examinations of many cases revealed information related to the military operations, and the names of soldiers and those related to the operations . In some cases the courts ruled that the deaths were the result of military actions, such as Phan Khamkong’s case and 6 deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram. This is one factor that made it necessary for the army to halt the process.

Pratubjit Neelapaijit, an important human rights activist, thinks that although the ICC cannot take the 2010 crackdown for consideration as long as the Thai state refuses ratification, there are still other international mechanisms. In the past, information was not yet sent to these mechanisms, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, who will send questions for Thailand to answer. Information has been provided according to the mechanisms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Thai government has been asked about progress, but there has been no clear answer from the government, except for the response that they have compensated the victims.  

Pratubjit said that in the past no one had updated information on the cases sent to international mechanisms. For example, families of the victims who came out to demand justice such as Phansak Srithep, Samaphan Srithep’s father, and Phayao Akhat, Kamonked Akhad’s mother, were threatened and prosecuted for coming out and campaigning on the issue. Information on obstacles and progress in cases related to the crackdown has not been updated. She believes that there is still another mechanism that has yet to be tried and that is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, where it is possible to send information on individuals, as in the case of Phayao who, as a woman, has faced various obstacles in the justice system in her daughter’s case.

Culture of impunity  

Puangthong Pawakapan, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, shows in her article ‘License to Impunity’ that in incidents of violence in the past, people connected to the incidents never had to take responsibility for their actions at all, and the perpetrators were never taken into the judicial process.  Self-amnesty laws were also used. For the April-May 2010 crackdown, Puangthong thinks that the state used a different way of creating impunity for the perpetrators. Apart refusing to take responsibility and claiming that the protestors used violence, had their own armed forces and shot themselves, the state also deployed the ‘independent organisations’ as a tool of impunity legitimizing the government’s actions at that time. This includes a committee that Abhisit established himself, the independent National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and existing mechanisms like the National Human Rights Commission,  which was established under the constitution, and the Courts of Justice.

Apart from the issue of independent organisations, the search for truth and justice stopped completely after the NCPO carried out its coup in 2014.  Puangthong points out that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, while acting as Prime Minister and Head of the NCPO, issued an order to establish a new special case investigation committee by adding 7 officers from the military to the DSI investigation in order to set a framework for the  investigation into the deaths.

Justice in a (not yet) transitional period

In the 10 years s the crackdown, within academic circles and those working in human rights, there was often talk about the process of democratic revival and rule of law principles called “transitional justice.” In summary, transitional justice is to make justice happen and become embedded in a democratic society, after a transition in the governance system from dictatorship with violence towards its own people, with the objective of resolving the violence that occurs and preventing any more violence from happening.

For the factors that can bring about transitional justice, the state has 4 essential duties. 1. Investigate, prosecute and punish those related to the commission of offences. 2. Reveal the truth to victims and their families. 3. Make amends to and compensate victims. 4. Screen out state officials with a history of violating human rights from state agencies and reform security agencies so that they perform their duties by respecting human rights principles.

“Right now, for Thailand, no case can stop any action the next time or lead to the collective creation of a standard. This is an important issue, because there is no change to the political power structure and it continues to maintain the status quo of the old system,” Pratubjit gave her opinion about transitional justice in Thailand.

Examples from various countries around the world that have succeeded in creating transitional justice all have one important factor - their people’s sector is strong enough to create democracy and the rule of law, and has a government that has the political intention to wash away the history of rights violations.

Featurered shirtstate violenceimpunitycrackdownApril-May 2010 political violence
Categories: Prachatai English

16-year-old protester speaks out about arrest

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-03 11:12
Submitted on Wed, 3 Mar 2021 - 11:12 AMPrachatai

During the protest at the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters, 23 people were arrested, 4 of whom were minors. They were charged with violating the Emergency Decree and the Communicable Diseases Act, and resisting arrest, among other charges, and were reportedly assaulted during the arrest.

Sainam

Sainam, 16, was arrested at the Shell gas station opposite the 1st Infantry Regiment, and was also assaulted.

Sainam said that he arrived at around 21.00 and was trying to get to the protest side from the Din Daeng side, but the road was blocked by riot control police, so he tried to get through to the other side by catching a ride with another protester. When he got to the Veterans General Hospital, the riot control police were already trying to take control of the area, so he crossed over to the gas station.

