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American Heroes

Wed, 2018-09-19 15:20
Submitted on Wed, 2018-09-19 15:20L. Fritz

John McCain (front right) with his squadron.
(Source: Library of Congress/US Navy)

United States Senator John McCain died on 25 August of 2018. Former Presidents and colleagues praised him as a bipartisan role model for civility in discourse, an exemplary American, and a war hero. Commemorations in Washington D.C. lasted several days. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.

It’s normal to show empathy while a family is mourning. Many Americans took comfort in the idea of McCain as a symbol of unity. Or they used his reputation to point out the failings of the current President from his same political party.

Words and history are important. They shape culture, beliefs and future actions. With all due respect for his service, suffering and his family – since a story about his life and legacy is being used for political purposes we can ask some questions of the people using him as a symbol.

What did McCain do throughout his life? What is a hero? And what is the purpose and impact of Americans from both political parties lionizing him?

John McCain grew up at the start of the Cold War. He was son and grandson of Navy Admirals. In 1958 he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. In a speech to Academy students in 2017 he said, “I wasn’t too thrilled” to be there at the time and, “was relieved to graduate – fifth from the bottom” out of 899 students.

As a 31 year old pilot in Vietnam McCain flew 23 bombing missions in ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’. From 1965 to 1968 it killed at least 72,000 Vietnamese civilians.

In 1967 his plane was shot down over Hanoi. It broke both his arms and a leg. Civilians rescued him from a lake. As a prisoner of war he was tortured, beaten, and forced to make propaganda statements. He was returned to the U.S. after 5 years and hailed as a war hero. 

The details of those early life events events and the historical context are worth digging into. 

The year McCain was shot down a 25 year old Muhammad Ali was national boxing champion. Ali was African-American and grew up under segregation – without full American freedoms or Admiralty in his family.

Ali refused to join the military. He was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in Federal prison. He lost his title, his income, and could not leave the country. 

Also in 1967 civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech titled ‘Beyond Vietnam’. He called for ending the war. And he connected racism, war, and the worst aspects of American capitalism. 

He once quoted Ali. “We are all — black and brown and poor — victims of the same system of oppression." King was killed early in 1968 while John McCain was also suffering as a prisoner in Hanoi. 

McCain served in the U.S. Congress for 36 years starting in 1982. He supported President Reagan’s proxy wars in Central America. He was caught in a scandal supporting bankers who had supported his campaign. And he opposed a law honoring civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. 

But he also supported lifting U.S. sanctions on Vietnam, co-sponsored a law regulating campaign donations, and supported appointment of African-American, women, and liberal Federal Court judges.

Twice he failed to be elected President. Despite praise for his bipartisan work reportedly some aids and colleagues claimed his temper disqualified him from that highest office.

Given that history - what is the purpose of calling John McCain a role model for civility, an exemplary American, and a (war) hero?

The U.S. is in a crisis of government. The current President is being investigated for possible business and political crimes. New reports claim even his senior officials see him as unfit for the job and a danger to the U.S. and the world. 

Oversimplified - there is anxiety and fear on both sides of an ideological divide. Some people elevate McCain to shame the President. Some truly believe McCain is a bipartisan hero and beacon of unity. Some hope focusing on McCain’s best moments will lure Americans towards a political center.

Words and history are important. What are the risks and impacts of calling John McCain a hero?

The racism, militarism and policy failures that exist in American history are not John McCain’s sole fault or responsibility. He grew up immersed in them himself. And at times he appeared to step outside that worldview. He claimed the freedoms and privileges he enjoyed should be available to all.

Calling McCain a political hero is inseparable from his status as war hero. In American culture ‘war hero’ carries more weight than ‘civil rights hero’ or ‘peace hero’. He leveraged his war hero title for political advantage. 

Using ‘war hero’ also means ‘don’t question war policy.’ In that context invoking McCain’s hero title makes it harder to critique any policies he championed and discounts the experiences of those continuing to live with the impacts. 

Most often McCain treated military action and punishment as solutions, and discounted claims they might be symptoms and causes.

In the 1990’s McCain worked with both parties to push stronger laws and longer jail times for drug and gang crimes. The laws were sometimes written and often enforced disproportionately affecting “black and brown and poor” people. The U.S. now has the largest most expensive prison system on earth.

In the early 2000’s he was a loud, early and influential voice in support of President Bush’s attack on Iraq. The pretenses for invasion have been proven false, and the costs to Iraqis and Americans continue to be large. 

Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos together are the most bombed countries in history. At the time of the war they were largely agrarian countries with peasant populations. The people still suffer from unexploded ordnance and the impact of chemical agents. The U.S. did not normalize trade relations with them until 1992, 1994, and 2004 respectively. 

Words and history are important. 

John McCain gets credit for the times he exceeded the ideology of his upbringing, acknowledged mistakes, forgave and collaborated with political opponents, and spoke and acted against the position of his political party. He served in the military and Congress all his life. Undoubtedly he suffered in Hanoi. 

And Vietnam is the underlying context for McCain being referred to as a political, war, and true American hero throughout a week of commemorations. The term was used by his family in mourning. Nearly everyone else was using it at least in part as a tool in a political context.

From Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war - This way of settling differences is not just. “ American writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde cautioned, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

The current call for American unity includes a call to nationalism. American culture can demonstrate unity when it inherently includes and validates the lived experiences of fellow humans and all the ongoing impacts of America’s history – both positive and negative. 

America can move “Beyond Vietnam” and dismantle the cultural remnants of a 1950’s Cold War worldview after it recognizes and addresses the deep cultural assumptions and values tied to the terms ‘hero’ and ‘war hero’.

The U.S. is facing a crisis of government. It can address one of the roots by redefining heroism.

OpinionJohn McCainVietnam War
Categories: Prachatai English

DIY Policing

Sat, 2018-09-15 11:25
Submitted on Sat, 2018-09-15 11:25Harrison George

The tourist had left his mobile phone in a Bangkok taxi.  This kind of thing happens on a daily basis so you would think that when he reported it to a police station, they would have a procedure in place to deal with it.

And they do.  But it’s not what you might think.

First there is the rigmarole of the bai chaeng khwam, the police report.  Did you note the licence number of the taxi, which is helpfully stencilled inside the cab?  Of course not.  Did you note the driver’s name on the dashboard card?  Even less likely.

OK, so where did you take this taxi?  It turns out he got off outside a hotel.  At last, a spark of hope.  Many hotels have CCTVs covering their forecourts, and more importantly, the images are clear enough to decipher car number plates.  (Police traffic cameras don’t have the resolution and the BMA cameras – well, how many days does the average tourist have left in Bangkok?  Likely not long enough to get access.)

 

So the tourist is told that with the police report, he can go and view the hotel’s CCTV footage.

He can go.

So he sets off on his own investigation.  He is lucky.  The hotel lets him look, he finds the relevant images and he learns the taxi licence number.  He now returns to the police station.

And again he is lucky.  He has to deal with the officer who signed his police report.  No other officer will touch the case, and fortunately the officer concerned is on the premises (but off duty) but he goes to the trouble of punching the licence number into the vehicle database.

More luck.  That licence number is actually registered to a taxi (a surprising number of cabs seem to be cruising round on false plates) and the taxi belongs to a ‘cooperative’.  Sounds nice and I am sure there is some legal finesse that allows this, but to all intents and purposes, it is a taxi rental company.  The officer even tries calling the cooperative, but alas, like so many of its cabs on the road, there is no response.

No matter.  The tourist is now given the name and address of the cooperative and told he can go and see them and find out what they know.

He can go.

I don’t know the end of this story.  But the chances of a non-Thai-speaking foreigner turning up at a taxi garage and finding out anything, let alone getting his phone back, are pretty close to zero.

Far lower than, say, him going home phone-less and telling all his mates that in Thailand, they have do-it-yourself policing.

But not the worst blemish on the image of the Royal Thai Police of late.

This has been besmirched by the Ko Tao alleged rape story.  A tourist claims to have been raped and alleges that police refused to record her allegations.  Pol Maj Gen Surachate ‘Big Joke’ Hakparn, deputy chief of the tourist police and investigator of any crime that makes the front page, claims that the alleged rape could not have happened because of the tide and crowds watching the world cup.

Cue outraged self-importance and charges against 2 websites reporting the alleged rape and 11 hapless souls who also ‘reported’ it by clicking ‘share’ (and no charges against the dozens and dozens of other media reporting the alleged rape).

Now these prosecutions are being ridiculed all over the international media, which does nothing for the image of Thailand and the Thai justice system.

But let us return to this allegation that an attempt to report the rape was thwarted, first by the victim going to the wrong police station and second by the wrong person, a friend of the victim and not the victim, going to the right police station.  Could this be true?  Is there anything in Thai police procedures that might discourage victims of rape or sexual assault from filing a report?

It is claimed that there is a law or a regulation that all such cases involving a female victim must be investigated by female police officers.  I have personally witnessed 2 such cases handled by male officers.  If there is any such rule, then the simple fact is that the police don’t follow it.

And in future they will be even less likely to do so.  On the same day they were cracking down on malicious websites, the RTP, without the slightest embarrassment, compunction or explanation, and in blatant violation of the Gender Equality Act and Thailand’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, announced that the Royal Police Cadet Academy will accept no women as of next year.

It was later explained that this decision came from the Ministry of Defence, which is odd, since the MoD has no jurisdiction over the RTP.  It turned out to be one of those weaselly ‘no, we’re not discriminating; it’s just that you need certain qualifications that women can’t get’ arguments that once blocked the possibility of female governors.

And that is another news story with the legs to go all round the world and heap more ignominy on the RTP.

It is undeniably true that the image of the Thai police has been severely damaged in the recent past.  But mostly by people wearing brown uniforms.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

Alien ThoughtsRoyal Thai Police (RTP)Pol Maj Gen Surachate ‘Big Joke’ HakparntouristsKo Taofemale policeDIY
Categories: Prachatai English

A Country Beginning with T

Fri, 2018-09-07 16:34
Submitted on Fri, 2018-09-07 16:34Harrison George

So who are we talking about?

  • Between World War 1 and World War 2, this country underwent a major change in its system of government, although of late there have been signs that some vestiges of the old system are being quietly reintroduced.
  • Despite this major change, ‘the state bureaucracy, the military corps and the basic social order never really died, preserving status and property for those ready to serve the new government’ according to one recent analysis.
  • The founder of the new system decreed a cultural revolution that ordered changes to dozens of features of daily life, such as what people should wear on the heads and how the language should be used.
  • The person behind these things went by a name they weren’t born with.
  • The military has taken over the government many times, always claiming to protect the most sacred institutions of the state.
  • Nationalists maintain a belief in an erstwhile empire that the more chauvinist hope one day to revive.
  • There is a long-standing and unresolved separatist movement in the most distant region of the country that has repeatedly erupted into violence.
  • Despite being nominally secular, the state is under pressure from religious militants to formalize the status of the dominant religion.
  • The current leader declared a ‘new’ country in 2014.
  • Because of the deterioration of democracy and worrying human rights violations, the traditional alliance with the US and the European democracies has recently been weakened, and the country has instead strengthened its ties with another major power.
  • The current government has been rattled by protests over a park.
  • Any and every national problem is routinely blamed on a former politician now in exile.

Well, all these statements are true of Thailand (and I am sure my well-informed readers have already spotted this and require no further explanation).  But they are also true of Turkey.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after its defeat in World War 1 led in the 1920s to Mustafa Kemal and his Young Turks taking over the government, abolishing the sultanate and declaring a republic.  The new state was resolutely secular and banned all manner of symbols associated with the old regime, like the fez, but there are indications of a creeping re-Islamization of society.  The state language, Turkish, was imposed on everyone, linguistic minorities be damned, but it now uses the Roman alphabet with loanwords from Arabic and Persian patriotically purged.

Just like Plaek Khittasangkha, who became Field Marshal P (he hated the ‘Plaek’) Phibunsongkhram, Mustafa Kemal started life as Ali Rıza oğlu Mustafa, was given the ‘Kemal’ bit (meaning ‘perfection’ or ‘maturity’) by a teacher and later had ‘Atatürk’ (‘father of the Turks’) added by a grateful parliament.

Turkey’s history as a republic has been punctuated by tensions between Atatürk’s military descendants, who have regarded themselves as the guardians of his memory, and two competing forces.  On the one side, urban cosmopolitan liberals have looked toward democratic western Europe; on the other, a more deeply religious conservatism in the Anatolian hinterland has chafed at the absurdity of pious university co-eds with their hair under a headscarf, worn for their religion, and the headscarf hidden under a wig, worn for their education.

