Rights commission concludes PDRC protests violated human rights

The Civil and Political Rights Subcommittee of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has concluded that although the 2013-2014 anti-election protests of People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) were overall constitutional, they violated the rights of others.

According to ASTV manager, Niran Pitakwatchara, the head of the NHRC’s Subcommittee on Civil and Political Rights on Monday, 16 November 2015, commented on the political conflicts of the past several years at a briefing about the performance of the current NHRC, whose term is about to end this year.

Niran concluded that the investigations into the political violence in April-May 2010 and the 2013-2014 PDRC street protests found that there were serious problems concerning the right to ‘factual information’ and the refusal to acknowledge ‘the truth’ about the political conflicts in the country.

He said that the Thai authorities have not learned how to handle conflicts appropriately, adding that ‘political conflicts’ should be dealt with by political mechanisms instead of martial law or the Emergency Decree.

Niran said that if the military steps into political conflicts, the problem might be exacerbated in a manner similar to the situation in the restive Deep South of Thailand, where armed conflict between insurgent groups and the state has been protracted for the last 10 years.

Furthermore, the head of the NHRC’s Civil and Political Rights Subcommittee said that overall the protests of the PDRC and several other anti-government groups to topple Yingluck’s government were constitutional, but certain activities of the protesters infringed on the rights of other people.

Such actions of anti-government protesters prior to the 2014 coup d’état include blocking others from casting their votes during the February 2014 general election by barricading election venues, preventing MP candidates from registering for the general election, and using weapons to destroy property and intimidate others with barely no restraint from the protest leaders.

Niran added that Thailand is still locked in a political conundrum and the political reform promised by the coup-makers is nowhere in sight.

Amara Pongsapich, Chairperson of the outgoing NHRC, reported that in the last six years the agency received 4,143 complaints and finalized 3,185 of them.

She added that the remaining cases would be passed to the next commission.

She said that many in the media misunderstood the role of the NHRC in the past several years, resulting in harsh criticisms against the Rights Commission.

Last year, the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights Institutions (ICC), an independent international association of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) which monitors the performance of national human rights institutions worldwide, downgraded Thailand’s NHRC from A to B, citing the agency’s poor performance and partiality.    

Tyrell Haberkorn, a political science academic specializing in Thailand, pointed out “the last two NHRC commissions have had several problems in terms of their independence, which prevented them from investigating human rights abuses. The rights commissioners have been silent about the coup d’état.”

Many experts in human rights conclude that one of the deeply entrenched problems of the NHRC is the inadequate process for selecting human rights commissioners.

Sunai Phasuk, a researcher from Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that the inadequate selection process for NHRC commissioners results in the appointment of unqualified people to the Commission.       

“The selection process of the NHRC in a way picks people who do not have solid backgrounds in human rights and who are not independent as commissioners. This results in a lot of limitations of the rights commissioners,” said Sunai.

He added that in fact the selection process of the NHRC commissioners contradicts the Paris Principles on the status of national institutions, which must maintain their independence and transparency.

The HRW researcher added “unlike the first set of the NHRC commissioners, the incumbent NHRC members were selected with little participation of civil organizations and rights groups.”