An international human rights agency has downgraded Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) due to failures in addressing human rights issues.
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) worldwide which monitors the performance of national human rights institutions, announced that it has downgraded the status of Thailand’s NHRC from ‘A’ to ‘B’, the UN revealed on Thursday, 28 January 2016.
The Paris Principles serve as the benchmark in accrediting human rights institutions in each country. ‘A’ status is given to institutions which demonstrate compliance with the Paris Principles. ‘A’ level NHRIs can participate fully as voting members in the international and regional work and meetings of the ICC, and they can hold office in the Bureau of the ICC or any sub-committee the Bureau establishes.
They are also able to participate in sessions of the UN Human Rights Council and take the floor under any agenda item, submit documentation and take up separate seating.
Human rights institutions graded ‘B’, however, may participate only as observers in ICC international and regional work and meetings. They cannot vote or hold office in the Bureau or its sub-committees.
In October 2014, the ICC expressed concerns about Thailand’s selection process for National Human Rights Commissioners, a lack of functional immunity and independence, and the failure to address human rights issues in a timely manner, especially in the context of military rule in Thailand. The agency was given 12 months to address the issues.
After the ICC announcement, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Southeast Asia) recommended that as Thailand is preparing a new Constitution, the drafting committee should use this opportunity to take on board the SCA's recommendations to ensure that the NHRC regains its ‘A’ status.
The current Commissioners, with Wat Tingsamid as the chair, took office in December 2015.
In November 2015, more than a year after the 2014 coup d’état, the outgoing NHRC admitted that the Thai junta has trampled on human rights and that the demonstrations of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), an anti-election protest, occasionally violated the constitutional right to peaceful assembly.
Thailand’s NHRC was founded under the 1997 Constitution but in the decade of political turmoil since the 2006 coup d’état, it has been heavily criticised for its ineffectiveness in safeguarding fundamental human rights, especially with regard to its silence over the violent military crackdown on red shirt protesters in 2010 and the 2014 coup.
Sunai Phasuk, a researcher from Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Prachatai earlier that the inadequate selection process for NHRC commissioners results in the appointment of unqualified people.
“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.
Tyrell Haberkorn, a political science academic who is an expert on 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.”
The consequences of being downgraded are:
• The Thai NHRC will be unable to express opinions or send documents to meetings of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This means they will not be able to send reports on the human rights situation in Thailand for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process of the UNHRC. The next UPR for Thailand is scheduled for April-May this year.
• The Thai NHRC will be considered merely an observer at regional and international human rights conferences organized by the UNHRC.
• The Thai NHRC will not be able to vote on any ICC decision or apply for ICC membership.