He said he doesn’t know why the riot police were using rubber bullets and assaulting protesters, and that there were many people gathered at the gas station, including volunteer medics and injured people. He also said that the protesters were not obstructing the roadway as they were all on the footpath.

Sainam said that he was shot by a rubber bullet as he was helping another protester up, and that the riot police then pushed him to the ground, kicked him, and beat him with batons.

“A while after that, they held onto me and tied my arms up behind my back, and then they kicked me a bit more, and then they asked me ‘Why did you hurt my friends? Why did you hurt my friends?’ I said I didn’t do anything, because I just got there, but they didn’t care, and they continued to stamp on me and repeatedly asked me ‘Where are your friends?’ Sainam said.

Sainam said that a plainclothes police officer who knew him came by after that, and told the riot police to back down. Sainam was then carried off to another location. He was held to the ground and searched.

He said that he was being held along with a few other protesters by the Veterans General Hospital, and that he saw the other protesters beaten and all were tied up. He also said that everyone who was being held with him was assaulted.

Sainam and three other minors were then taken to Sutthisan Police Station, while 18 others were taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters. He was charged with assaulting an officer, joining an assembly, and violating the Emergency Decree. Everyone was later released on bail.  

Newsstate violencearbitrary arreststudent movementYouth movementStudent protest 2020
Categories: Prachatai English

Regional lawmakers alarmed at the surge in violence and arbitrary arrests in Myanmar

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-02 13:29
Submitted on Tue, 2 Mar 2021 - 01:29 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

On 2 March 2021, lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today urged the Myanmar military to immediately put an end to their campaign of arrests, unconditionally release all those currently detained, and refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters.

Bullet marks on a car which was parked in order to block the police mobility at Mandalay. (Source: Khit Thit Media)

“The scale of arrests since the coup gives you a clear indication of where the military junta is taking the country: a place with no space for critics, or any political opposition to exist,” said Mu Sochua, a Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and former Cambodian Member of Parliament (MP). “All regional and international actors must get this clear: there can be no way out of the current situation without all those arbitrarily arrested being released.”

According to rights organization Assistance for Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), in just four weeks at least 913 individuals, including politicians, members of the previous Union Election Commission (UEC), civil servants, human rights activists and students, have been arrested and remain in detention, or have outstanding arrest warrants against them. AAPP also estimates that about 30 individuals have been killed due to the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters by Myanmar’s security forces. 

Of those arrested and detained, at least 59 are elected representatives of the Union and local parliaments. These include the State Counsellor, President and Vice President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Chief Ministers, and Union and regional-level MPs.

Most are detained in unknown locations, without charge or access to their lawyers. Some are detained in military barracks, such as tactical command centers. 

“Most of those detained have not been charged, and have not seen a lawyer, nor their families in about a month. Those people are at risk. Being out of sight is where torture and ill-treatment can happen, and we all know this is not foreign to Myanmar’s jails,” added Mu Sochua.  

In the few cases where they have been charged, the laws used against the MPs include: Section 505(b) of the Penal Code (publication or sharing of statements with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public), Section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law (causing a disaster through any negligent or wilful act), Section 8 of the Export and Import Law (exporting or importing prohibited goods), and Section 67 of the Telecommunications Law (for possessing or using telecommunication equipment that requires a license). 

In addition, the junta has been threatening and harassing members of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). Members of the Committee took an oath days after the coup, and have pledged to continue carrying out their mandate as representatives of the people.

On 26 February, the new military-appointed UEC announced that it is illegal to form committees representing parliaments and threatened those who do so with legal action. At least 21 elected representatives, including 17 members of the CRPH, are now in hiding after they were informed that arrest warrants were issued against them under Section 505(a) or (b) of the Penal Code and/or the Natural Disaster Management Law. 

By imprisoning and harrassing elected representatives who are merely exercising the mandate of the people, the military is trying to take away people’s voices and choices, said APHR. 

“We call on all parliamentarians worldwide to act in solidarity with Myanmar, and use their position in and outside of parliament to call for all those arbitrarily detained to be immediately released and to work for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Let’s make sure our colleagues sit in parliament, not in jail,” Mu Sochua said. 