The Kurds of southeastern Turkey remain a bête noire for a Turkish state that has never thought much of diversity.  The human rights violations visited on them, and others who have come into the regime’s crosshairs, may have held back Turkey’s admission to the EU (though there were other factors at work as well) but never really got in the way of acceptance by western powers until Turkey got embroiled in regional conflicts.  The US fights ISIS but not the Kurds; the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds fight ISIS; Turkey fights ISIS, but also the Kurds (inside and outside the country).  A recipe for tension that has suddenly made Putin a friend of Ankara.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was far more shaken by the widespread protests against turning Gezi Park in Istanbul into yet another shopping mall than was Thailand’s military junta by the minor scuffles over Rajabhakti Park.

And while Thaksin remains the Voldemort of Thailand, Turkey’s equivalent is Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan’s one-time ally and a current resident of Pennsylvania, accused of being the mastermind behind the 2016 coup attempt and much, much more.

While the similarities, from the broad-brush to the picayune, are striking, there are important differences.

On the days when the Thai military’s ignorant vindictiveness is getting you down, you might take some comfort from the fact that the centre of Pattani town, unlike Diyarbakir, has not been reduced to rubble by airstrikes, and there have been no mass purges of the bureaucracy, academia and the judiciary that have left courtrooms bereft of lawyers, prosecutors and judges who actually know the procedures for conducting a trial.

And there is one more contrast that is still to be seen.

Instead of endlessly postponing elections like the NCPO, Erdoğan actually brought forward elections scheduled for November 2019 and held them last June (after repeated promises that he wouldn’t do this – sound familiar?)  Despite mass arrests of his perceived enemies, a state of emergency and evidence of ballot stuffing traced to Erdoğan himself, his party’s vote actually fell.

I wonder.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

Alien ThoughtsThailandTurkeyErdoğanmilitaryNational Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
Categories: Prachatai English

2 women arrested over pro-republic t-shirts

Fri, 2018-09-07 15:45
Submitted on Fri, 2018-09-07 15:45

The authorities have arrested two women for possessing a pro-republic t-shirt. One of them was already released while the other is being detained incommunicado. 

On 6 July 2018, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Bangkok authorities in the morning arrested Surang (pseudonym) and her daughter, 11. According to Surang’s niece, over 10 officers including four soldiers, about 5 men in black and some female officers, emerged from a grey van and arrested the two after they came back from a market.

Without a search warrant, the authorities searched her house for a black t-shirt with a red-and-white logo on its left chest. The problematic t-shirt was produced by a pro-republic movement called “Organisation for Thai Federation” and the red-and-white logo is a symbolic flag of the organisation. 

The controversial t-shirt

They confiscated the t-shirt and Surang’s cellphone. In the meantime, Surang’s daughter was having breakfast and preparing to go to school. The authorities then took the daughter to the van and dropped her at the school, telling her that Surang would return by 3 pm.

However, TLHR revealed that Surag was sent home at 8.30 pm. She said that authorities detained her at the 11th Army Circle and questioned her about the controversial t-shirt. They asked her neither to wear it nor buy it more, adding that the producer and distributor of the t-shirt had already been arrested. Surang was released after signing an agreement that she will not participate in any political activity.

On the same day, the authorities also arrested Wannapha (pseudonym) from Samut Prakan Province and detained her incommunicado. Her mother told TLHR that at around 7.30 am, about 7 military officers arrested Wannapha at her house without telling her family where she will be detained. They also confiscated many of the controversial t-shirts.

At around 5.45 pm, Wannapha’s son, 12, told TLHR that a soldier visited his house and gave him 400 bath, saying that Wannapha asked him to do so. The officer told the son that Wannapha will be sent to an “Attitude Adjustment Session” but did not say when she will be release.

The current location of Wannapha remains unknown. 

Newsarrestsdetentionarbitrary detentionarbitrary arrestThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
Categories: Prachatai English

Press Release: Thai Women’s Group Oppose Thailand Joining CP-TPP

Wed, 2018-09-05 17:20
Submitted on Wed, 2018-09-05 17:20Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)

5th Sept 2018

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Thai Department of Trade Negotiations on 4th September held the second public hearing on the Comprehensive Progressive-Trans Pacific Partnership (CP-TPP), which the Thai government expressed interest to join in March this year. About 170 participants from local farmers associations, business sector, and women’s groups from Chiang Mai and surrounding provinces attended the meeting. The government heard many concerns raised by farmers and civil society organisations, including issues such as access to seeds and farmers’ livelihood.

Vice Commerce Minister, Sakon Waranyawattana stated that the purpose of this public hearing is to collect opinions and concerns from stakeholders in various regions regarding the CP-TPP. As Thailand is still studying the opportunities and challenges of this trade agreement, one of the activities is to organise public hearing to gather the public opinion. The issues raised during the public hearings would be compiled along with other studies and shared with the government for decision-making process.

Dr. Rachada Jiasakul, a representative from Bolliger & Company, a private consulting firm, made a presentation about opportunities and challenges of CP-TPP as a third-party impact assessment research provider. She also mentioned that Charoen Pokphand Group, or CP, is also another third-party researcher. It is not clear whether a government research on this issue was carried out or made available. The panelists of the public hearing disproportionately comprised of representatives from private sectors and government agencies while there no representative from civil society organisation were given the opportunity to present their views.

“It is alarming to note that all the ‘impact assessments’ of CP-TPP have been conducted by large corporations, and it makes quite clear that for Thailand to join CP-TPP, only big businesses and corporations will benefit from this trade agreement. It will further corporate monopolies in agriculture and marginalise women, peasants and the majority of people. For this reason we, the women’s groups, labour rights groups, and civil society, reject the UPOV 1991 as well as the CP-TPP,” said Matcha Phorn-in, President of APWLD’s Thai Association.

A great numbers of local farmers from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun, and Lampang who attended the public hearings have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding farmers’ access to seeds and their rights to exchange and collect seeds for community use. Various farmers groups also raised concerns regarding dumping of agricultural products from other countries.  In response, Thidakun Saen-udom, director of Plant Variety Protection Office, Department of Agriculture claimed that the farmers would still have the rights to collect seeds, as long as they are not under patent from seeds companies.

“I feel that this public hearing is not about hearing the people’s voices and concerns, but more like a forum to defend and propagate how great CP-TPP is,” said Sugarnta Sukpaita, a labour rights activist who attended the hearing. “CP-TPP will ultimately kill small-scale farmers and only support those who have big capitals who will also exploit the workers.”

Suluck Lamubol, APWLD’s Programme Officer said that the CP-TPP is all about amplifying the power of corporations to set trade rules that will negatively affect domestic policies to endorse corporate governance.

“When questions were asked about people’s access to seeds, food sovereignty or access to medicine, the response from the government representatives were identical: as far as they are not patented everything will be okay.  It is such a disrespectful and disguisive response when it is so clear that the CP-TPP is with strengthened intellectual property to put profit over people’s lives. CP-TPP is not about generating best welfare for the people as the government has come here and claimed,” said Suluck.

Earlier in July, Thai government led by Deputy Prime Minister, Somkid Jatusriphitak committed Thailand to join CP-TPP following support from Japan, saying that CP-TPP will boost competitiveness for Thai entrepreneurs. Soon after, the Department of Trade Negotiations announced the  public hearings in five provinces. Public hearings in Chonburi and Chiang Mai were recently completed and hearings in Songkhla, Bangkok, Khon Kaen are to take place on 13, 16, and 26 September respectively.

In March, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development issued a statement, along with over 50 feminist allies from 10 of the 11 TPP countries, opposing this mega Free Trade Agreement as it would only put power and privilege in the hands of large multinational corporations and the wealthiest few. CP-TPP would require countries to treat foreign companies in the same way they treat local ones, pushing women, who are the majority of small scale, subsistence farmers to compete against huge agro-businesses. With the tightened intellectual property rights, it will prohibit seed sharing amongst farmers, impacting women who are the custodian of seeds, forcing them out of their farms and the local economy.

APWLD will continue to monitor the scheduled public hearings and work with other social justice and people’s movements to stop Thailand from joining CP-TPP against people’s will.

About APWLD

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), a leading network of feminist organisations and grassroots activists in Asia Pacific. Our over 230 members represent groups of diverse women from 27 countries in Asia Pacific. Over the past 31 years, APWLD has actively worked towards advancing women’s human rights and Development Justice. We are an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organisation and hold consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Facebook:apwld.ngo Twitter:@apwld, Instagram: apwld_
 

APWLD's rallies in Manila during 2015 APEC summit (Photo from APWLD)

Pick to PostAsia Pacific Forum on WomenLaw and Development (APWLD)Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)women
Categories: Prachatai English

Witness of 2010 massacre released on bail, banned from travelling abroad

Tue, 2018-09-04 19:02
Submitted on Tue, 2018-09-04 19:02

Despite an objection from the prosecutor, the key witness of the 2010 massacre charged with royal defamation was released on bail with 400,000 baht as surety.

On 4 July 2018, Winyat Chatmontree, a lawyer from United Lawyers For Rights & Liberty, posted on Facebook that the Bangkok Military Court released Nutthida Meewangpla on bail from after serving three years and five months for royal defamation and criminal association. She had to pay 400,000 baht as surety.

According to Winyat, the court stated that although the prosecutor opposed the release, the offered surety was credible enough to make the judge believe that Nutthida will not escape the prosecution. However, the judge prohibited her from travelling abroad without court permission. 

Waen, a former volunteer nurse, is a crucial witness in the extrajudicial killing of six individuals by state authorities at Wat Pathum Wanaram temple during the crackdown operation against the red-shirt protesters in Bangkok on 19 May 2010.

Arrested and accused of terrorism and royal defamation, Waen has been detained for over three years, and the court had repeatedly denied her bail requests.

Waen was accused of being involved in the 2015 bombing of the Criminal Court in Bangkok. The accusation stems from a transfer of 5,000 baht from Surapol Iam-suwan, another terrorist suspect, into Waen’s bank account. Waen argued that she merely borrowed the money from Surapol to pay the rent for her laundry business.

In July 2017, the Bangkok Military Court released her and three other suspects charged with terrorism on bail. However, Waen was further detained for violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law. The evidence was a screenshot of her chatroom in the Line Application.

Nutthida Meewangpla is being transferred to the Central Women Correctional Institution after a witness hearing today (Photo from Banrasdr Photo)

NewsNattatida MeewangplaWinyat Chatmontreelese majesteArticle 112Source: ทัช 1
Categories: Prachatai English

Rights groups call for immediate release of Reuters journalists in Myanmar

Mon, 2018-09-03 19:03
Submitted on Mon, 2018-09-03 19:03Amnesty International & FIDH

The Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights have launched statements demanding the Myanmar Government unconditionally release the two Reuters journalists. 

Myanmar: Guilty verdict against Reutrs journalists sends stark warning on press freedom
(Statement by Amnesty International)
 

Responding to the news that Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been sentenced to seven years in jail after being found guilty of breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response, said:
 
“Today’s appalling verdict has condemned two innocent men to years behind bars. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo face lengthy jail terms simply because they dared to ask uncomfortable questions about military atrocities in Rakhine State. These convictions must be quashed, and both men immediately and unconditionally released.    
 
“This politically-motivated decision has significant ramifications for press freedom in Myanmar. It sends a stark warning to other journalists in the country of the severe consequences that await should they look too closely at military abuses. This amounts to censorship through fear.
 
“Today’s verdict cannot conceal the truth of what happened in Rakhine State. It’s thanks to the bravery of journalists like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, that the military’s atrocities have been exposed. Instead of targeting these two journalists, the Myanmar authorities should have been going after those responsible for killings, rape, torture and the torching of hundreds of Rohingya villages.”
 
Background
 
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, on 12 December 2017. At the time, the two men had been investigating military operations in northern Rakhine State. These operations were marked by crimes against humanity targeting the Rohingya population, including deportation, unlawful killings, rape, torture and burning of homes and villages.
 
The two journalists were held incommunicado for two weeks before being transferred to Yangon’s Insein prison. The Official Secrets Act – one of anumber of repressive laws in Myanmar – carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Myanmar: Baseless imprisonment of two Reuters journalists decried

(Statement by FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights and its member organization for Burma Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma - ALTSEAN-Burma)

Bangkok, Paris, 3 September 2018: FIDH and its member organization Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) condemn the conviction and harsh prison sentence handed down to two Reuters journalists today and call for their immediate and unconditional release.

