The content in this page ("The 2015/2016 Amnesty International Report: Context" by John Draper) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

The 2015/2016 Amnesty International Report: Context

The 2015/2016 Amnesty International Report Thailand analysis is, as you might expect, critical of the military regime. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press release which lamented the fact that the Amnesty International (AI) report “only presents issues of concern” and “does not consider the particular context of Thailand”. The MFA explains the peculiar context of Thailand is “the daunting challenge facing Thailand which is the need to strike the right balance between freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and the need to prevent political conflicts from re-emerging”.

In addition, there is a need for “comprehensive reform towards social harmony [mainly known as a communist Chinese concept with a long pre-communist history] and a strengthened and sustainable democracy”. For these reasons, the press release asserts the report is ‘imbalanced’. Khaosod English covered this reaction here, though it did not point out the Chinese-style ideology of ‘stability at all costs’ behind the statement.

The AI report admittedly does lack some context. However, it is not clear that AI providing context – i.e., the succession issue; the paternalistic attitude of the state and the embedded mild form of fascism inherited from the Phibul Songkram era; the class and the ethnic divisions which drive the recurring socio-political collapses, the endemic corruption in the bureaucracy, police, and military; and the state-level impunity, not to mention a hierarchical form of Buddhism desperately in need of reform, would actually make Thailand look any better.

The press release also states, “Thailand supports and highly values freedom of expression and human rights in accordance with international practices. For example, press can freely criticize the government.” In this regard, the press release is itself ‘imbalanced’, as the press, both Thai and foreign, definitely have been harassed by the regime, with the Reporters without Borders 2015 report placing Thailand 1th out of 180 countries – a drop of four from the already pretty awful 130th in 2014.

The MFA press release also points out that Amnesty International does not praise Thailand for its positive developments, which include

Thailand’s leading role in hosting international meetings on irregular migration in the Indian Ocean; cracking down on networks of traffickers and officers complicit in the illegal activities; and the amendments and passage of 164 bills which have been forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for enactment.

as well as the Gender Equality Act, the Amendment to the 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and the Justice Fund Act. The press release also notes that the government has also “implemented policies to reduce inequalities, protect vulnerable groups, and regularise migrant workers from neighbouring countries”.

It is true that the AI report is a bit of a downer. It does focus on the human rights abuses. However, in this AI appears to follow a template for each country and to have editorial guidelines. While Thailand is quite legitimately able to plead a case for more ‘good news’, it is unlikely that AI would change its template and editorial guidelines just to please Thailand. This makes the Thai response appear somewhat forced.

However, it is possible to provide more international context by viewing Thailand within a wider geopolitical context, notably that of ASEAN. The table below attempts to do so. One obvious near-ASEAN-wide problem is the death penalty, which Thailand actually increased in severity during the reporting period, as did Brunei, based on an interpretation of Sharia law. That a primarily Buddhist constitutional monarchy is matching Brunei in terms of expanded death penalty legislation is somewhat troubling. Meanwhile, ASEAN’s only majority Christian country, the Philippines, suspended the death penalty in 2006. Moreover, Cambodia, often seen as a ‘less civilized’ place by many Thais, abolished the death penalty in 1989.

AI does not rank countries into tiers or categories. However, from the sheer amount of words used in the AI report, we can see the top country for human rights abuses is Myanmar, where pretty much everything is a problem, especially the ‘Rohingyas’, followed by political prisoners, basic freedoms, the decades-long civil war, impunity etc. Indonesia is a clear second, with police and security forces out of control, basic freedoms ¾ including religion ¾ being infringed upon, and degrading punishment being used.

Thailand is third, with internal armed conflict (the insurgency/civil war in the Deep South) and torture and deaths in custody (over Article 112, lese-majesty) being problems, especially with the draft bill criminalizing torture and enforced disappearance making no progress before the National Legislative Assembly. Repression of the public and of the media also features highly, as NCPO Order 3/2015 criminalizes gatherings of five or more people and Article 116 on sedition has been freely used. The targeting of human rights defenders, such as the New Democracy Movement, the Resistant Citizen Group, the Khon Rak Ban Ked group, the Phuketwan journalists, Andy Hall, and even an AI board member, is also a severe problem. The rights of refugees have also been infringed, with refoulement or sending back refugees (especially of boat people from Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as 109 Uyghurs to China) being obvious human rights abuses. 

Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines appear to comprise a fourth tranche of countries according to the word counts. Cambodia obviously has problems with basic freedoms, including impunity, as well as the situation regarding international justice from the Khmer Rouge genocide. It also has problems with refoulements and with state enforced disappearances. Vietnam, still in many regards a soviet state, has fundamental problems with dissent and political prisoners, as well as with restricting protesters’ movements and with suspicious deaths in custody. The Philippines has serious problems with torture and the related problem of enforced disappearances. It also has problems with the sexual and reproductive rights of women, namely access to contraception, a legacy of the strong power of the Catholic Church.