Pick to PostMyanmarASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)Mu Sochua
Categories: Prachatai English

Rubber bullets used against protesters on Vibhavadi Road

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-02 11:29
Submitted on Tue, 2 Mar 2021 - 11:29 AMPrachatai

Protesters gathering near the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Regiment, the King’s Guard in Bangkok last night (28 February) were met with tear gas and rubber bullets during a clash with riot control police.

The protest, which was called by the activist group Free Youth movement, now known as REDEM (Restart Democracy), started at the Victory Monument before marching to the 1st Infantry Regiment to demand that prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha move out of army housing, as he retired from the army in 2014. The group also said that electricity and water bills for the army housing are paid for with taxpayer money. 

The 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Close Bodyguard, was also one of the army units recently transferred to King Vajiralongkorn’s personal control. The group is therefore demanding that the control of the army units be transferred out of the King’s control.

REDEM also calls for the monarchy’s power to be limited, for the military to stay out of politics, and for universal state welfare.

However, the authorities blocked Vibhavadi Road with shipping containers and razor wire. At around 18.00, the protesters managed to move one container, but found that riot control police were stationed behind the containers.

 

While removing the blockade, some protesters reportedly warned journalists not to take photos and to stay behind the frontline.

At 18.15, protesters clashed with riot control police around the Don Mueang toll plaza, during which 2 protesters were arrested and were also reportedly assaulted by the police. Riot control police then formed a line in front of the nearby PTT gas station. 2 water cannon trucks were also parked nearby.

A rubber bullet casing found near the Veterans General Hospital

At 18.40, Voice TV reported that the police fired tear gas and water cannon blasts at protesters gathered in front of the Veterans General Hospital. Several explosions could also be heard.

Even though the REDEM Telegram group announced at 20.05 that the protest had ended, by 21.33, the situation has already escalated into a crackdown on remaining protesters on Vibhavadi Road. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used without prior warning.

A protester who was leaving the protest site said that riot control police surrounded the protesters and blocked the exit on the Din Daeng side, so the protesters had to climb over the traffic island to get away from the police and leave the protest site.  

It was also reported that one person was arrested after they crossed the road to retrieve their car that was parked on the other side, near where the police were stationed. The police also announced at one point that reporters must leave the road, or they would be arrested.

The Erawan Paramedic Centre reported at 22.45 that at least 16 people were injured during the clash. Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that 19 people were arrested and were taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters, one of whom was a reporter from Naewna.

TLHR reported today (1 March) that the Naewna reporter was released during the inquiry process, while 18 others were granted bail. 

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Categories: Prachatai English

Land of their hearts: the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community on their long road home

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-02-27 01:11
Submitted on Sat, 27 Feb 2021 - 01:11 AMAnna Lawattanatrakul

Story by Anna Lawattanatrakul
Cover picture by Kittiya On-in 

“We are people, living on the same land, joined together into one forest.

We are people, living on the same stream, nourishing the plants, nourishing the land.

We are people. Pha k’Nyaw means people. In our humanity, we are the same,”

sang Commoner Band singer Natthapong Phukaew at the protest in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on 22 February 2021, surrounded by the lights from protesters’ mobile phones. Natthapong and the other protesters were holding a banner saying “#saveBangkloi,” while one protester held up a placard saying “we are all human.”

One protester at the BACC protest holding up a placard saying "we are all human." 

The protest was held to demand an end to human rights violations against the Bang Kloi Karen indigenous community in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, Phetchaburi Province, after it was reported earlier in the day that national park officials, police, and military officers had flown into the Kaeng Krachan forest to evacuate a group of community members who had returned to their ancestral land deep in the forest in mid-January – the third time for the community to be forced out of their homeland after the first evacuation around 25 years ago.

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex lies in the rain forest of the Tenasserim Range on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The vast area spans the borders of three provinces and four conservation areas, one of which is the Kaeng Krachan National Park.

With an area of 2915 square kilometres, the Kaeng Krachan National Park is Thailand’s largest national park and one of its popular tourist destinations.

Once, the forest area that is now the national park was home to an indigenous Karen community at the Bang Kloi Bon and Chai Phaen Din (meaning “heart of the land”) villages, which are located deep in the forest. The community was forcibly evacuated in 1997, and once again in 2011, when park and military officials burned down their houses and rice barns, and forced them to relocate to the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village.