At approximately 10:30am, the Yangon Northern District Court handed down a seven-year prison sentence to Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Article 3.1(c) of the British colonial-era 1923 Official Secrets Act. The charges stem from allegations that the two had collected and obtained secret documents detailing the movements of security forces with the intention to harm national security. The two reporters remain detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been arbitrarily detained on trumped-up charges for uncovering a massacre of Rohingya civilians, which has been acknowledged by Myanmar’s military. Today’s prison sentence against the two Reuters journalists is baseless and marks a massive setback for press freedom and the rule of law in Myanmar,” said FIDH Secretary-General and ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator Debbie Stothard.

On 12 December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on suspicion of violating the 1923 Official Secrets Act almost immediately after meeting police officers at a restaurant in Yangon and being handed documents allegedly linked to security operations in Rakhine State.

One of the witnesses for the prosecution, a senior policeman, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term for violating police discipline.

At the time of their arrest, the two had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in September 2017 during military ‘clearance operations’ in Inn Din Village, Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State.

During the trial, Kyaw Soe Oo told the court that immediately after their arrest, they were hooded and brought to the Aung Tha Pyay special police interrogation site in Yangon’s Mayangone Township for interrogation. They were subsequently held incommunicado by police for two weeks and their right to legal counsel withheld until their first hearing on 27 December 2017. They also reported being subjected to sleep deprivation and forced to kneel for hours during interrogation during the early stages of their incommunicado detention. Wa Lone testified that during the interrogation an officer offered a “negotiation” over the journalists’ arrest if they agreed not to publish the story – an offer he rejected.

FIDH and ALTSEAN-Burma reiterate their call for the repeal of the 1923 Official Secrets Act and other draconian laws that are not in line with international standards. The two organizations also urge the immediate and unconditional release of the 85 political prisoners that remain incarcerated in jails across Myanmar.

Reuters journalist Wa Lone (Photo from Associated Press)
 

Pick to PostAmnesty International (AI)International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)ReutersMyanmar
Categories: Prachatai English

NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 and Public Assembly Act: the systematic limitation of freedom

Mon, 2018-09-03 18:12
Submitted on Mon, 2018-09-03 18:12iLaw

“Article 12. Political gatherings of five or more persons, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 10,000 baht, or both, unless permission has been granted by the Head of the NCPO or an authorized representative.”

This is the content of Article 12 of Order No. 3/2015 of the Head if the NCPO which prohibits political gatherings. It became the excuse for the state to interfere or limit the freedom of expression since its announcement more than 3 years ago. No less than 421 people have been charged with violating this Order. Most of the content that has been prohibited had a significant effect on the absolute power of the NCPO, such as expressing an opinion on the draft constitution for the referendum and calling for the NCPO to hold elections by the group of People that Want an Election), etc.
 
In the past, NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 prohibiting political gatherings has been used in conjunction with the 2015 Public Assembly Act that was promulgated later on. Even though according to legal principles, if there is a new law in force dealing with the same issue as an existing law, the existing law must be by implication cancelled, no court has announced the cancellation of NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 . In fact, it has all this time been used systematically as an important “weapon” to limit freedom of expression along with the Public Assembly Act.
 
Data collected show three trends in enforcing the laws concerning assemblies by officers.

Citing the Order to cut off the exercise of freedom

NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 has become a tool that state officials use to “warn” anyone who uses freedom that if they insist on using their freedom to express their opinions on these matters, they may be within the scope of violating NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015.  An atmosphere of fear was created amongst those exercising freedom that expressing their opinions may result in a lawsuit that gives them “problems with the military” or cause trouble in the future, leading some people to choose to stop expressing their opinions and some to try to find other ways to continue their fight against power. Examples follow.
 
First, on 25 April 2015, at the ceremony to open the Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan meeting room , officers requested the date of the event to be postponed since permission to host the event had not been sought and the name of Uncle Nuamthong is one of the political symbols that risk violating NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015.
 
Second, on 28 September 2016 in a ‘New constitution, what’s up?’ conference, soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Regiment King’s Guard and police from Pathumwan Police Station called the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC) and sent a letter informing them the event may be within the scope of NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 and asking the organiser to request permission in advance. When the organiser submitted an explanation in writing, the military did not consider it in time. So the BACC had to cancel the event, resulting in the organiser changing the format of the event to a recording of a public stage programme at Thai PBS.
 
Third, on 19 September 2016, in the ‘Singing for Uncle’ activity on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the coup, police came to negotiate, claiming their authority under NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 and the Public Assembly Act. They prohibited the activity and asked all artists to leave the area, which they all consented to, and they immediately left.

Using the NCPO Head Order to resolve instances of enforcing the Public Assembly Act incorrectly

Enforcement of NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 and the Public Assembly Act together led to the arbitrary choice of a law to prohibit assemblies. State officials are able to choose citing any law that facilitates their goal of obstructing narratives that the state doesn’t want to listen to. It also reflects the misunderstanding of state officials in the enforcement of the Public Assembly Act, so they have to refer to NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 in correcting arrests that do not comply with what the law prescribes, as can be seen from the protest against the coal power plant in Krabi. 
 
On 17 February 2017, after the coal power plant protestors moved from the area around Government House, officials filed a complaint with the Civil Court, requesting the cancellation of the assembly under the procedures of the Public Assembly Act. The next day, officials arrested, one after the other, five core members, 12 participants and 2 Rangsit University students without charge or explanation of their authority to make arrests. The next day, 19 February 2017, the military made a statement claiming the protestors had violated the Public Assembly Act for gathering outside the area of the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission (OPDC) as they had earlier requested permission. 
 
However, the Public Assembly Act authorizes officials to make arrests only when a court issues an order to stop the assembly and announces the assembly area as a controlled area; it does not state that officials have the authority to arrest people and then take them inside military camps for talks. When lawyers made inquiries with military officers at the 11 Military Circle, which was where the core members were held, they were notified that the arrests were carried out under the authority of Article 44 (NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015), which allows the arrest and detention of those who violate orders or announcements of the NCPO.

Using the NCPO Order with a broader scope than the Public Assembly Act

According to Article 3 of the Public Assembly Act, enforcement of the Act is exempted within educational establishments and academic assemblies, meetings or seminars of educational institutions or agencies with academic purposes. However, it appears that in many cases state officials have used NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 to restrict activities in educational establishments which the Public Assembly Act does not authorize, such as accusations of violating NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 made against the participants of a Thai studies seminar at Chiang Mai University and the conference on Joint Consideration of whether to Vote Yes or No on the Draft Constitution before the Referendum by the civilian seminar group “citizen forum” at Dusit University. The University cancelled the event, because of fears that it would be within the scope of a political gathering according to NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015.
 
In addition, it was found that claims of authority under NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015 have been made in a confusing way along with court investigations under the Public Assembly Act, as can be seen in the activity “‘Pour out your hearts for Thepha’. About 80 participants went by foot from Thepha District, Songkhla Province, to Rajamangala University of Technology Srivijaya, Mueang District, Songkhla Province, to submit a letter of protest concerning a coal power plant to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. On 27 November 2017 at around 12.00 noon the Songkhla Civil Court was investigating whether the march had acted correctly according to the Public Assembly Act or not, and as long as the court had not ruled that the gathering was unlawful, the police had no authority to use force to break up the march.  But in fact, when approximately 80 Thepha villagers reached the vicinity of Songkhla Rajabhat University by foot, they were faced with a police barrier and were unable to pass.
 
Ekachai, one of the protestors, negotiated with Pol Col Prapat Srianant, Deputy Commander of the Songkhla Provincial Police, and Col Uthit Anantananon, Deputy Commander of the 42nd Military Circle. In one part of the talk, Pol. Col. Prapat told Ekachai not to allow the villagers to continue walking to the city of Songkhla since it was an area where a special person was coming. If the villagers entered, there may be disorder . Col Uthit’s explanation was that “Article 44” had been used to declare the area as a special area. It can be understood that he meant NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015, which came into effect through using the power of Article 44 of the Constitution.

In the case of the ’We Walk friendship walk’ activity on 20 January 2018, the protestors had informed the authorities beforehand and acted completely within the terms of the Public Assembly Act, but police still used force to obstruct them, not allowing the protestors to leave Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus, on foot. The police claimed that the assembly had characteristics that made it political and a violation of NCPO Head Order No. 3/2015. Therefore, it was an unlawful gathering and continuation of the activity was prohibited.  

The pro-election protest at Thammasat University on 24 March 2018 (Photo from Banrasdr Photo)
 

Round UpiLawfreedom of assemblyPublic Assembly ActNCPO Head Order No. 3/2015
Categories: Prachatai English

Amnesty International: Thailand must release Montagnard asylum seekers and refugees immediately

Mon, 2018-09-03 14:20
Submitted on Mon, 2018-09-03 14:20Amnesty International

Amnesty International is alarmed by the detention and treatment of at least 168 Cambodian and Vietnamese asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand, and urges the Thai authorities to release them immediately pending the assessment of their asylum claims. Amnesty International has raised the issue of the treatment and deportation of asylum seekers and refugees with the Thai government in the past1, but regrettably we have seen the absence of concrete improvements in the protection of people seeking asylum in Thailand.

The arrested Montagnard (Photo from Jonathan Head's Twitter)

On 28 August 2018, the Special Branch Bureau, Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), Immigration Bureau, Volunteer Defense Corps, and other agencies under the Ministry of Interior raided a residential complex in Nonthaburi province’s Bang Yai district and arrested at least 168 asylum seekers and refugees – including people from the Montagnard ethnic minority group who have fled from political and religious persecution in Cambodia and Viet Nam – then transferred them to Bang Yai district office. Among those arrested, Amnesty International observed that at least 63 children from the age of three months old to 17 years, and two pregnant women were detained there. Many of the people arrested and detained told Amnesty International that they had been recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and provided their refugee status card to the Thai authorities, while others carried asylum seeker cards. However, arresting authorities claimed there were no UNHCR-recognized individuals.

On the same day, Thai authorities transferred 34 refugees and asylum seekers of Cambodian nationality, including 14 children, to Suan Plu Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok where they risk deportation or indefinite detention. This centre is well known for its horrendous conditions, including but not limited to a poor sanitary environment, lack of medical assistance and excessive overcrowding.

Another 38 refugees and asylum seekers of Vietnamese nationality were then taken to the Provincial Court of Nonthaburi on 29 August to hear their charges of illegal entry and illegal stay under Articles 11, 62 and 81 of the Immigration Act, and were found guilty and sentenced to a 5,000 Baht (approx. 152 USD) fine. The rest of the refugees and asylum seekers were subsequently taken to the Court on 30 August and were sentenced to the same amount of fine. Both groups are currently serving prison term in lieu of fine at Pathumthani Central Detention near Bangkok. Amnesty International notes that, before being taken to court, all parents reported being coerced into signing documents consenting to the separation from their children in a language they do not understand and the content of which they have not been adequately informed.

The 47 Vietnamese children, some of them with health issues that require medical assistance, are currently held in separate locations in Bangkok and its outskirts under the care of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Upon serving the full sentence, all Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers will be transferred to Suan Plu Immigration Centre, where the children will be returned to their parents. All could be detained indefinitely or forcibly returned to Viet Nam.

Children held in these centres are particularly vulnerable to irreversible psychological and physical distress and human rights violations. Placing children in immigration detention is always a violation of their human rights and may amount to cruel and degrading treatment. The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child. The Thai government is primarily responsible for implementing the best interests principle of child protection, set out in Article 3 of the Convention for the Rights of the Child, to which Thailand is a state party. Given the work-in-progress to secure a memorandum of understanding to end all detention of children at immigration detention centres, the current detention of 56 children, including the Cambodian refugee children, at the Suan Plua centre proves more palpable efforts are urgently needed.

Under International law a refugee is a person who has been forced to flee his or her country due to imminent or real threats of persecution, war or violence. Refugees have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons including race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Montagnard is a term loosely used to refer to many Christian ethnic groups living in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands and Cambodia. They are among the most persecuted ethnic groups in Viet Nam, having faced a systematic, ongoing campaign of suppression against their religious and political beliefs. Their displacement and dispossession as a result of land disputes and land acquisitions has also left many with no other choice but to flee to a neighbouring country. In Cambodia, the government refers to Jarai people, one of the Montagnard tribes who live in Cambodia, as an “ethnic minority of Viet Nam”. More than a hundred Vietnamese Montagnards who sought asylum in Cambodia were forcibly returned to Viet Nam2. If returned to Viet Nam, they will face grave risks of being persecuted and imprisoned indefinitely.3

Even though, the Thai government has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, it still has other obligations under International law to comply with the principle of non-refoulement by ensuring that people are not returned to a country where there is a risk of serious human rights violations, and the prohibition on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Thai government has repeatedly violated its obligations under customary international law of non- refoulement. In February 2018, Thailand forcibly returned Sam Sokha, a Cambodian political opposition supporter who fled to Thailand in April 2017 and was recognized as a refugee by UNHCR. She has been imprisoned by the Cambodian authorities since her return. In July 2015, 109 asylum seekers identified as people of the Uighur ethnic group were forcibly returned to China, where they were likely to face severe persecution and possibly torture. The Thai officials also deported Chinese activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping in November 2015 as they awaited resettlement as refugees. A Court in China later sentenced them to six and a half years and three and a half years in jail, respectively.

