In response to Awzar Thi's criticism of human rights advocates in Thailand, Danthong Breen, chairman of the Union for Civil Liberty, a leading human rights organization based in Bangkok, has sent an email to a group of activists. Prachatai sees this as a valuable contribution to the debate on the roles of human rights activists in Thailand, and has translated and published his email on Prachatai (Thai version) with the kind permission of Mr Breen. Here is his email and a response from Thongchai Winichakul, Thai academic at the University of Wisconsin in the US.
Dear Pen Name,
I am totally in agreement with you on your assessment of the new ASEAN human rights initiative. I am also all for breaking silences and challenging taboos. However, I also respect the opinion of other human rights activists who sincerely believe that they can work from within the system and seize whatever foothold is offered, however tenuous it may appear. I have avoided all meetings and initiatives on the ASEAN mechanism because I truly believe like you, that it will be fruitless. But, I am aware that I do not have access to total understanding on the issue and I am very certain that your understanding is also limited. If people whom I know and respect think they can succeed in another way, why then, good luck to them. Let the dialectic work. Scathing condemnation will not be effective in changing their totally legitimate viewpoint. All that you achieve by attacking them is to spread discouragement and division in our movement. You claim 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights in Thailand. Your assumed right to criticise is hardly explained or justified by the 15 years. I can not only match you but claim even longer experience, including united front activity which based itself on finding common ground. May I gently recommend that you reconsider the tactic of denunciation.
AHRC provides an excellent service of cataloging and exposing injustice, both for those within Thailand itself and abroad, often drawing attention to abuses of which we were not aware. But please do not try to damage the working liaisons we have. You must know that each one has to choose an area of activity, it is hardly wise to expose oneself on every issue however strongly one might feel about them. We are continually assailed by accusations such as ‘You speak on issue x, how can you remain silent on issue y?’ As well accuse an army fighting on the eastern front, of neglecting the war on the western front!
I challenge you to circulate this letter to your readers and allow discussion on the issue. I know several people who no longer read your valuable emails because of the occasional ranting. May I also point to the anomaly of your writing anonymously, while urging action on those who cannot preserve nor wish anonymity in speaking out openly on contentious issues. Please declare yourself bravely for who you are and hear the opinions of others with the respect they deserve.
Union for Civil Liberty, Bangkok
Dear Mr. Breen,
When there is a pattern in the selectiveness and omission of issues to fight for, and the pattern is in accordance with certain political camps, we call bias and partiality.
If a human rights advocate, like you, cannot make the distinction between practical limits (therefore need to set a priority of issues) and a bias/impartiality, if a human rights activist cannot see their own serious mistakes like impartiality, your human rights works may contribute to more injustice and the widespread hopelessness for justice. Human rights works then contribute to more divisiveness and potential to violence.
Is this criticism polite enough? I think Thi's article is not as strong as your reaction to him/her.
The above name is real, not a pen-name.