Historical evidence, such as a map by the Royal Thai Survey Department dating to 1912 which includes the location of the Chai Phaen Din village, confirmed that the indigenous communities in the Kaeng Krachan forest predate the national park, which was declared in 1981.

The Supreme Administrative Court also ruled, after the community’s spiritual leader Ko-i Meemi and 5 other villagers filed charges against park officials for burning down the village, that the Bang Kloi-Chai Phaen Din community is a traditional local community in the area, and therefore the officials’ action was unlawful and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment must pay compensation to the community.

Despite this, the Bang Kloi-Chai Phaen Din community continues to face unresolved community rights issues, including lack of land and loss of their traditional way of life. They are also not allowed to return to their ancestral homeland.

This land is whose land?

“Before [the forced evacuation], the villagers lived comfortably. There were no issues, no going out to demand our rights,” said Pinnapa Pruksapan, or “Minor”, wife of community rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014 after he was last seen in the custody of park officials.

“But after 2011, they were burning the land, burning the houses, burning the rice barns. The problems started from that moment. Everyone suffered, and we had to move to Bang Kloi Lang (Pong Luek – Bang Kloi) At first, Billy took Grandpa (Ko-i Meemi) to call for our rights, and he did it according to the procedures, but he had not yet succeeded and had not got anywhere before he went missing.”

Pinnapa currently lives in Pa Deng village, another indigenous community on the edge of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, with her mother and five children. A poster from Billy’s local election campaign still hangs from a wall in front of the raised bamboo house surrounded by a garden. Before his disappearance, Billy told his wife “The people involved in this aren't happy with me. They say that if they find me, they'll kill me. If I do disappear, don't come looking for me. Don't wonder where I've gone. They'll probably have killed me.”

Billy's local election campaign poster hanging from a wall at Pinnapa's family home. 

For the past 7 years, Pinnapa has been fighting for justice for her husband and her community, but the case of Billy’s disappearance appears to have stalled. In September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) announced that they had found charred bone fragments in an oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Dam, DNA evidence from which matches Billy’s mother. The DSI then laid charges of premeditated murder, illegal confinement, and concealing a victim’s body against four suspects, including the then-national park chief and two other officials who took Billy into custody.

Despite this, the public prosecutor decided in January 2020 to drop all but one of the charges, that of official misconduct, against the park officials, citing lack of evidence that Billy had died. 

Meanwhile, members of the Bang Kloi community continue to face unresolved issues. When the community was relocated in 1997, the authorities promised them that each family would be allocated 7 rai of land each and that they would help the community get Thai citizenship.

However, they were not given the land they were promised, and the land they did receive was not suitable for growing crops. Many members of the community are also still in the process of getting their citizenship, causing them to miss out on land allocation and welfare.

Due to these issues, part of the community moved back to Chai Phaen Din, until in 2011 park officials once again forced them to evacuate by burning down their houses and rice storage barns, leading to the court case filed by Ko-i and five other community members against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in 2012.

Pinnapa said that the lack of agricultural land forced people to leave the community to find work elsewhere, or take on weaving projects at the local craft centre, while the community’s issues remained unresolved almost 25 years after the first evacuation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the issues, as many of those employed outside the village began to lose income. In mid-January 2021, it was reported that around 70 members of the Bang Kloi community decided to leave the village and returned to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional way of life.

The community would also like to perform the final funeral rite for Ko-i, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 107. The ceremony requires his descendants to grow rice on the land at Chai Phaen Din and use the rice to feed people who participated in the ceremony.

Pinnapa Pruksapan

Pinnapa said that she felt that the authorities are not making serious efforts to solve their problems, and that they do not care to listen to what the community has to say. She once organised a meeting between the community and park officials, but the national park chief did not stay for very long.

“For what I feel, it’s like he didn’t take the villagers seriously. He came to talk for a bit, and then he left the room. He said he has urgent things to do somewhere else, so he left. There were many villagers who wanted to ask him about problems with the land. Some people got to ask their questions, some didn’t, but he already left,” Pinnapa said.

The Bang Kloi community is not alone in their problems, however, as other indigenous communities in the Kaeng Krachan forest also face a similar situation, especially when it comes to lack of agricultural land and legal prosecution when the land on which they have been making a living becomes part of the national park.