Despite Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s pledge to develop a national screening mechanism for people claiming asylum in Thailand at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September 2016 and a cabinet resolution to do so issued in January 2017, the Thai government has yet to translate its commitment into practical actions and results.

We urge the Thai authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

• Until such time as the Thai government establishes its own fair and prompt asylum assessment process, support UNHCR to exercise its mandate to conduct refugee status determination for all individuals with asylum claims, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, and ensure all asylum- seekers have access to a full, fair and efficient asylum procedure;
• Ensure that asylum-seekers are only detained as a last resort and when strictly necessary, following an individualized assessment of their humanitarian needs and the risks if they remain at liberty, and for the least amount of time necessary;
• Establish formal alternatives to detention for refugees and asylum-seekers, possibly including regular reporting requirements, bail opportunities or sponsorship;
• Ensure that the children are never detained solely for migration-related purposes, since such detention can never be in the child’s best interests. Halt the forced separation of children from their parents or guardians, in all migration-related circumstances;
• Do not, under any circumstances, return individuals to a country where they face risk of persecution, torture, violence or other serious human rights violations or abuses;
• Accede to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and ensure these instruments in law, policy and practice, including by establishing a national screening mechanism for asylum seekers.

Yours sincerely,
Minar Pimple Senior Director, Global Operations Amnesty International

Endnote
1 Amnesty International, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 28 September 2017 (ASA 39/7031/2017).

2 See more information at Amnesty International, “Cambodia Must Stop Refoulement of Montagnard Asylum Seekers to Viet Nam”, 24 September 2015 (ASA 23/2516/2015) and Amnesty International, “Cambodia: End Refoulement of Montagnard Asylum Seekers”, 4 March 2015 (ASA 23/1126/2015)

3 Amnesty International, “Thailand: Imminent Risk of Deportation of Cambodian and Vietnamese UNHCR- Recognized Refugees”, 23 January 2018 (ASA 23/7778/2018)
 

Pick to PostAmnesty International (AI)Refugeeasylum seekersVietnamCambodiaMinistry of InteriorGen Anupong PaochindaUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
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Call for Government sincerity and transparency in drafting of the National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights

Thu, 2018-08-30 19:11
Submitted on Thu, 2018-08-30 19:11Thai Business and Human Rights Network

Thailand: Call on the Government to be sincere and transparent in the drafting process of the National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights
With Respect to the process and content

We, the Thai Business and Human Rights Network, express our serious concern about the lack of sincerity and transparency displayed by the Thai authorities in the drafting process of the National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights. Although we welcome today’s initiative taken by the Thai government, together with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), UNDP and OHCHR, to host a CSO Consultation on the Draft NAP, we strongly urge the Thai government to ensure transparency in the process of drafting the NAP and sincerity towards the adoption of community input on priority issues, challenges, recommendations and action towards implementation.

The Royal Thai Government, in response to a recommendation during its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2016, committed to developing a National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights by September 2018. In this context, we organised various consultations for the development of an independent shadow national baseline assessment (NBA) between January 2017 and March 2018. At these meetings, we shared concrete recommendations from our organisations and the concerned communities for consideration in the NAP and formed the Thai BHR Network, to collectively engage in the NAP process in line with Manushya Foundation’s strategy to guarantee that voices of local community members and others directly affected by the action of businesses, are at the centre of the NAP. 

However, despite issues repeatedly raised with the Government during the consultations, two successive NAP drafts from the government ignored affected communities, disregarded their key areas of concern, and simply reproduced recommendations claiming they were actions that would aid in the realization of human rights in the business context in Thailand and thus do not reflect our participation in the process or any interest from the government to make an actionable document. More importantly, the Government authorities lately have blocked any efforts for meaningful participation in the process due to communication of information on consultations through unofficial channels or not at all, particularly with respect to the content of draft NAPs, with little to no advance notice to review the draft NAP completely disregarding the contribution of affected communities. Attempts to revise a draft NAP, with omission of challenges faced, absent of clear action steps to implement recommendations, and carried out through a single day consultation fail to remember the importance of a National Action Plan to the Business and Human Rights processes in the country.

We thus call on the Thai government particularly the Ministry of Justice, which is leading the NAP drafting process, to take the following steps in order to guarantee full and effective participation in the process and the drafting of a credible NAP:

  • Ensure information of consultations, particularly the drafts of the NAP, are circulated widely and well in advance so that the concerned communities and civil society groups can provide comments and meaningfully participate in the drafting process.
  • Include representation of the concerned communities and civil society groups in the NAP drafting committee, so as to secure sincere participation and transparency in the process.
  • Undertake additional regional consultations with meaningful engagement of all relevant stakeholders on successive draft NAPs developed, to ensure the formulation of a NAP that addresses all relevant concerns and adopts concrete actions with respect to the actual situation on the ground.

To ensure the participation of concerned communities and civil society groups, we, the Network have released thematic summaries of the independent CSO national baseline assessment on business and human rights developed through consultations with concerned communities and experts that identify priority issues, outline detailed challenges and providing clear actionable steps, to help inform the process. 

The Network strongly demands that Government authorities live up to their claims of having engaged with civil society groups in the NAP drafting process, by creating a space for meaningful engagement with affected communities at the regional level on all successive draft NAPs, by means of a process that accepts feedback through constructive dialogue with sufficient time provided to review each draft NAP. 

We thus urge the government not to approach community engagement just as an exercise to ‘tick a box’ but to empower those who need to be heard by actually engaging them constructively, in order to produce a NAP that responds to the concerns of communities and civil society with concrete actions. While we understand that the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights has to be released by September 2018, it is more important that the process of finalisation of the NAP is not rushed; and that communities, as well as involved government authorities and individuals are educated about the rights and processes of business and human rights to contribute to the development and future implementation of the NAP.

For more information on the community contributions to the independent national baseline assessment of the Manushya Foundation, see the thematic briefs outlining clear challenges, recommendations and actionable steps available at: 
https://www.manushyafoundation.org/new-publications 

About the Thai BHR Network

The Thai Business and Human Rights Network (TBHRN) is an informal, inclusive and intersectional coalition of human rights defenders, community leaders, researchers, academics, and non-governmental organisations from the local, national and regional spheres, who are joining hands to ensure local communities are central to the business and human rights response in Thailand. The Network engages in advocacy, dialogue, and monitoring of business and human rights commitments made by the Royal Thai Government, in particular in engaging in the development and monitoring of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. More information on the TBHRN and its role can be accessed at https://www.manushyafoundation.org/coalition-building-workshop-report 

About Manushya Foundation

Manushya Foundation is an Asia regional foundation promoting community empowerment to advance human rights, social justice and peace through a process of engagement, mobilisation and empowerment. With concern emerging on Business and Human Rights in Thailand, the bottom-up strategy of Manushya Foundation guarantees the empowerment of communities through a process of community led evidence-based research; the development of a national baseline assessment on BHR; and building capacity on BHR knowledge through the TBHRN, a unified national network comprising communities, academics and experts. For further information on the work of Manushya Foundation, visit
https://www.manushyafoundation.org 

The TBHRN campaign for transparency in the law drafting process

 

 

Off the PressLabourbusinessNational Human Rights Commission (NHRC)Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand Must Release Ethnic Minority Refugees, Asylum Seekers: Human Rights Watch

Thu, 2018-08-30 13:44
Submitted on Thu, 2018-08-30 13:44Human Rights Watch Uphold Pledge to End Immigration Detention of Children

(Bangkok, August 30, 2018) – Thai authorities should immediately release 181 ethnic minority refugees and asylum seekers, most with UN refugee status, who were recently arrested, Human Rights Watch said today. Those detained come mostly from the Montagnard population in Vietnam and Cambodia and were arrested on August 28, 2018, on the outskirts of Bangkok.

“Thailand’s frequent claims about improving refugee rights ring hollow when officials detain dozens of families who are protected under the mandate of the UN refugee agency,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These Montagnards face harsh persecution if they are returned to Cambodia and Vietnam, which Thailand should not do under any circumstances.”

In the early morning of August 28, the district chief of Bang Yai district led a team of Ministry of Interior security officers (Or Sor), police, immigration police, and army soldiers to arrest 181 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees and asylum seekers, including over 50 children, at their homes in Nonthaburi province. Officials claimed they were responding to complaints filed by local Thai residents.

Many Montagnards have fled Vietnam to Cambodia and Thailand in recent years to escape religious and political persecution. Cambodia’s ethnic Jarai population, many of whom are Christian, have faced land confiscation and intensifying government pressure after Vietnamese Jarai fled into Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province. 

The arresting officers appeared to have little understanding about Thailand’s obligations to protect refugees. One refugee said: “Many people [officials] come to me to ask why I came here, how I came here, and how much I paid. They asked who helped me to get the [UN refugee agency] card and how much I paid to get the card. Many people were asked about our journey to Thailand … A Thai person [plainclothes officer] said we are here illegally, and we have to comply with the law."

Officers transferred the refugees and asylum seekers to the Bang Yai district office and charged them with illegal entry or illegal stay under articles 11, 62, and 81 of Thailand’s Immigration Act. Representatives from the Thailand office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) traveled to Bang Yai district office to seek the release of all “persons of concern” recognized by UNHCR but were unsuccessful.

Interior Ministry officials at the Bang Yai district office questioned refugees, lawyers, and refugee agency officers about the authenticity of their UNHCR cards. The officers showed little knowledge about refugees, their status, or Thai government obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers, and asked how those arrested could claim they were refugees when there was no war in their home country.

On the evening of August 28, the Thai government sent 34 refugees and asylum seekers with Cambodian nationality to Bangkok’s Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center to await possible deportation. Thai officials took 38 refugees from Vietnam to the Nonthaburi provincial court on August 29 to hear charges against them, but the proceedings were hampered by the failure of the Thai authorities to ensure the presence of a proper Jarai language interpreter to enable the refugees to understand both the charges against them and the court proceedings.

“Prosecuting these refugees and asylum seekers for illegal entry misunderstands their reason for coming to Thailand,” Adams said. “And it raises major concerns they may be sent back to persecution.”

Thailand indefinitely detains refugees and asylum seekers in squalid conditions pending deportation. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requires asylum seekers to be “brought promptly before a judge or other authority” to assess the legal basis for their detention.

Thailand is legally bound to respect the international law principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits states from returning individuals to a country where they may face torture or other serious human rights violations. Non-refoulement is explicitly prescribed by article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture, to which Thailand is a party, and is considered part of customary international law.

In 2016, Thailand announced its commitment to end the immigration detention of children. In January 2017, the Royal Thai Government issued a cabinet resolution that supports passage of a law that would set up a national screening mechanism for asylum seekers. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Thailand ratified in 1992, requires that “the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” The convention also requires “a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights ... instruments.”

“Thailand is violating its international commitments by detaining over 50 children of refugees and asylum seekers,” Adams said. “Their UN refugee status should ensure that none of these families are detained. Thai authorities should release them immediately.”

Pick to PostHuman Rights Watch (HRW)Refugeeasylum seekersethnic minorityUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
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168 refugees, asylum seekers arrested in Nonthaburi

Wed, 2018-08-29 14:53
Submitted on Wed, 2018-08-29 14:53

Nonthaburi authorities have arrested 168 refugees and asylum seekers from Vietnam and Cambodia, even though 154 of them are recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

On 28 August 2018, administrative officers and the Migrant Police in Nonthaburi raided a house in Bang Yai District to arrest 130 Vietnamese and 38 Cambodians. The raid took place at dawn after the authorities received a report that the 168 were connected to human trafficking networks. 60 of the arrested are children. 

Local media have reported that the refugees are illegal migrants who were arrested for not having work permits. But an officer from a refugee rights organisation has confirmed to Prachatai that they are asylum seekers and that 154 out of 168 hold a refugee-status card granted by the UNHCR. 

Most of them are ethnic minorities who are escaping persecution in their home countries due to land and religious conflict. Some remain in the process of obtaining refugee status.

According to the source, 34 out of the 38 arrested Cambodians are recognised by UNHCR. 12 are children, out of which 8 have a UNHCR card. 120 out of 130 Vietnamese have the card, and 43 are children. 3 out of the 10 who do not have the card are children. 

