Human rights defenders, unionists, activists to present junta’s violations to UN

Representatives from various civil society groups gathered last week in Bangkok to address issues for the next UN Human Rights Council review of the human rights situation in Thailand. 
Participants included representatives and activists from fields ranging from ethnic minority rights, migrant worker rights, stateless peoples’ networks, religious groups, LGBTIQ groups, peasant groups, student activist groups, and environmental groups. 
Since Thailand is a member of the UN, it is required to submit every four and a half years to an international review at the UN Human Rights Council on its human rights situation. This Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process allows civil society groups to submit recommendations to the international stage. 
The deadline for civil society organizations to submit papers to the UPR is 21 September. The upcoming UPR will follow up on issues addressed in Thailand’s last UPR in 2011, as well as bring up new issues. The aim of this seminar was to train civil rights groups to submit effective recommendations. NGOs are recommended to choose their issues of focus and keep their issues alive by contacting stakeholders such as government departments and journalists. 
Democracy and freedom of speech groups such as the New Democracy Movement and the Free Political Prisoners of Thailand called for these recommendations: demand for political participation, which the junta does not allow; lifting of the junta’s ban on political gatherings; abolishing the lèse majesté law; and for the junta to act in accordance with international standards of human rights. The junta must also cease and desist all torture, unlawful incarceration, and non-transparent judicial procedures. 
Labour groups such as the Informal Workers Network pointed out the lack of stable social security for labourers, as well as workers being taken advantage of by subcontractors and in special economic zones. Labourers should also be able to hold union activities, which the junta has also banned since they fall under the ban on political gatherings.
Migrant labour groups such as the Shan Migrant Worker Rights Network addressed issues such as the lack of checks against employers taking advantage of migrant workers, unjust working conditions and employment contracts, and how migrant labour groups are completely banned from forming trade unions under the junta. Migrant workers, under the draft constitution, will also lose medical rights such as being able to give birth in a hospital. 
Kriangkrai Cheechaung from the Karen Network recommends issues regarding minority and land rights.
Refugee groups, such as the Stateless Person Status Foundation, talked about how in recent years, the junta has confused the issues of national security and human security, expelling groups based on arbitrary fears.
Environmental groups such as the Mekong Youth Network and groups concerned about dams pointed out how there has never been de facto enforcement of environmental laws, nor have they ever been brought to Parliament. Dams along the Mekhong have also blocked 74 per cent of fish from swimming into the Mun River, endangering local food supplies. Locals, especially new-borns, who live near factories producing toxic waste, have no protection against pollution and subsequent illness. In addition, military seizure of land surrounding elite private property, such as royal villas, restricts land access for locals. 
Disability groups, such as the Association for Career Advancement of the Blind Thailand, brought up issues such as how the unenforced unemployment quota forces Thai disabled people into begging, how public education has no handicapped access, and how employed disabled people have no labour protection. 
Aree Arif from the Ummatee Group. 
Religious groups, such as the Ummatee Group and the Church of Christ in Thailand, as well as non-religious participants brought up the following recommendations: that Thailand have no official or de facto state religion; that religions other than Buddhism have a right to religious holidays; that women are allowed equal religious participation by lifting some temples’ bans on women becoming nuns; and the implementation of check-and-balance mechanisms for religious figures. 
Politically and morally problematic individuals must be blocked from becoming religious leaders or figures. “Certain figures should not be able to escape into a temple to avoid investigation,” said Aree Arif from the Ummatee Group. “If religious groups cannot even check the morality of their public figures, then what does that say about society’s level of morality?” 
LGBTIQ groups such as the LGBTIQ Surin group called for LGBTIQ rights of partnership, family, legal issues, insurance, and surrogacy to be sanctioned in the Constitution being drafted. Public education should also include gender education in the syllabus, as well as prevention of bullying of LGBTIQ youth. LGBTIQ and religious groups also discussed peaceful ways of coexisting through tolerance and understanding. 
Forum Asia representatives stated that at the moment, international interest in Thai human rights situations is still low, so civil society groups have an opportunity to submit grievances through the UPR mechanism.
Thailand’s last UPR in 2011 accepted 134 of 172 recommendations that other countries addressed to Thailand. This year’s review will see to what extent these recommendations have been implemented. Recommendations accepted in 2011 include “the need to protect vulnerable peoples, such as the Rohingya, in accordance with international law.” 
Rejected recommendations include those from the United Kingdom, France, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Canada regarding the lèse majesté law and convictions under it. 
Chalida Tajaroensuk from the People Empowerment Foundation encouraged civil society groups to continue drafting recommendations. “The UN is not just a stage for diplomats to say pretty things. It is a mechanism that the people need to utilize so that they can be heard.” 
Forum Asia and the People Empowerment Foundation hosted the seminar, "UPR Training for Community-Based Organizations in North, Northeast and Central Thailand," at the Ibis Sathorn Hotel on 29-30 July.