Wansao Phungam, 50, lives in Tha Salao village in the Nong Ya Plong District – another indigenous community on the edge of the Kaeng Krachan National Park. Wansao works on a piece of land she inherited from her parents, but when the government launched the One Map Project in 2016, the borders of the Kaeng Krachan National Park were redrawn and Wansao’s land was included inside the national park.

Wansao Phungam

In 2018, Wansao was arrested for encroaching on national park land. The Court of First Instance sentenced her to 3 years and 8 months in prison and a fine of over 2 million baht. Although the Appeal Court later dismissed her case, for the past three years as she has been fighting her case, Wansao has not been able to live on her land and had to leave her home behind.

“The court asked since what year I’ve been living here. I said I can’t remember, because when I was born, we already had this land. I came to work on it with my mother,” Wansao said. She insisted she has never encroached into the national park area, and has always believed her land to be outside the national park.

“This is the only property my parents left me, for me to make a living. If they seize this land, then what am I going to do? This is all I have,” Wansao said.

Thailand’s unrecognised indigenous people

The communities in the Tenasserim Mountain area are part of the indigenous Karen population scattered through 15 provinces across the country. With a population of around 400,000 – 500,000, the Karen people are the largest of Thailand’s 39 groups of indigenous peoples, none of whom are recognised as indigenous by the Thai state. While the current Constitution mentions the right of “ethnic groups” to live according to their cultural traditions peacefully and without interference, no legislation uses the term “indigenous people”.

And despite the fact that Thailand, along with 143 other countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the government’s policies and legislation still do not take into consideration indigenous ways of life, and as a result, indigenous communities like the Kaeng Krachan Karen communities continue to face human rights issues from the lack of agricultural land to legal prosecution, lack of citizenship, and loss of cultural identity.

Members of the communities holding a traditional ceremony to inform the spirits that the event is being held before a discussion on community rights issues on 16 December 2020. 

Apinan Thammasena, a researcher from the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC), said that Thai society often views indigenous peoples in a negative light, a result of the Cold War situation that pressured the Thai state to aim for assimilation. Indigenous groups like the Karen or other groups in the north who practice rotation farming are often viewed as destructive to the forest, or are believed to be drug traffickers. They are viewed as the Other, which means that those who try to get Thai citizenship must go through a lengthy, complicated process. Not having Thai citizenship also means that they often have a hard time accessing basic welfare.

Apinan also said that many indigenous communities are often excluded from making use of resources on the land where they live, especially in conservation areas which are viewed by the state as national property that can only be cared for by the government. State conservation policy also often focuses on preserving forest areas without allowing people to make use of it, while the idea that only state agencies can care for conservation areas means that communities are not able to participate in decision-making processes, therefore neglecting the communities’ body of knowledge that can be used in conservation efforts.

According to Apinan, these problems put the communities at risk of losing their cultural identity, and with it the communities’ body of knowledge and what he refers to as “cultural capital” which the communities can use to manage themselves.

For the Karen communities at Bang Kloi, Pa Deng, and Tha Salao, the lack of land means that it has become impossible for them to use their traditional rotational farming method, which requires a larger amount of land than what they are limited to by various laws and regulations in order to switch to a different plot of land to allow the forest to recover. Many communities now have to turn to chemical fertilizers, as farming the same land over and over means the soil loses its nutrients, while community members must seek work elsewhere to supplement the income from farming, which is no longer enough to make a living.

This also causes concerns that traditional crops will one day go extinct. Wansao said that local rice varieties are becoming lost, as they must be grown using the rotational farming method, as well as a particular variety of chilli known as the ‘Karen chilli’.

Traditional beliefs and ceremonies are also at risk of disappearing. Rung Sanetibang, a member of the Karen community at Huai Kra Su, Phetchaburi, spoke of a tradition where, once a child is born, the child’s umbilical cord is put into a bamboo container and tied to a tree to ask the spirits of the tree to care for the child. However, as the current generation of children are born in hospitals, this ceremony is no longer performed. For Rung, this is the same as severing his people’s ties with the forest.

Meanwhile, Pinnapa said that her community used to hold an annual ceremony where they used newly harvested rice to worship Mae Phosop, the rice goddess, but because they are no longer able to grow rice due to lack of land, the ceremony no longer takes place.

