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Rights agencies must set the right standards

Rumours about some activists trying to scotch a sexual harassment case reveals double standards at NGOs.

The human-rights community in Thailand has been abuzz over the past two weeks about sexual harassment allegations being levelled against a well-known Thai human-rights organisation. The news leaked to the wider public when a Thai NGO website carried the report about an alleged female victim struggling to find justice.

Later, rumours started spreading about attempts being made by some senior human-rights activists to silence the matter.

The scandal later broke out on the left-leaning website, www.prachatai.com, and attracted so much attention that a group of concerned activists and organisations issued a statement on Tuesday calling for justice and urging people to apply human rights at a personal level and recognise sexual harassment as a violent act.

Critics were up in arms, saying any senior human rights advocates thinking or trying to deny justice, transparency and accountability should realise that they're doing a disservice to their otherwise altruistic vocation.

There have been calls for senior activists at the organisation in question, as well as the human rights community in general, to handle this case properly. This has prompted the organisation in question to release a statement to end the speculation and criticism.

A statement issued this week said the man had been punished and made to quit his job effective from December 1. A committee has also been set up to conduct further investigation.

Still, further action should be meted out in a transparent and reasonable fashion.

This is of vital importance as human rights organisations often call for others to be accountable and transparent. Now it's their turn to prove that there are no double standards.

The organisation should, along with advice from some respected outsiders, set some sort of precedent. As for the victim, her right to privacy should continue to be respected.

The offender might need to be reprimanded publicly as this will not only deter offences in the future but also set a standard for transparency and accountability.

This might be a first but it is needed if human-rights organisations wish to move forward with greater transparency, accountability and a single standard.

Muddling through will only taint the organisation and even the entire human rights community as a whole with accusations of double standards.

Their future call for other people and groups to be made accountable and transparent will lose credibility. If found guilty, the violator should be named and reprimanded openly, so that an example of transparency and accountability can be set when handling similar cases in the future.

Board members who knew about the case months ago but did not take any action need to explain why they ignored the issue.

Last, but not least, the job security of the victim should by no means be affected by the case and as the organisation needs to ensure that others suffering from sexual harassment can come forward to press charges freely, and should in fact be encouraged.

In the most recent case, the alleged victim has already resigned, and if the perpetrator is found guilty without doubt then the victim should be reinstated or compensated.

Also, those handling the case need to make sure that they do not get trapped in the so-called yellow shirts versus red shirts politics, or do anything that might make some people believe that this might be the case.

Already some posters on political websites such as prachatai.com are suggesting that the matter had to do with red-and-yellow politics.

Therefore, it is imperative that the organisation clarifies the matter to the public even though the alleged offender may be a supporter of one political group.

Allegations of sexual harassment should be taken more seriously in all professions, but human rights activists must remember that they need to set a good example for society.

Source: 
<p>http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2009/12/05/opinion/opinion_30118025.php</p>

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