British Ambassador on Thai democracy and human rights

Since the coup d’état on 22 May, while the human rights situation has deteriorated and Thai people have tried to voice their disapproval of the coup d’état in the face of suppression by the junta, the international community has played a role as a voice denouncing the military government and urging the junta to respect human rights. 
 
Britain is one of the countries with a clear stance toward the coup.  British Ambassador Mark Kent on 20 November met with Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and urged him to fulfil his promise to restore democracy to Thailand by the end of 2015, and to maintain respect for human rights.
 
Ambassador Kent on 27 November visited Prachatai and discussed the role of the media during these hard times for human rights and media workers. On this occasion, Prachatai’s Thaweeporn Kummetha talked with the British Ambassador on his recent meeting with Prayut, Thai democracy and human rights. 
 
Mark Kent tells Prachatai about his meeting with Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha
 
We learned that you visited PM Prayut Chan-o-cha recently. How was the meeting? What did you talk about?
 
We had a frank exchange of views. I explained the position of the United Kingdom. He explained his views. We have a long-standing relationship with Thailand going back over 400 years. We are constitutional monarchies and have a good relationship also across society from the educational and academic sector, the private sector where we have lots of trade and investment with Thailand and tourism where we have many millions of tourists a year. So we have an interest in having a good relationship with Thailand and that includes having a frank exchange of views on how we see things and how we see the future of our relationship. From that perspective, it was a good meeting.
 
You also urged PM to restore democracy to Thailand by 2015. Why 2015?
 
Well, I mean, I think honestly it's not for us to dictate to Thailand
 
Thailand will take its own decisions, at its own cost, but I think for any society which continues developing, especially in this part of the world, which is a fast developing area -- you've got economic growth in countries of ASEAN, you've got the ASEAN Economic Community coming up -- a stable political background is very important. As Winston Churchill once said "Democracy is the worst type of governance, apart from all the others that have been tried." In other words, no democracy is perfect, but it is a system of governance where there is an opportunity for everybody to have a stake in the government of the country. Democracy is not just about elections. People should not just vote and wait every few years and that will roll over. Democracy is where the people's voice can be heard continuously and where the government is accountable to the people. That's why we see democracy as an important system of governance. 
 
Do you have any recommendations and concerns that you voiced to Prayut?
 
Well we talked about how the panel on reform is coming. Obviously I'm here talking to you ... the role of the academic community is important. If you're going to have a reform process, it's important that people can offer their views. It's a constructive spirit. So people can meet and talk about how they see things. And that will help in terms of reconciliation. You can't enforce consensus. You have to talk about people's interests and people's goals. The press and the media, the role of free media in society is very important -- absolutely important. This is what I personally believe a lot in because it's the free flow of information and ideas. When we look at the developed economies, a lot are knowledge-based economies. 
 
And also the role of media in holding power to account and fighting corruption is very important. Investigative journalism is very important. There is a lot of importance to the role the media can play in reform and development in any country. And we talked about, as I mentioned, that the international community constantly reports in respect of human rights -- the importance of free expression, freedom of assembly. These are not the concepts which are imposed externally on Thailand which signed up the Conventions of the United Nations. And these are global Conventions which come from the United Nations. It is important for us to see that it is going forward, that these rights and obligations are respected, as a friend and partner of Thailand.

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