The authorities will detain the Cambodians at Suan Phlu Immigration Bureau, Bangkok, and the Vietnamese refugees will be charged for illegal immigration. Prachatai will provide updates on this case.

According to Jesuit Refugee Service, around 4,000 to 5,000 refugees who are recognised by the UNHCR are living in urban areas in Thailand. Around 3,000 other individuals are requesting refugee status. Another 2,000 either have been denied refugee status or have decided to live without a visa. In total, Thailand has over 10,000 urban refugees. 

The UNHCR card of an arrested
 

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Embattled lèse majesté lawyer released after 16 months in jail

Mon, 2018-08-27 14:26
Submitted on Mon, 2018-08-27 14:26

On 26 August 2018, Prawet Prapanukul, 57, was released from Bangkok Remand Prison after serving a jail term for 16 months. The human rights lawyer was arrested on 29 April 2017 for violating Article 112 of the Penal Code, the royal defamation law.

Prawet faced up to 50 years in prison for posting messages on Facebook that landed him 10 lèse majesté charges and three sedition charges. The Court of First Instance on 27 June 2018 dismissed his royal defamation charges but sentenced him to 15 months in prison for sedition, plus one extra month for refusing to be fingerprinted. 

Prawet’s prosecution is related to the disappearance of the 1932 Revolution Plaque in April 2017. Prawet shared Facebook posts of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an exiled critic of the Thai monarchy, which discussed the controversial issue. On 29 April, soldiers raided his house and arrested him, as well as five other individuals, and detained them at a military camp in Bangkok.

Initially, the military held him incommunicado and he was not allowed to contact anybody. In response, Prawet staged a hunger strike on 30 April. A day later, the authorities allowed him to make a phone call to his friend. That was the first time the public knew about his whereabouts.

In early May, the military transferred the six to the police and pressed lèse majesté charges against five of them for sharing Somsak’s Facebook posts about the missing plaque. The court granted the police custody and rejected their bail requests. But the public prosecutor eventually decided not to indict and released them all, except Prawet.

In July 2017, when the court held a witness hearing for Prawet’s case, Prawet decided to dismiss all his defence lawyers and announced that he did not recognise the court’s authority in the case. He refused to sign all documents and did not call any defence witnesses. The reason he gave was that the Thai justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions.

After his release, Prawet said in an interview that the case is not over yet since the general attorney is appealing the case. He vows to keep fighting the case but will rest for a few weeks.

Prawet Prapanukul (Photo from Facebook Banrasdr Photo)

NewsPrawet PrapanukulArticle 112Lèse-majesté
Categories: Prachatai English

Hiding behind the Language Barrier

Mon, 2018-08-27 12:16
Submitted on Mon, 2018-08-27 12:16Harrison George

There is growing linguistic turmoil in academia.

To understand why, you need to recognize the growing importance of academic publications, both for individual scholars and for educational institutions.

The average workaday university teacher has two major academic responsibilities: teaching and research. 

Good teaching, which you might think was the core competence of a teacher, is difficult to measure in a reliable way.  Student ratings quickly become beauty contests and measuring by exam results can be skewed by the incompetence, or recalcitrance, of the students.

But the other function, research, can be assessed in the form of publications and these easily lend themselves to mathematical manipulation. 

So, by the lazy logic that whatever is easiest to measure automatically becomes the most important thing measured, teachers find themselves faced with publication quotas to fulfil. 

But they not only have to produce so many scholarly articles, they have to get them published in the right places.  An article in a flagship, peer-reviewed international journal obviously carries more weight than something in a home-grown newsletter from the teacher’s own institution, where the distinction between academic research and typing practice can be hard to see.

With the bulk of academic writing now on the internet, the computations become even more refined.  There are apps that will count how many times an academic paper is viewed and downloaded. 

And crucially, there are citation metrics.  These look at how often a research paper is referred to in other books and articles.  The idea is that a seminal work that many later scholars refer to in their research is more valuable than a screed that no one finds particularly useful.

These statistics are used not just by university bosses at contract renewal time, but also by the agencies that publish the rankings of universities that make newspaper headlines.  And boy, does the educational world love league tables.

But a Thai academic looking for promotion, and his institution looking for a boost in the international rankings, both face a language problem.  None of the journals that earn top brownie points publish in Thai.  So scholarly work must either be written in English, or translated into it.  (Journals in languages other than English form a miserly minority in almost all fields.)

Now there is a small minority of Thai acharns who can write with near-native fluency in English, but for many it is a time-consuming process that will necessarily reduce the volume of their output.  More can, with a struggle, produce something in a sort of English that a competent editor can turn into a finished article. 

But many simply can’t write English of a high enough standard, and their only way of getting published in a first-class journal is with the help of a translator who knows English, Thai and their academic field.  Most such people, of course, are academics themselves and are busy trying to pump out their own stuff. 

Competent editors and translators are not just hard to find.  They tend to be expensive.  It is not difficult for a good translator to earn more than a good teacher.

Within a Thai university, this language handicap is fairly evenly spread around, so the jockeying for career advancement is not particularly affected.  But when it comes to comparing Thai universities with the outside world, this language barrier may make them look worse than they really are.

But in another way, it may also be hiding their faults. 

Almost everything written in Thai is curtained off from international scrutiny.  An academic who produces substandard work in Thai is exposed to criticism only from Thai colleagues.  There are precious few non-Thai academics who can or do read scholarly articles in Thai.

In many fields, however, there is this scattering of Thai academics to do publish in English and are measured by international standards.  Their presence tends to ensure that standards in their field, even among Thai language material, do not sink too abysmally low.

But it turns out that there are two academic fields where insularity reigns, because the subject matter is itself Thai.  These are history and language, both of which resonate strongly in nationalist ideology.

Suppose you claim that some spectacularly patriotic episode that is enshrined in the history textbooks never actually happened because the historical evidence simply does not exist.  You will not only find it hard to get a job in a History Department, you could even end up in court.

And suppose that as a fluent speaker of Lao, or Khmer, or Malay, or Karen or any other of the mother tongues of millions of Thai citizens, you apply for Thai citizenship.  Sorry, you still have to learn the Central Thai of the ideological elite.

While there are Thai linguists and historians of international stature, the bulk of academic output in these fields outside of grad school is permeated with a hodgepodge of jingoism, myth and misunderstanding that would rightly earn international ridicule.

Except that it is all in Thai.  So no one knows.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

Alien ThoughtslanguageEnglishThaiacademicNationalism
Categories: Prachatai English

2 volunteer teachers and a tourist from Myanmar arrested in Pattani

Mon, 2018-08-20 19:17
Submitted on Mon, 2018-08-20 19:17

Pattani authorities have raided a classroom to arrest two Burmese volunteer teachers and one tourist who was merely observing the teaching. Authorities said being a volunteer teacher without a permit constitutes an illegal job since receiving a meal is a form of reward. 

On 15 August 2018, officials from the Pattani Immigration Bureau, Fourth Army Region, Tourist Police and Department of Employment, raided the Laem Nok Monastery, Bana Subdistrict, Muang District, Pattani Province, to arrest two female Myanmar migrant workers who had been performing unpaid teaching to more than 80 children of migrant workers. 

The authorities accused the two workers, Than Than Myaing, 43, and Nyein Moh Hlaing, 25, of working without a permit and instructed them to sign a document, written in Thai, which they did not understand. The two were fined 5,000 Baht in exchange of imprisonment. A Myanmar tourist, Htein Lin Aung, 34, who observed the teaching, was also arrested with the same charge. 

They were due to be deported on Monday (20 August 2018) and will be banned from re-entering to work in Thailand for two years. However, their lawyer opposed the deportation so the authorities have detained them at the Pattini Immigration Bureau.

The police case report states that the authorities informed the three about their rights before asking them to sign a document confirming that they pled guilty, adding that all documents and conversation were translated by a Myanmar, Thitar Oo, 31. 

However, Thitar, an advisor to the learning centre at Laem Nok Monastery, argued that the authorities did not inform the three of their rights, and not even read the case report. The authorities merely asked the accused to sign the document.

“[The authorities] just asked them to sign without telling them what rights they have in this case. Sign, pay the fine and then go to the police station,” Thitar said. 

She tried to convince the police to scrap the prosecution, saying that the two worked on a voluntary basis without pay. But the authorities denied, reasoning that meals the two volunteer teachers ate at the monastery constituted a receipt of rewards. 

“I asked what have they done wrong? Is being a volunteer wrong? They said yes. Eating the monastery's meal is also wrong. Rewarding, even though it’s not money, is wrong”, the advisor added.

After the incident, the Migrant Working Group (MWG) and Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) released a joint statement condemning the arrest as an illegal operation. The statement pointed out that one of the workers’ employers attested to the police that the worker is lawfully employed and had asked to take leave from her regular boat-painting job since she is heavily pregnant. 

The monastery has also reaffirmed that the two teachers taught on a voluntary basis while the tourist was only observing the class.

“The operation was evidently illegitimate and unjustified. It has created undeserving traumas to the children in the classroom who had to witness their teachers being arrested and taken away in front of them while leaving both parents and volunteer workers gripped by a wave of fear and anxiety. 

“The operation could signal a strong discouragement to other similar teaching programs in the country and could also pose a negative impact on education opportunities for migrant children as a whole. Without safe access to learning for hundreds of thousands of migrant children, as a result of one erratic action by a group of officials, Thai government’s positive efforts in eliminating child labour and human trafficking could be trampled,” read the statement. 

According to MWG and HRDF, the Laem Nok Monastery has been running a learning centre for children of migrant workers for more than four years. The teaching first started after the community realised that migrant children, who are often left without care when their parents go for work, are susceptible targets of forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. 

With support from community fund-raising, the monastery committee had dedicated a learning space in the monastery for children aged 4-14 to provide them with opportunities to develop their potential, to learn about the languages and cultures of Thailand, as well as their countries of origin. While local businesses helped provide food costs and teaching tools, the teaching itself requires the support of unpaid volunteers and local college students. 

The volunteer teaching program continues with the awareness and approval of government officers and various local government agencies including the Provincial Governor, the District Officer, the Provincial Public Health Office and professors at Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani Campus.

Migrant Working Group and Human Rights and Development Foundation’s demands:

1. The Provincial Immigration Office in Pattani Province must scrap the plan to deport the two workers and the tourist and must release them immediately

2. The Royal Thai Police must set up appropriate and clear procedures for raid operations as well as arrest of migrant workers in accordance with the Royal Decree on Foreigners’ Working Management Emergency Decree B.E. 2561; and ensure that their rights in the judicial system are respected including the right to bail during pre-trial and to right to legal counsel.

3. The Department of Employment, Ministry of Labour must: 

- Establish a clear guideline to ensure standardised measures in inspecting compliance on the work permit and the rights to work prescribed the law
- Review the policy that restricts migrant workers from becoming a paid or unpaid volunteers
 

 

NewsBurmese migrantsmigrant workermigrant labourPattani
Categories: Prachatai English

Driven to Distraction

Mon, 2018-08-20 12:00
Submitted on Mon, 2018-08-20 12:00Harrison George

The concern of the Department of Land Transport for the safety of road users can be gauged by the ‘training’ component in the process of getting a driving licence.  60-70 applicants are seated wall-to-wall in a room to watch an hour-long video.  And to make sure no one skips the ‘training’, the official locks the door on the way out.

If ever there was a fire, it would be a death trap.

The video itself is very informative.  Not about how to drive safely on Thailand’s roads (that seems to have been abandoned as a lost cause) but about how Thai society works.

First is the assumption that ‘training’ is achieved simply by watching a video with no follow-up test of comprehension or even attention.  I am confident that some of my recent co-trainees understood nothing.  The video is in Thai, with (sort of) English subtitles and some in the same training session as me were Chinese speaking foreigners with no English.

In fact, it’s even worse than that.  The assumption is that simply showing a video constitutes effective training, regardless of whether the audience watches it.  There is no official in the room to monitor trainees’ attention, remember.

The video is split into 5-6 sections, each of which is immediately repeated with a shortened version of exactly the same shots.  At the first repetition, attention in the room understandably begins to flag.  By the time we are half way through, despite the sign on the wall warning against the use of mobile phones, the vast majority have their eyes on their own small screens, not the big one.  And of the rest, a good number are quietly dozing.

And there you have the Thai education system in a nutshell.  Learning is simply a matter of time – minutes spent not being trained in front of a video screen, or years spent in school not being taught in front of a teacher and blackboard.  Real intellectual activity, changes in knowledge, behaviour, skills or wisdom, are all irrelevant.  You don’t get through the Thai education system by learning; just by serving time.

