NHRC no longer complies with Paris Principles, must lose status in United Nations forums

An Open Letter to the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for Human Rights by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

 

Jennifer Lynch
Chairperson
International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
c/o Canadian Human Rights Commission
344 Slater Street, 8th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1E1,
CANADA


 

Dear Ms. Lynch

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you to request an immediate review of the status of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Thailand on the basis that it no longer complies with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions on Human Rights (The Paris Principles) and must be downgraded so that it is unable to participate in the United Nations.

As you will be aware from the contents of three previous open letters that the AHRC addressed to the Senate of Thailand and copied to you (AHRC-OLT-012-2009; AHRC-OLT-013-2009; AHRC-OLT-015-2009), the Senate was to vote on the seven nominees to the commission on last Friday, May 1. Regrettably, the Senate proceeded with the vote and all seven of the nominees were approved for appointment as commissioners.

It is the opinion of the AHRC that the selection and composition of this NHRC fails in every respect to comply with the Paris Principles, specifically, section 1 of the principles on composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism, which reads that:

"The composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members, whether by means of an election or otherwise, shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights, particularly by powers which will enable effective cooperation to be established with, or through the presence of, representatives of: (a) Non-governmental organizations responsible for human rights and efforts to combat racial discrimination, trade unions, concerned social and professional organizations, for example, associations of lawyers, doctors, journalists and eminent scientists..."

None of the components of this section have been complied with in the selection and appointment of the seven new commissioners, for reasons given as follows.

1. Procedure for nomination and appointment did not afford any necessary guarantees to ensure pluralist representation.

The selection process was delayed since 2007 as a case was pending in the courts (Supreme Administrative Court Black Case No. 54/2551, Red Case No. 830/2551) seeking the appointment of new commissioners even though a new law governing NHRC activities had not been readied in accordance with the Constitution of Thailand BE 2550 (2007). After the court issued a verdict allowing appointment of new commissioners without the revised law, the process of selection and appointment was rushed through in March and April 2009 without any publicity and amid political turmoil and violent unrest. One week was given for applicants to the new commission to submit their documents (March 14-20), and another week purportedly given for public comment (April 20-27).

In fact, no effort was made to publicize the process of selection and appointment to the commission, whether by radio, television, Internet or other media, and the invitation to comment was made only via a formal government announcement on April 21. That the Senate was not actually interested in receiving comments was made clear to the AHRC when it accessed the Senate website in order to submit a letter and found that there was no form or other location on the site made available for this purpose. Only on the afternoon of April 27 was a form briefly put up after the AHRC complained by fax that it had been unable to find one, which was then promptly removed again first thing the next morning.

The selection and appointment process occurred against the backdrop of intense political turmoil in Thailand that led to the closure of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on April 8 and the declaration of a State of Emergency in Bangkok from April 12 to 24. Therefore, there was no public or media attention brought to the secretive selection and appointment process.

Aside from the above, the formalities of the process under the undemocratic 2007 Constitution, and the uninterested and irresponsible manner with which the persons charged with the selection and appointment of the new commission carried out their task, effectively denied pluralist and independent representation.

Under section 256 of the 2007 Constitution, the Selection Committee consists of the presidents of the Supreme Court, Constitution Court, and Supreme Administrative Court, the President of the House of Representatives, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives and two other persons appointed from the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court respectively. On this occasion, as a consequence of the political unrest there was no opposition leader, and the other representative from the House of Representatives belongs to a party that was not elected to government but was brought to power by virtue of a court decision. Thus, not one member of the Selection Committee can be said to have been a democratically chosen public representative. Nor is the Senate of Thailand, which vetted and voted on the seven nominees, a fully elected body, but under the 2007 Constitution a committee of judges and bureaucrats appoints 74 of its 150 members. Thus, unelected officials controlled the entire process of selection and appointment of the new NHRC. 

The Selection Committee appears to have shown no interest in its duty to appoint a new commission. Remarkably, it did not even bother to interview any of the candidates, basing its nominations solely on the documentation it had received. Even then, in its report to the Senate it did not give any reasoning for its selection of the seven nominees, giving details only of the votes for and against each candidate that led to his or her nomination. Given the contents of the report and the short time for which the committee met, it doesn't appear to have debated the qualities of the respective nominees at all, merely going through a series of votes, without any discussion, to come up with the seven who were referred to the Senate. These seven also were not subjected to any rigorous inquiries at the Senate prior to their election there, merely making some brief speeches and answering a few questions by Senators, during which a number of the candidates demonstrated a superior ignorance rather than knowledge of human rights, and one over whom the AHRC has raised specific objections openly demonstrated contempt for the international human rights community, as discussed further in point 2. 

It must also briefly be noted that all of this stands in marked contrast to the procedure for selection and appointment of the previous commission under the 1997 Constitution, which involved many persons from a variety of sectors and civic groups, and required short-listed candidates to appear for interviews and also give speeches to the Senate, then a fully-elected body, prior to their appointment: facts of which the ICC is fully apprised by virtue of its earlier accrediting of that NHRC.

2. The new commission is neither pluralist nor independent and does not consist of social forces involved in the protection and promotion of human rights.