“We don’t have the land. We don’t get to grow rice. Our children will not get to see these traditions. They’re disappearing day by day,” said Pinnapa.

Leave no one behind: from cabinet resolution to an indigenous rights bill

Signs at the discussion on 16 December 2020, one of which says "indigenous communities have been here before the national park. Arresting people is not the solution to the problem," which another says "Respect indigenous community rights according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." 

There have, however, been previous attempts by the government at creating a policy guideline to resolve issues facing indigenous communities in Thailand. In 2010, the cabinet of the day issued two cabinet resolutions, one on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life and one on the sea nomad communities.

Both cabinet resolutions contain guidelines for short- and long-term measures for solving the issues faced by each community, such as the lack of citizenship, land rights, the lack of resources, and how to support their traditional ways of life. The cabinet resolution on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life also states that conservation zones which overlap with the locations of Karen communities that lived in that area before it became a conservation zone should be revoked.

However, there have been problems with putting both cabinet resolutions into practice. Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, the current chairperson of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, an indigenous rights NGO based in Chiang Mai, said that local officials often do not acknowledge the cabinet resolutions and argue that the Forest Act is a higher-ranking law and therefore they do not have to follow the resolutions. It has, therefore, become necessary for the country to have a law protecting indigenous rights.

Several bills are now in the process of being drafted and proposed, one of which is the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, which was drafted by the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT) and proposes to set up a formal indigenous peoples’ council to give Thailand’s indigenous population the opportunity to resolve community rights issues in ways that are suitable to their way of life.

Kittisak said that the Council of Indigenous Peoples bill will allow for the protection of indigenous rights in every aspect, from economic rights to cultural. He said that these rights are not new, but are what the indigenous communities once had and would like to have enshrined in law.

“We would like there to be policies and exclusive plans that are suitable for addressing our issues, because from what we have seen from the lessons in the past, most policies issued by the government sector are very centrist and very grey, and when they are applied in practice, they don’t really solve people’s issues. Even for the Council of Indigenous Peoples itself, we would like an exclusive plan that actually fits with our needs, and we would like to live according to the traditional way that we want to live. It’s like being able to determine the fate of our own lives,” said Kittisak.

The NIPT is now inviting members of the public to back the bill in order to propose it to parliament. Thai citizens over 18 years old who would like to back the bill can still do so by sending the necessary documents along with a copy of their ID card to the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (CIPT) in San Sai District, Chiang Mai, before 15 March 2021.

Meanwhile, the SAC is in the process of drafting another bill, called the Protection and Strengthening of Ethnic Way of Life bill, which will protect indigenous people’s right to choose to live according to their traditional way of life and their access to fundamental rights as Thai citizens.

Apinan said that the bill is intended to uphold equality and cultural diversity, and to put an end to discrimination. It will also include measures protecting indigenous ways of life, including the declaration of a “cultural protection area” in order to create a mechanism to allow indigenous communities to participate in decision-making processes about conservation and to allow for self-management.

If passed, the bill would also become a central mechanism for government agencies to use to resolve indigenous rights issues. Apinan said that this bill is not about granting privileges to indigenous peoples, but is about protecting the rights which were previously violated. 

But new legislation may not be enough if existing laws are not changed. Sunee Chaiyaros, former human rights commissioner and lecturer at the College of Social Innovation at Rangsit University, said in a panel discussion organised by the SAC on 21 January 2021 that Thailand’s conservation forest laws, which are outdated and go against human rights principles, must also be revised.

Sunee also said that amending national park laws would be beneficial not only to the Bang Kloi community, but also to other communities still living in contested forest land. She said that the Constitution has already recognized community rights, which is also protected by international agreements, but the Thai state has never put this into practice. If new legislation is to be drafted, Sunee said, it must not only protect but also empower the communities and give them the power to determine their own lives.

The Kaeng Krachan Dam, where the oil drum containing bone fragments likely to be Billy's was found

Raising awareness among the public about the protection of indigenous culture is also important. Kittisak said that the public still has a bias against indigenous peoples, and that time and serious campaigning efforts will be needed to undo them.

“It’s like arranging flowers in a vase. If there are a hundred kinds of flowers, then it’s beautiful, but if there is only one kind, it would be a bit plain. If we are to make them see the dimension of beauty, the dimension of benefits, values, I think that the educational system is important. Campaigning is important,” said Kittisak.