Then there are Thai gender roles.  There are 3 main characters in the video.  The slapstick ham actor who will be the bad example and then someone called (using the English word) ‘Smart’ and another called ‘Sweet’.  Guess which is the male and which the female.

The video deals with a traffic rule that I have not been able to find in the Thai Highway Code.  It tells you exactly how high you should lift your hand before bobbing your head as an apology if you should make a mistake while driving that inconveniences other drivers.

Now go on.  Guess who gets to make the mistake and model the correct form of apology.  Smart or Sweet?

While the video is surprisingly skimpy on how you might drive on Thai roads and still live, there is a marked emphasis on driving etiquette.  We are shown, with overacted demonstrations and a slap on the head as reinforcement, not to spit or drop banana peel out of the window.  We are also instructed not to drive through standing water in such a way as to drench pedestrians (though none of the actors were required to demonstrate this; you are shown a roadside puddle and expected to work it out yourself).

But let us just remind ourselves.  The appalling toll in deaths and injuries from car accidents in Thailand has nothing to do with banana skins or water (from any source), but alcohol.  You wouldn’t know this from the video, which is completely silent on the issue of drinking and driving.

Why this preoccupation with driving comportment rather than driving competence?  It seems that the Department of Land Transport lives in fear of road rage – which the video charmingly translates as ‘vendetta’.  (The English translations are so wonky they constitute a distraction in themselves; it takes you a few minutes to realize that by ‘outpacing’, they really mean ‘overtaking’.)

This panic about politeness is related to the fact that Thais have only a limited ability to interact socially with strangers, and once the thin veneer of civility has been breached, it’s a rapid descent into violence as the only way to settle disagreements.  Total inebriation in charge of a moving vehicle, however, is blithely accepted as just one of those things that can happen to all of us, either as perpetrator or victim.

I was ‘trained’; I had my eyesight and my reaction times tested; and I learned to wait 187th in line to get my licence.  But I was never asked to get behind the wheel.

The essential Thai obsession with form over substance. 

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

Alien Thoughtsdriving licencetraining
Categories: Prachatai English

The Duty of the Thai Man: My Trip to Postpone Military Service

Wed, 2018-08-15 11:47
Submitted on Wed, 2018-08-15 11:47Nonthawat Machai

Saturday, 7 April 2018
9.30 pm, Huay Nam Sai village, Phatthalung province

I traveled to Phatthalung this evening. Whenever there are long holidays stretched over several days, I go home to visit my parents. But this trip was to postpone my military service, not for the Songkran [Buddhist New Year] holiday. 

Anyone who has followed my expression of views about military conscription knows that I closely follow ongoing resistance to conscription. This is not because I am still in the period of active postponement of military service and wish to avoid inconvenience or because I fear military conscription. But it is the persistence of a question that I have had since I was younger: why do we conscript soldiers? In search of an answer, I read military history, political philosophy, cultural students and literature. What I discovered is that Thailand does not need a military draft and should switch to a volunteer system. I will save explication of the reasons and details for another time. 

On the way from the Nakhon Sri Thammarat airport to Phatthalung, I thought about the abolishment or changes to the military conscription systems in France, Australia, Germany, England and Italy. The transformations in these countries gives me hope that there is a chance that young people here may be able to succeed in our resistance to military conscription, even if we must try very hard. 

Personally, my favorite is the case of Spain. In 2002, military conscription was ended and a volunteer system put in place after more than two centuries of conscription that began during the reign of King Carlos in the eighteenth century. The reasons, which inspire respect, were that the Spanish Army wished to increase its capacity and become a truly professional army. This kind of thinking is absent from the mindset of the soldiers in the Thai Army. 

The refusal to serve in the military on the basis of one’s conscience (conscientious objector) has been the basis for opposition and the call to end military conscription in many countries around the world. There are conscientious objectors in Thailand, including Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal. During this past year’s book fair, he launched a new book entitled Thailand Has Changed, The Draft Must Change. The tagline on the front cover states that, “I can love my country without having to be drafted.”

Serious and committed opposition to military conscription began many years prior to the 2014 coup. Lively debates were held in public and on television between those whose opposed military conscription and those who supported it. The changing times and changing lifestyles have increased interest but also resulted in the internet becoming the primary site of debate and expression. Although the online world can be powerful, we need diverse kinds of strength to oppose military conscription and build a better society. 

Netiwit simultaneously uses both online and offline tools to take action against conscription very effectively.  He also faces an unrelenting stream of attacks in response to his activism. This indicates the insecurity of the thin-skinned Thai Army with respect to this issue.  Those in the Army itself, who are smart and good-intentioned, are aware that military conscription neither makes it better nor increases its capacity. All it can do is prove and demonstrate that the Army is able to control young people through fear.

I have not yet discussed the corruption present inside the Army that results from the alchemy of the rite of military conscription itself. This corruption comes close to topping the list of the rotten attributes of the Army. The best solution is to abolish military conscription. I believe that it is possible to dispense with many of the problems that result from the rite of military conscription. But tonight I am going to sleep. Tomorrow I must wake at dawn to go postpone my military service. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018
6.25 am, In the truck on the way to the district office

“Pay back the nation. Don’t skip conscription.”

This message was written across the opaque white plastic folder that held my documents for postponement. I flipped the documents this way and that to find out what I needed before I raced to hop into the truck that my older brother had already started. Our home is about 15 kilometers from the district office and so we had a fair amount of time to chat on the drive there. 

My brother picked me up at the Nakhon Sri Thammarat airport the day before and we talked about a good friend of mine also studying at Chiang Mai University. He met my older brother last year when he visited our family and so there was nothing unusual about my brother asking about him. What was unusual is that I have recently followed his taking up of the strategy of what is called “purchasing a disease.” On the way home, I told my brother that this friend submitted the request to postpone his military service late and so had to go home for the selection process this year. 

We talked more about this friend as my brother drove me to the district office to postpone my military service. 
His father is a mayor in a municipality in Nakhon Sawan province and is enormously respected by the people. My friend told me that his family went to great lengths to spare him from military conscription. His story made me very excited. Although I had heard about such efforts, a close friend being involved drew me in and I could not resist thinking about it. Fascinating, thrilling, and shame-filled: all at once. 
I asked him once what he thought about military conscription. He answered unwavering by asking, 

“…Do we still live in a time in which we must serve the nation with our strength, labor, and violence? Is it true that our nation lacks personnel to protect the nation? If serving the ‘nation’ means serving society and  serving the common good, is there no better way to do so than this? If serving the ‘nation’ means serving the institution and power of the military, or the interests of those in some groups, then my refusal is instant. During the process of selection, I felt utterly depressed and cried in secret many times. Military conscription is not something one should be forced into. It is the violation of one’s opportunities, time, and humanity. There should be a way for us to get more out of life …”

I further pressed him and asked why did you choose to “throw money” [at the problem] to get out of military conscription?
He answered that, “…This is what my family was able to do to free me from the snare and the accompanying risk. I felt thwarted, frustrated. I felt especially frustrated with the situation on the day of the actual selection. I am sympathetic to those who did not have the choice that I had and I know that what we did was cheating. But if you ask me to choose on the basis of risk. I could not withstand it if I had to risk being a soldier. I would feel even more uneasy than this…” He still has my respect because he is aware that the military conscription system forced him into this choice. His family paid 55,000 baht and he received “blepharoptosis” in return. 

“Has a physical abnormality” was written on the selection card. 

I arrived at the district office at the same time as a military policeman called for people to line up to pledge allegiance to the national flag. I ran and rushed to get in line immediately. One must line up behind the sign for one’s sub-district. This district has four sub-districts. There were five lines in total, because there was an additional line for “postponement.” I raced to get into that line. Officers stood abreast and the unit doctor, wearing a different uniform, stood to the side. A sign above my head stated, “Military Conscription Selection Unit, Pa Phayom district, Phatthalung province.”

After the pledge of allegiance to the national flag, the officers and the unit doctor went off to perform their usual duties. The unit commander stepped forward and read the 2018 annual message from General Prawit Wongsuwan, the minister of defense. Then the selection unit spokesperson came to explain the steps in the military conscription process. Next, they divided those who were possible conscripts from those who were postponing service for convenience in verification of documents. Those who were entering the selection process took their shirts off and waited to be called by name and sub-district. I and others who were postponing our entrance into the process got in line to make the request and have our documents examined. Then we could go home. The primary documents I had to use were my citizen ID card and the summons for military service saved from last year’s postponement. 

While waiting for my name to be called for document verification and to be fingerprinted, I sat and read the information on the back of the So. Kho. 35 form (the summons to military service). The following warnings were listed: 

  1. When one receives the summons to provide military service, if you think that it is appropriate to receive an exemption or a postponement for any reason, bring the evidence to show to the selection committee on the selection day prior to the lottery. In instances in which there is no lottery, bring the evidence before the date stipulated to report to the unit. Otherwise, you will be deemed to no longer have the right to receive an exemption or deferral. 
  2. If one is to request a deferral on the basis that one must support one’s father and mother because they are disabled or elderly to the degree that they cannot make a living and there is no one else to care for them, or one must support one’s child whose mother has died or lacks the ability to do so or is disabled,  or it is necessary for one to support one’s younger siblings from the same parents or half-siblings of either the same father or mother, in which the mother and father are dead or are self-employed and the profit or loss is truly theirs, tax and duty is paid, and it is less than the amount set for that occupation in the ministerial regulation, inform the district officer at least thirty days before the selection day and petition the selection committee as noted in 1 above as well. 
  3. On the day stipulated for selection, bring one’s reserve force certificate, your diploma or evidence of any other study to show to the selection committee.
  4. Those who evade or defy the selection committee in order to not provide military service are guilty of violation of Article 45 of the 1954 Military Service Act and may be imprisoned for up to three years. 
  5. Regarding this summons to provide military service: If one is a passenger on a train, one must carry the summons to present to railway employees for inspection at all times. 

I overheard a phuan [friend] sitting nearby complain that, “So, I have to carry this summons with me when I take the train? Do I also have to carry it if I get on a plane?” I nearly burst out laughing because I did not think anyone else would have the same sense upon reading it, and would say it out loud to boot.

The selection of conscripts proceeds according to the following steps. At Table No. 1, a committee member calls the name of the selection subject. At Table No. 2, a physician assesses the bodily state of the selection subject. A registrar will separate the subjects into four groups: A) Healthy; B) Not as healthy as A), but not disabled; C) Those who have been in an accident or have a disease that will not heal within 30 days; and D) Physically disabled or have a disease exempting them from military service. At Table No. 3, the measuring table, a committee member will measure the height and body width of the selection subject.

It took me approximately 15 minutes to postpone and then I could go home. I come from a small district with few people and so the process is relatively quick. The process to select conscripts takes approximately one full day. Many nongs [younger brothers or friends] from my village had to face the selection process this year. The all came up to greet me. We all ran and played together as children and now the times when I come home and we can all meet up are few and far between. 

Many nongs are not able to study. They left school before completing the first half of high school to help out at home. They did not have the opportunity to complete the Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC) and so do not have the right to postpone military service like me. Upon reaching age 21, they have to unconditionally face military conscription. I could only embrace them and whisper, “I cheer you on,” even though I know that their fates will be no different than those of baby chicks in the fists of power-crazed people. Squeezed to death. They are entirely unable to determine their own fates and futures. They must go through this rite before making any future plans.  Their futures must wait until they are free of the Thai Army’s extortion of their blood and flesh in the name of the state, civic duty and various other Thai state-endorsed good intentions bestowed upon them by the Thai state. Even though I will soon pass through the same rite, I possess some negotiating power. Their future is determined by the Thai Army in the name of all of us who allow conscription to continue under the banner of “the duty of the Thai man.”

Tuesday, 10 April 2018
3.30 pm, Up in the air between Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Bangkok

 
I was busy all day yesterday and had no time to look for the answers to my lingering questions. I searched on the Ministry of Defense website for the full version of General Prawit Wongsuwan’s message read by selection commanders across the country during the pledge of allegiance to the national flag as I sat waiting at the airport for my flight. The phrase, “the duty of the Thai man,” was repeated so many times that it was stuck in my head for two days. I was disappointed when I searched the Ministry of Defense website and could not find it. Too bad I did not catch all of the details when I heard it myself. 

People walk in waves in the airport. The smell of movement. Existence and the meaning of everything. We are in constant motion. I sat and mulled over the question of why the duty and meaning of being a Thai man is still bound up with being a soldier. I remembered where I was again only when the waitress bought me my cold espresso. 