The seven new commissioners are: Police General Vanchai Srinuwalnad, assistant commissioner general of the Royal Thai Police; Mr. Parinya Sirisarakarn, managing director of a salt extraction and processing company, Kijsubudom Co. Ltd., and former member of the Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand (2007) established after the military coup of 2006; Mr. Paibool Varahapaitoorn, secretary to the Office of the Constitution Court; Mr. Taejing Siripanich, secretary, Don't Drive Drunk Foundation; Ms. Visa Penjamano, ministerial inspector, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security; Mr. Nirand Pithakwachara, former elected senator for Ubol Ratchathani and member of Senate commissions of inquiry into human rights abuses; and, Professor Amara Pongsapich, former dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

Out of the seven, only the last two persons have actual experience and broad knowledge on human rights issues, while the third last has experience on specific economic and social rights. The other four, the majority of the commission, not only have no experience at all but also from their applications to become commissioners and from the contents of the short speeches and answers to questions at the Senate prior to their election evidently have no conception of human rights either.

Out of the seven, three are from state agencies, one of who is a senior police officer, another of who is a judicial administrator. The appointment of these three persons direct from their posts in other parts of government raises serious doubts about the independence of the new commission. The inclusion of a senior policeman is of special concern to the AHRC as the Royal Thai Police are the top violators of human rights in Thailand, for which they enjoy complete impunity: a statement that the AHRC can back with voluminous documentation over many years of work on the situation of human rights in the country. The inclusion of the court administrator is also of concern given that the appointee's former boss was among those responsible for his appointment to the post, and given the numerous non-judicial roles across government that the judiciary holds under the 2007 Constitution. Neither of these appointees has any qualities or experience to lend himself to the role of human rights commissioner. On the contrary, both men are among those who clearly misunderstand the role and responsibilities of the commission and lack even basic understanding of human rights.

The AHRC has also raised special concern over the appointment of Parinya Sirisarakarn. Parinya is an industrialist who was himself named in a report of the former NHRC (No. 74/2550) as among businesspersons responsible for environmental degradation in the northeast. The naming of Parinya as a human rights violator in an official document of the former commission apparently was not sufficient an obstacle to his appointment to the post. Nor, it seems, were his outrageous comments to Senators prior to his election, including that if made a commissioner he would not necessarily welcome international intervention on human rights issues in Thailand because this might be intended to interfere in the country's internal affairs; he then illustrated the point by alleging that the Falun Gong is backed by the CIA to interfere on human rights issues in China. He added that other countries are also violating the rights of the military regime in Burma, with which he is demonstrated great sympathy, by using human rights discourse to isolate the country.

Finally, none of the seven persons are representatives of non-governmental organizations responsible for human rights, trade unions or concerned social and professional organizations, despite the fact that there were applicants from these backgrounds to the commission whose names were not selected.

The above is a brief outline of some of the most obvious departures from the Paris Principles in the selection and appointment of the new NHRC of Thailand. The AHRC has collected all of the publicly accessible documentation on the process and is able to amplify and provide further details on any of the facts presented upon request.

The AHRC takes note that pluralistic composition and independence are integral features of a national human rights institution for compliance with the Paris Principles. They are not optional. It recalls paragraph 8 of the Nairobi Declaration at the Ninth International Conference of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in 2008, that "the independence and autonomy of NHRIs, their pluralistic representation, as well as their interaction with a broad range of stakeholders, is necessary for their compliance with international standards and their effectiveness at the national, regional and international levels".

The AHRC further notes that in November 2008 the NHRC of Thailand had its "A" accreditation status renewed by the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) for compliance with the Paris Principles, entitling it to participate fully in United Nations forums as a national human rights institution.

In view of the selection and appointment process and composition of the new National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, the Asian Human Rights Commission hereby calls upon the ICC to review immediately Thailand's status and downgrade the NHRC to "C" status, non-compliant with the Paris Principles, until such a time as a new commission is selected and appointed that brings the NHRC back into agreement with international standards. We are confident that the ICC will be concerned to adhere scrupulously to the principles that it is assigned to uphold, lest the body itself and deserving A-accredited institutions cooperate with the human rights fraud that has now been perpetrated in Thailand by way of this illegitimate NHRC.

Finally, the AHRC wishes to add that the selection and appointment of this new National Human Rights Commission in a manner contrary to the very principles that the commission is supposed to represent speaks both to the utter disinterest in the work of Thailand's national human rights institution among people in the country's current administration as well as those in successive governments of recent times, and to the very low respect for and knowledge about human rights among the authorities there. Not only has the NHRC been relegated to a third-class institution of little relevance to the workings of the state, but also government agencies in Thailand continue to treat human rights as at best irrelevant and more often than not as obstacles to their work. The manner of selection and appointment of the new NHRC as well as its composition are indicators of the deep anti-human rights culture that pervades all official institutions in Thailand, now including, it would seem, the National Human Rights Commission itself.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Cc:
1. Professor Kyong Whan Ahn, Vice-Chairperson, ICC of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
2. Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Chairperson, Sub-Committee on Accreditation, ICC of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
3. Ms. Katharina Rose, Interim Representative, ICC of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Geneva
4. Mr. Abhisist Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand
5. Ms. Margaret Sekaggaya, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders
6. Mr. Homayoun Alizadeh, Regional Representative, OHCHR, Bangkok
7. Mr. Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director, Secretariat, Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

 

Yes, it's a joke, in the

Yes, it's a joke, in the authoritarian government's eyes.

You're asking LYNCH to uphold

You're asking LYNCH to uphold basic human rights? Are you JOKING? The Canadian HRCs are a freaking DISASTER!