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Thai rights

There has been some discussion recently as to whether the Thai constitution (2007 version) guarantees the rights of all persons, or just Thais. This is, in fact, a minor issue when compared with the special rights that some Thais have created for themselves, and which the rest of world knows nothing about.

Yesterday’s leader in the Bangkok Post quotes Santi Vilassakdanont, President of the Federation of Thai Industries, on a proposed bill to give parliament the power to summon witnesses to testify before House or Senate committees and to punish them if they fail to comply. Khun Santi, like the Bangkok Post, objects to this bill. He argues that it violates one of ‘the individual's basic rights’. This is the well-established ‘right to keep industrial secrets confidential’.

Now leaving aside the question as to whether this is, as Khun Santi affirms, the right of an individual rather than of a corporate body, I have searched the various UN human rights conventions for any sign of this right. And searched in vain.

At the same time, Pol Lt-Gen Somkid Boonthanom, commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 5, who has just been charged with involvement in the murder 19 years ago of Saudi Arabian businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili, takes a different tack on the right to confidentiality. The accusation against him, he claims, stems from the fact that the Department of Special Investigation ‘lacked transparency’ in not allowing him to meet a witness against him. And he has called on the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the DSI. (It is not yet clear who will, in turn, investigate the NACC.)

This seems to refer to the right of accused criminals to have access to all and any information from police investigations. So for example, a hired gun under investigation for murder has the right to know the identity of any eye-witness the police have found. So that he can then exercise the right to go out and bump that person off as well, one assumes. Again, this right to know exactly which tracks need to be covered up is one that the UN has inexplicably forgotten about.

Thailand enjoys many such unusual rights, though it seems that you need to hold a position of some importance to exercise most of them. And this week, it sadly lost one of its greatest fabricators and virulent upholders of extraordinary rights through the demise of former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

He was exceptionally careless about the rights that the rest of the world holds dear. He played an important role in triggering the October 6 massacre and served loyally as Interior Minister in the subsequent authoritarian government of now Privy Councillor Thanin Kraivixien, when the rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly, to a fair and public trial and so on were routinely ignored. But he was resolute in devising new rights.

There is, for example, the right to re-write history as one remembers it. According to Samak, and no one else, only one ‘unlucky’ student died on 6 October 1976. This right trumps any documentary evidence to the contrary. So unless you were personally there, you cannot challenge Samak’s right to concoct history based on his personal recollection. Application of this right means that history will be whatever the last living Alzheimer’s sufferer remembers it to be. This is of course extremely useful in a society where inconvenient truths are especially unwelcome and where whistle-blowing is best left to parking attendants.

And while politicians the world over have perfected the art of not answering questions from the media, Samak created the right to do this by in turn asking the offending reporter about her recent sexual activity. He also famously insisted on the right of Prime Ministers to spend half an hour in a public toilet without reporters waiting for him outside. (It has never been explained why a Prime Minister needs half an hour to do whatever it is they do in a public toilet and no Prime Minister since is known to have exercised this right.)

But perhaps most of all, Samak has established the right of all Thai political leaders to spend a career justifying murder, jailing opponents, shutting down the media and foul-mouthing anyone with the temerity to question them, and still be described, as his successor as PM Somchai described him, as ‘devoting his life to democracy’.

 

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).