I did locate the words of a public relations spokesperson from one university who proclaimed that, “… the selection of military conscripts to provide military civil service, or what is commonly referred to as military conscription, is annually set by the Ministry of Defense for April (1-11 April). Each potential conscript must present himself on the day, time and location specified in the summons, He must bring the various kinds of documentation, including the military conscription form (So. Kho. 9 form), the summons (So. Kho. 35 form), citizen ID card, and diploma or other evidence of education. If the potential conscript fails to appear, this constitutes evasion or mutiny and is a crime punishable with up to three years imprisonment. Every man who goes through the conscription selection process will receive attestation of doing so (So. Kho. 43 form), or what is often called the military service exemption form …”

Before returning to Chiang Mai, I chatted with five nongs who went through the process this year. One decided to drop out of university and apply to enlist because he wants to be a soldier. Another is not in school and his wife is four months pregnant. He lucked out and selected a black card. The image of him running all-out to embrace his wife still brings a smile to my face. I don’t want to think about what  the life of his little child would be like if he had drawn a red card. Another is a kathoey [male-to-female transgender person] who is well-known throughout the district. She called for cheers when she went up to select a card. A few seconds later, she cried out and fell to the ground because she picked a red card to be stationed with the army in Pattani.  But laughter once again emerged from those crowded around and watching the process. Everyone with whom I spoke was thoughtful. I am very happy for those who want to be soldiers and have the opportunity to do so.

At the same time, I am endlessly sorry for those who do not want to be soldiers but must because to not do so is a violation of the law.
The website of the Ministry of Defense stipulates that, “…The duty of every Thai man is to perform military service.  Serving the nation as a soldier is honorable and sacred because the Thai Army will train those who perform military service to be orderly and disciplined. Every conscript will train for an occupation and will acquire various kinds of knowledge that will be of great use and value. Military conscription generally takes place every April and those selected must serve for two years. There are exemptions and deferrals for those who studied ROTC or those who have achieved the levels of education stipulated in the Military Service Act or ministerial regulations…”  

I closed my computer and boarded the plane following the airline’s announcement. I was still stunned by what I had seen during the postponement process and could not do anything as I wished. All I could do is go over what happened and ask myself, “How will we resist military conscription?” I will persist with the idea that there are many ways to fulfill one’s duty as a Thai man. 

This is one of the goals of my life.
 
About the author: Nonthawat Machai (นลธวัช มะชัย) is a member of the Lanyim Group and a drama student at Chiang Mai University (CMU). In the middle of 2017, he became a defendant in case of violation of Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558. The case, known as the “An academic conference is not a military barracks” case, arose from activism at the International Thai Studies Conference in July 2017. At present, he is continuing his studies at CMU and working at the Northern People’s History Centre at Khruu Angun Malik’s House (Suan Anya), Chaiwana Foundation, Chiang Mai.

Originally published in Thai by Prachatai: หน้าที่ของชายไทย: บันทึกจากการเดินทางไปผ่อนผันทหาร

Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.

Photo from Army PR Center
 

Opinionconscriptmilitary conscriptionarmy military
Categories: Prachatai English

Life of people with mental illness behind bars

Tue, 2018-08-14 19:50
Submitted on Tue, 2018-08-14 19:50‎Kritsada Subpawanthanakun‎

15 years ago, Chit (alias) used a homemade rifle to shoot his sleeping stepfather in the head. Chit’s stepfather had looked after him since he was 2 years old and loved him like his own son. There were no disagreements between them. Chit shot his stepfather because he wanted to help him. He saw flashing lights near his stepfather’s head and he wanted to chase them away. At that time, he really believed that he should have done what he did. After Chat (alias) took Chit to turn himself in, he was held in prison for almost 2 years while the case made no progress, and no relatives wanted to bail him out.

In Chit’s case it is clear that he is ill. Article 65 of the Criminal Code allows offenders to receive no punishment or lesser punishment than is prescribed by the law. Nevertheless, we cannot allow anyone to use illness as an excuse without examination. Galya Rajanagarindra Institute is a psychiatric hospital whose main role is treating forensic psychiatric patients, which means people with mental illness involved in legal procedures or social justice, and so has the duty of proving whether the alleged offender is really ill or pretending to be sick (malingering) by relying on an interdisciplinary team consisting of psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.

The 5 professions operate step by step, through continuous cooperation, information exchange and consultation, for example, by collecting information on psychiatric patients from many sources, closely observing their condition, and using psychological tests to evaluate if they are pretending to be ill or not.

When Chat, the closest bother to Chit, started to understand that his little brother’s actions stemmed from illness and were not intentional, he studied the law and took legal action to pull his brother out of prison for treatment. It would take many more years before the court allowed Chit to receive treatment in hospital and be under his care, until his condition improved so that he could return to fight his case in the justice system.

One important duty of the interdisciplinary team that looks after psychiatric patients is to provide treatment and therapy so that the patients are able to go back into the justice system, because if their condition does not improve, the accused or defendant does not have the ability to fight their case. They will be stuck like that. Or if they have no relatives to bail them out, they will become prisoners on remand in jail until the time allowed to bring charges runs out. Therefore, getting psychiatric patients back into the justice system as quickly as possible is also a way to protect their rights.

Chit received continuous treatment until in 2016 the court eventually gave its verdict. Chit was guilty, but with reason for mitigation – his sentence was suspended for 3 years. Meanwhile he has to report to the court every 3 months. Chit’s case is resolved, but going back home has more details than that.

“Don’t play near their house. If he comes back he’ll shoot you. He’ll kill you.” Chat hears these words from people in the community so often he has become used to it. It wasn’t unexpected and he understands the community’s fear, wariness and dissatisfaction towards Chit who killed his own stepfather by shooting him while he was sleeping. Being a “crazy person” isn’t a mark that can be easily erased.

It is also the interdisciplinary team’s duty to rehabilitate patients so that they can return to their communities. The team has to make preparations right in the community, including the community leaders, local public health officials, the patients’ families, the patients themselves, as well as the victims of violence and the victim’s families. This means, for example, creating knowledge and understanding of the patients’ psychological condition, not provoking the patients, observing the symptoms, and treating and curing the victims’ fears. In some cases it is found that someone in the patients’ families are also mentally ill. In these cases the team has to coordinate with the local authorities to provide treatment to the newly discovered patients too, to prevent these conditions from having an effect. In other words, it is an exploration and preparation of various resources in the psychiatric patients’ locality so that they can return to the community.

A study of the prevalence of mental health issues and psychiatric illness among prisoners by the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute collected statistically random data from 600 detainees, 520 males and 80 females, from 10 prisons and penitentiaries across the country with various security levels. The data was collected from April to August 2017. Results revealed a total of 274 detainees (45.67%) had mental health issues and psychiatric illnesses, 246 males (47.31%) and 28 females (35%). The three most prevalent illnesses are alcohol and drug addiction (29.83%), risk of suicide and depression (both 15.83%).

Note that the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute survey is considered to be the latest, and is a “statistical” survey, something that we should be aware of at all times. The latest figures given to us by Thepsuda Fumueangpan, an expert clinical psychologist of the Department of Corrections, come from officials treating and collecting statistics on psychiatric patients and medicinal prescriptions from 1 to 30 April 2018. Results show that there are 3,947 detainees who are mentally ill. The data was collected from 130 of the 142 prisons under the Department of Corrections. These figures are not categorized by diagnosis. 

Thepsuda talked about the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute’s high figure of 45.67% of detainees in the country that are suffering from mental health issues and psychiatric illnesses.

“This number is weighted heavily to the problem of drug addiction, with other psychiatric issues in descending order. I think this number is possible, because detainees use fairly large amounts of drugs and addictive substances. In some prisons we may find groups of remand prisoners who are in for less than one year, still having issues concerning drugs and addictive substances, but when we look at prisoners with long sentences who have been inside for a long time, the illnesses we find are different.”

According to the Department of Corrections, all remand detainees must go through a mental health screening process using an evaluation set by the Department. The test includes a mental health evaluation for Thai detainees, depression and suicide assessment evaluation/screening and a mental illness screening, but they are not able to screen out patients 100% since there are many factors that allow loopholes. For example, mental symptoms that are hard to discover, the lack of proficiency of the personnel that do the screening, and the overcrowding in prisons, which is a chronic problem for Thai prisons, only make screening and treatment more difficult.

In addition, psychiatric symptoms are another factor why referrals to doctors are delayed. For example, if there are 4 detainees waiting to be taken to hospital, and the first has cancer that requires radiation therapy, the second needs kidney haemodialysis, the third needs surgery and the fourth is a psychiatric patient that has to be examined and prescribed medicine, when they are ranked by level of urgency, the psychiatric patient will be placed last. In some large prisons, sometimes 10 detainees have to be taken to hospital each day and have to stay overnight, such as for surgery that requires patients to be hospitalized for at least 7 days. This means other sick detainees have to have their appointments pushed back because there are not enough officers to escort prisoners to hospital since there must be 2 officers to look after 1 detainee outside prison. This is a consequence of prison overcrowding and the insufficient number of officers.

Presently, the Department of Corrections has a total of 1 psychiatrist posted at the Correctional Hospital. There are 29 psychologists: 7 stationed at the Department of Corrections, 3 stationed at the Correctional Hospital and the other 19 spread out in different areas. In total there are 30 public health psychiatric personnel, in comparison to about 300,000 prisoners. This means 1 person has to look after 10,000 prisoners.
With the overcrowding of prisons and limited resources, the system in place to look after psychiatric patients cannot move forward efficiently.
According to the testimony of Jib (alias), a former detainee in one of the female prisons in Bangkok, when she was in prison, the zone she was kept in was where they kept patients whose conditions were not too severe, the elderly that cannot take care of themselves, crazy people (her word) and those whose sentences are lighter than 5 years. Psychiatric patients that are suffering from depression or others that do not make trouble are allowed to stay with other prisoners, distributed across different sleeping cells at about 3 people per cell. Psychiatric patients that make trouble, harm others or make loud noises have a separate sleeping cell. In Jib’s sleeping block there are about 27 such psychiatric patients isolated together in another cell, where about 10-12 people can sleep.

Regarding the steps for psychiatric patients to access medicine, Jib said that you first need to inform the “cell mother” (mae hong) or the head of the sleeping cell. The cell mother will then write up a request. Officers stationed in that zone read the requests and call for you to speak with them. If they see that you should be sent to hospital, you will be sent. After that you’ll have to wait for a psychiatrist to examine you. Jib says they sometimes come, sometimes they don’t. If you are able to see a psychiatrist and are diagnosed as sick, you’ll be able to access medicine. However you need to wait about 3 more days for the medicine, then you’ll have to take the medicine for forever, or if you think you’re getting better and want to stop taking the medicine, you have to write up a request again according to the same procedure.

“It’s not good. For me, having them here is fun,” Jib expressed her opinions on the treatment of psychiatric patients in prison. “But is it fair for them? It’s not fair. And in jail there are many fights. Those that aren’t crazy are always fighting for power anyways, but the crazy ones don’t have that same patience. There are also those that like to tease, bully, and provoke. For these people, when they do something wrong they have to take stronger medicine, but it didn’t happen because of them. It happened because others provoked them. But the prison decides to increase their dose, and makes the provokers clean up. I think that increasing their medicine affects their whole body. There is also only one type of medicine, sedatives. It makes you drowsy. No matter what illness they have, they take the same medicine. Once they take it, they’ll feel sleepy and go to sleep so that they won’t cause any more trouble.

“Those that were crazy on the outside should receive proper treatment. I don’t know what process they should use to get them into psychiatric hospitals, get treatment first, then receive their sentence. But it’s not very fair. After all they’re crazy, how would they get better if they receive treatment like this?”

These were Jib’s opinions towards psychiatric patients that commit crimes and end up in prison. This is a large gap in the system. Article 36 of the Mental Health Act B.E. 2551 (2008) states ‘Under Article 14 Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Procedure Code, treatment centres shall accept the accused or defendant for control and treatment without the need for the consent of the accused or the defendant until the accused or defendant is cured or recovered enough to defend their case, except where the investigating officer or court has issued an order or the law prescribes otherwise.’ 

The law uses the word ‘until the accused or defendant is cured or recovered enough to defend their case’. This has 2 problems. The first is that detainees do not receive treatment in treatment centres all the time, but switch between prison and treatment centre. While they are in prison, is the treatment effective enough to cure the prisoner and reduce the symptoms enough to quickly return to court to fight the case? The second issue is if the detainee’s illness cannot be cured in any way (not to mention improvement), then how will they return to the judicial process?