Meanwhile, Apinan said that trying to get the state to change its approach to conservation might be difficult without undoing negative stereotypes of indigenous peoples. It is therefore important to work on reducing cultural bias and communicating with the public to create a society that accepts indigenous ways of life before creating legislation, which he said is only a mechanism for solving the issues but may not lead to understanding.

There seems to be, however, a glimmer of hope. For Apinan, the Doi Chang Pa Pae Karen community in Lamphun is a success story and proof that it is possible for the community to participate in conservation efforts. The community is part of the SAC’s special cultural area pilot project, which designated certain communities as places in which people can choose to live according to their traditional way of life and take part in resource management, and their work on preventing forest fires has proved that they are capable of caring for all 27,000 rai of forest while making use of only 270 rai each year.

The Doi Chang Pa Pae community has also become a case study for government agencies to use as a policy guideline, which Apinan sees as the beginning of a change in how government agencies view indigenous people.

Although there is work still to be done, especially in raising public awareness, Apinan said that there are signs of success. He observed that indigenous communities are now able to raise their voice and speak for themselves and are empowered to use their traditional knowledge to solve various issues.

“I think that, after 10 years of cabinet resolutions, at the very least there is some kind of signs which show that it could lead to success, not that there is no sign at all,” Apinan said.

Heart of the land, land of their hearts

One of the representatives from CSO networks who came to submit a petition to the OHCHR to call for an end to human rights violations against the Bang Kloi community holding a portrait of Ko-i Meemi, the community's spiritual leader 

Back at Bang Kloi, however, the situation has not got any better. Members of the community have faced intimidation from state officials. During the first weeks of February 2021, park officials, police, and military officers were stationed in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village and had been patrolling the area every day, while food donations are blocked at park checkpoints and prevented from being delivered to the community members who returned to Chai Phaen Din.

Phone signals in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village were also periodically cut, while officials were asking for the names and whereabouts of community leaders. There is also a concern that the authorities would forcibly evacuate those who returned to Chai Phaen Din the way they did in 2011.

After a three-day protest in front of Government House to demand an end to intimidation by state officials, four government officials signed an MOU with members of the community promising to allow the community to return to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional ways, to protect their righs to do so and to follow the policy guidelines stated in the 2010 cabinet resolution.

The MOU states that, for community members who wish to stay at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, the authorities must allocate enough land to live and farm so that they can live securely. The authorities must also order officers stationed at the village to stop patrolling and setting up checkpoints, which is intimidating to community members, and must ensure community members’ safety.

The community members who came to the protest at the Government House on 15 February 2021

Despite this, on 22 February 2021, there were reports of helicopter flights taking military units up into the Kaeng Krachan Forest, as well as reports that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had ordered all community members to be forced out of Chai Phaen Din by 18.00 of that day. By the end of the day, it was reported that 13 community members were detained and taken back down to Pong Luek-Bang Kloi.

Around 60 people remained at Chai Phaen Din on the night of 22 February 2021, one of whom is Ko-I’s son No-ae Meemi, who cannot walk and asked to be carried by his grandchildren up to Chai Phaen Din during the night of 21 February 2021.

No-ae has said on several occasions that he would like to return to his community’s homeland, and that he would rather die than be forcibly evacuated again.

One of the representatives from CSO networks who came to submit a petition to the OHCHR to call for an end to human rights violations against the Bang Kloi community holding a banner saying "no rights, no world heritage site." 

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex is on the way to becoming a world heritage site. After having their previous three nominations referred by the World Heritage Committee, who asked the Thai government to first resolve the issues of human rights violations against indigenous communities in the area before applying again, the Thai government will file a nomination for the fourth time at this year’s committee session, which is to take place in June – July 2021 in Fuzhou, China. This has raised concerns among the indigenous communities, who fear that their rights will continue to be violated, should the forest become a world heritage site before these issues are resolved.

And even though the government may be able to pay compensation to the community, or provide other remedies, for the violence the community has been facing, the time they have been forced to spend far away from their ancestral land, while they faced persistent issues, while priceless traditions and body of knowledge become lost to time – how will the Thai state be held responsible? 

FeatureIndigenous rightsindigenous peopleKarenKaeng Krachancommunity rightsChai Phaen DinBang Kloi community
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