The law only specifies ‘cure’ and ‘recovery’ sufficient to fight the case in court, but does not say what to do if they cannot return to court.  
“There was one person called Grandma Prapha. The court said that she was crazy but they didn’t take her for treatment at a psychiatric hospital. They left her in prison and forgot about her, with no verdict and no date of release set, since she is still no better. But she shouldn’t be in prison. If the court says she has to be treated, the prison must send her to hospital, not put her in prison,” Jib said.

Thepsuda said that in the Detainees Fight Cases project, it is found that there are patients held in prison up to 10, 20 years but still unable to fight the charges against them, even though if they had been able to defend themselves, they would have already been released. The statistics of the Department of Corrections found that detainees that have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years on average will in fact stay in prison for about 10 years due to reductions of sentence, parole or pardons. To receive these privileges, they must be convicted prisoners with fixed sentences. However, psychiatric patients that have not recovered and are unable to fight their cases in court have no way to receive these privileges.

The Department of Corrections is aware of this situation and is trying to find a solution by, for example, creating the Tele Medicine system or receiving medical advice through long-distance communication, pairing prisons and local hospitals, or moving detainees to prisons near psychiatric hospitals, etc.

The study by the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute suggests that the efficiency of screening and the skills of nurses, officers and volunteers to evaluate preliminary mental health illness should be increased, volunteers should be trained to help observe and monitor symptoms, and an accurate and up-to-date database shared between the Department of Corrections and Department of Mental Health should be created for the continuous care of patients before, during and after imprisonment.

Psychiatrist Kamonchanok Montasevee of the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute said that personally, she sees that the problem of psychiatry in prisons is something people rarely think about. Imprisonment is a punishment. But at the same time, patients have the basic human right to receive treatment which increases safety for the patients and society.

“But society’s attitude is that prison is a place where evil people gather, and that’s it. Everybody is happy, but then they forget that it’s a twilight land.  In fact it is a correctional facility. It changes those that have wronged to become good again, and cures their behaviour; it is a long-term solution to create no more risk, but these kinds of thoughts do not occur to Thai people.”

Prison overcrowding of puts pressure on every part of life behind bars; food and eating, bathing, sleeping. In some prisons that are very crowded, you can only sleep on your side or insert yourself into free spaces between others with your feet together head-to-toe. If you wake up to go to the toilet, your sleeping place will disappear. In crowded cells there are one or two toilets without doors. During unlucky days or nights, if the water is not flowing or not enough, in a stuffy or freezing room, 14 hours a day, without even a book to read, with violence inside which officers aren’t able to fully control, and many other things, whether you were sick or not before, life behind bars is always ready to push you into madness or become even madder than before.

And then the budget and staffing are out of line with the number of detainees. Each prison doesn’t have many choices to improve the work system and internal environment. So looking after detainees that are mentally ill mainly becomes passive care.

Kritaya Archavanitkul, coordinator of the project aiming to develop a health security system for detainees in Thai prisons says “Overcrowding is a basic problem of all prisons in Thailand. It is the most basic of problems.”

About 80% of detainees are inside because of the Narcotics Act. Therefore, amending the law, creating alternatives to imprisonment, decriminalizing some drug offences, separating drug users and sellers, etc. are the first doors that will help solve Thai prison problems.
However, the largest key keeping these doors locked is Thai society’s attitude towards drugs.
 

Highlightprisonmental illnessDepartment of Corrections
Categories: Prachatai English

Court seizes redshirt’s bank account, farmland to compensate Army

Tue, 2018-08-14 17:10
Submitted on Tue, 2018-08-14 17:10

A redshirt, who nearly lost his arm during the 2009 crackdown, has pleaded for leniency after the court confiscated his land and bank account, with less than 5,000 baht in balance, to compensate the Royal Thai Army. 

On 10 August 2018, Sawai Thong-om and his lawyer submitted a petition at the Government House asking for exemption from court fee and attorney’s fee of 212,114 baht in the lawsuit Sawai brought against the Royal Thai Army. 

Sawai was a victim of the 2009 armed crackdown on the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, also known as the red-shirt movement. He was severely shot at the left arm, making it nearly paralysed ever since, so he and another victim subsequently sued the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Chief of Defence Forces Gen Songkitti Jaggabatara and the Royal Thai Army for 2,856,538 baht as compensation.

Sawai said that after being shot, he could not use his left arm properly and eventually got fired from his job. Another victim, Sanong Phanthong, who was shot at the right leg and lost his job after the incident, also asked for a compensation of 2,245,205 baht. The defendants had to pay both victims 5,102,743 baht in total.

Sawai shows his wound

On 21 June 2011, the Civil Court ruled the case in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered the defendants to pay them Sawai and Sanong 1,200,000 baht and 1,000,000 baht respectively, plus 7.5 interest rate per year. 

The Court of Appeal, however, reversed the decision and dismissed the case, reasoning that the authorities who operated in the crackdown did not carry a 9mm pistol, a weapon that fired the bullet at the plaintiffs. In October 2016, the Supreme Court confirmed the verdict by the Court of Appeal and ordered Sawai and Sanong to repay court fee and attorney's fee to the Army. The court, in January 2017, also appointed the Legal Execution Department to confiscated the plaintiff’s property. 

Sawai told Prachatai that the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives had already confiscated his account, which had only 4,479 baht in balance, and the Legal Execution Department had confiscated eight rai of his land (1 rai is approximately equal to 0.4 acres), which is worth more than 460,000 baht. 

He added he feels like a disable people since some bullet shreds remain in his left arm, making it badly paralysed. The wound prevents him from doing heavy labour jobs, and all he has was a little farmland, but now it has been confiscated. 

Sawai shows his pictures after being shot

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Categories: Prachatai English

In Search of Maritime Grand Strategy: Thailand’s Fisheries Policy under the Military Rule

Tue, 2018-08-14 13:45
Submitted on Tue, 2018-08-14 13:45Thapiporn Suporn

Thai governments, for decades, have never treated the problem of forced labors and other serious allegations against its billion-dollar fishing industry as its primary concerns. Worse still, since the coup in 2014 Thailand’s ruling junta has constantly faced the mounting pressure at home and abroad. Portrayed as a repressive authoritarian regime, the tasks for reconstituting the image of Thailand as well as resolving the junta’s crisis of legitimacy are of paramount importance, overshadowing the efforts to eliminate modern-day slavery in Thai fisheries. These growing problems need to be urgently addressed. Without doubt, Thailand is in quest of maritime grand strategy.

John Lewis Gaddis, world-renowned Yale historian, defined grand strategy as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” (Gaddis, 2018, p. 21) Although grand strategy may be widely employed in the realm of war and statecraft, but grand strategy, as Gaddis argued, “need not apply only to war and statecraft: it’s potentially applicable to any endeavor in which means must be deployed in the pursuit of important ends.” (Gaddis, 2009, p. 7) In applying the concept of grand strategy to the case of Thailand’s fisheries, the author raises one important question: does Thailand have a grand strategy? 

Thailand is one of the largest fish and seafood exporters, especially in shrimp and tuna products. Both fisheries and seafood sectors greatly contributed to the economy of Thailand, with approximately USD$ 6.5 billion worth of total export revenue in 2016 (Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2016), equivalent to almost 9 percent of agricultural output. (Department of Fisheries, 2017) However, the industry has faced many setbacks and challenges, particularly the sharp rise in oil prices resulting in the increasing expenses for the companies, the economic slowdown of Thailand’s trading partners as well as the overfishing and overcapacity of Thai fleets. But the real conundrum is the prevalence of forced labors, making the Kingdom the target of scrutiny. 

From the Guardian’s exposé on modern-day sea slaves in Thai-flagged vessels, to the Kingdom’s downgrade in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and the EU’s ‘yellow card’ warning, Thailand needs to strive hard to clear its name. By rolling out comprehensive reform roadmaps, Thailand’s junta has made some progress on tackling the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Nonetheless, imposing a self-proclaimed IUU-free policy would not bring about a change.

The 2018 report of Human Rights Watch has pointed out that human trafficking and brutalization of migrant labors, mostly Burmese and Cambodian, on Thai fishing fleets still have not yet been solved. (Human Rights Watch, 2018) In a similar vein, according to the Greenpeace’s major investigation, the Thai billion-dollar seafood companies have continued to reap benefits while turning a blind eye to the continuing labor violations in the industry.  (Greenpeace, 2018) 

On the one hand, Thai-flagged vessels have been encouraged to operate in isolated and unpoliced waters thousands of miles away from the Kingdom, partly because of the depletion and overexploitation of fish livestock in Thailand’s neighboring waters. On the other hand, the more crucial factor spurring Thai fleets to do so is the strict implementation of new fisheries law in the main fishing ports in the country. Unlike the overhyped ‘Thailand 4.0’ and ‘Thailand-20-year-national-strategy,’ Thai government has introduced new frameworks for reforming Thai fisheries industry in all dimensions, for prime example, a fisheries traceability system, a monitoring, control and surveillance, and the development of catch certification system. These mechanisms had led to some considerable progress in promoting the industry to be in accordance with international standards. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018) Nonetheless, the working conditions of forced labors still have not been significantly improved. 

Currently, there is no official record of how many workers are enslaved in Thai vessels. However, some believed that the number of kidnapped and unregistered workers could rise up to 200,000 people. Ironically, in 2015 Thai authorities declared that they could not “identify a single case of forced labor” from 474,334 fishery workers. (Human Rights Watch, 2018, p. 1) Doubtless, the junta-installed administration can be able to freely exercise the powerful section of Article 44 to deal with the problem, as Prime Minister Prayuth himself once remarked. However, the critique on the country’s shortcomings in its fisheries monitoring persists. Ultimately speaking, Thailand has apparently focused mostly on its immediate goals: to receive a better recognition chiefly from the European countries. As the European Union has been considered as one of the top trade partners of Thailand, if the ‘red card’ were issued, it would trigger significant economic repercussions to Thai economy. Thailand would be banned from exporting fishery products, worth over USD$ 700 million, to the EU market. 

These theatrical exercises undertaken by the junta to satisfy the EU not only Thailand’s grand strategic deficit but also the mentality of Thai military leaders in what General George C. Marshall termed as theateriris – “the tendency of military commander to concentrate at the needs of their own theater of operation and not at the requirements of fighting the war as a whole.” (Gaddis, 2009, p. 16) 

Ideally speaking, Prayuth Chan-O-Cha administration, should consider the forced labors and other right abuses as the core interest of Thailand and join hands with Southeast Asian countries and external great powers to develop better equipped and sustainable practices to meet the international criteria. Their endeavors will go down in history. Besides, the administration should look beyond its theateriris– the “cosmetic reforms.” (Buakamsri, 2017, p. 9) at home and abroad– and embrace a vision of quarterback which, as Gaddis put it wisely, possesses “the ability to see all the parts in relation to the whole.” (Gaddis, 2009, p. 16) 

Regrettably, it is impractical for Thailand, a country stuck in a seemingly endless political contestation, to attain such substantive transformation. This political constraint will undoubtedly hamstring the country’s aspiration to become a regional leader in tackling the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. 

It can be concluded that without a grand strategic vision, the brutalization and slave labors in Thai fishing industry will be, once again, swept under the carpet. Thailand’s return to civilian democratic government appears to be, more or less, the decisive factor for Thailand’s fishing industry in the long run if the country wants to promote sustainable fishing and regains its international recognition. 

About the author: Thapiporn Suporn teaches International Relations at the School of International Affairs, Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University. 

Photo from https://shiptoshorerights.org/

About the author: Thapiporn Suporn teaches International Relations at the School of International Affairs, Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University. 

Works Cited 
BUAKAMSRI, T. 2017. Major change for the Thai and global seafood industry. Bangkok Post.
DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND COOPERATIVES. 2017. The Situation of The Fisheries Economy in The First Quarter of 2017 and The Tendency of The Second Quarter of 2017 [Online]. Available: https://www.fisheries.go.th/strategy/UserFiles/files/20-9-60(1).pdf [Accessed].
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANISATION. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture [Online]. Available: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf [Accessed 25 July 2018].
GADDIS, J. L. 2009. What Is Grand Strategy? American Grand Strategy After War. Triangle Institute for Security Studies and Duke University Program on American Grand Strategy.
GADDIS, J. L. 2018. On Grand Strategy, London, Penguin.
GREENPEACE 2018. Turn the Tide: Human Rights Abuses and Illegal Fishing in Thailand’s Overseas Fishing Industry Auckland: Greenpeace New Zealand.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2018. Hidden Chains: Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry New York: Human Rights Watch.
MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS. 2018. Thailand is preparing to declare the IUU-free Thailand [Online]. Available: http://www.mfa.go.th/europetouch/th/news/8359/90093-Thailand-is-preparin... [Accessed 5 July 2018].

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