Malaysia, Laos, and Singapore appear to be the countries with the least human rights abuses. Malaysia does have problems with restrictions on basic freedoms, including arbitrary arrests and detentions and out-of-control police and security forces, worsened by a new Sedition Act. Laos also has problems with basic freedoms, but its one case of enforced disappearance in the last three years pales in comparison to over sixty disappearances in the last decade in Thailand – though Laos is one-tenth the size. Singapore’s human rights problems include freedom of expression, degrading punishment, and a somewhat hyperactive security apparatus.

 

Country

Words

Executive Summary

Major Issues

Myanmar

2050

Authorities failed to address rising religious intolerance and incitement to discrimination and violence against Muslims, allowing hardline Buddhist nationalist groups to grow in power and influence ahead of the November general elections. The situation of the persecuted Rohingya deteriorated still further. The government intensified a clampdown on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Reports of abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law in areas of internal armed conflict persisted. Security forces suspected of human rights violations continued to enjoy near-total impunity.

Discrimination (Rohingya minority); Prisoners of Conscience; Freedoms of Expression, Association, and Peaceful Assembly; Internal Armed Conflict; Corporate Accountability; Refugees and Internally-Displaced People; Impunity, Death Penalty; International Scrutiny.

Indonesia

1880

Security forces faced allegations of human rights violations, including the use of unnecessary or excessive force. Arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters, especially in Papua, occurred throughout the year. The government restricted activities marking the 50th anniversary of the serious human rights violations of 1965-1966. Harassment, intimidation and attacks against religious minorities occurred throughout the country. A new Acehnese Islamic Criminal Code came into force in October, expanding the use of corporal punishment to include consensual sexual relations. There were 14 executions.

Police and Security Forces; Impunity; Freedom of Expression; Freedom of Religion and Belief; Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment; Death Penalty.

Thailand

1578

Military authorities extended their powers to excessively restrict rights and silence dissent in the name of security. Political transition plans were delayed and repression deepened. The numbers of people harassed, prosecuted, imprisoned and arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights escalated sharply. Arrests and prosecutions under the lese-majesty law continued to increase. Internal armed conflict continued.

Internal Armed Conflict, Torture and Other Ill-Treatment, Repression of Dissent, Human Rights Defenders, Refugees’ and Migrants’ Rights, Death Penalty.

Cambodia

1357

Arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly continued. A law came into force severely threatening the right to freedom of association. Impunity continued for human rights violations in the policing of demonstrations in 2013 and 2014, including deaths resulting from the unnecessary and excessive use of force. Political activists and human rights defenders were jailed and arrests for online activity increased. Flagrant violations of the UN Refugee Convention, including refoulements, took place.

Freedom of Assembly, Impunity, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Enforced Disappearances, International Justice.

Vietnam

1305

Severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued. The media and the judiciary, as well as political and religious institutions, remained under state control. At least 45 prisoners of conscience remained imprisoned in harsh conditions after unfair trials. They included bloggers, labour and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, members of ethnic groups and advocates for human rights and social justice. Activists were convicted in new trials. The authorities attempted to prevent the activities of independent civil society groups through harassment, surveillance and restrictions on freedom of movement. A reduction in criminal prosecutions of bloggers and activists coincided with an increase in harassment, short-term arbitrary detentions and physical attacks by security officers. Scores of Montagnard asylum-seekers fled to Cambodia and Thailand between October 2014 and December 2015. The death penalty was retained.

Repression of Dissent, Freedom of Movement, Deaths in Custody, Prisoners of Conscience, Death Penalty.

Philippines

1283

Military authorities extended their powers to excessively restrict rights and silence dissent in the name of security. Political transition plans were delayed and repression deepened. The numbers of people harassed, prosecuted, imprisoned and arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights escalated sharply. Arrests and prosecutions under the lese-majesty law continued to increase. Internal armed conflict continued.

Torture and other Ill-Treatment, Enforced Disappearances, Impunity, Freedom of Expression, Abuses by Armed Militias, Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Malaysia

818

The crackdown on freedom of expression and other civil and political rights intensified. The Sedition Act was amended and a new Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed. Police used unnecessary or excessive force when arresting opposition party leaders and activists.

Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Association, Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions, Police and Security Forces, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Death Penalty

Laos

667

Severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued and authorities prepared to further tighten control of civil society groups. Two prisoners of conscience arrested in 1999 for attempting a peaceful protest remained imprisoned. One activist was imprisoned for online criticism of the government. Restrictions on practicing Christianity were reported, including arrests and prosecutions. No progress was recorded in the case of a prominent civil society member, three years after his enforced disappearance.

Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association, Enforced Disappearances, Death Penalty.

Singapore

477

The People’s Action Party, whose founder, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, died in March, continued to penalize government critics for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The media and human rights defenders were tightly controlled through revocation of licences and criminal charges. Judicial caning and the death penalty were retained.

Freedom of Expression; Death Penalty; Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment; Counter-Terror and Security.

Brunei

NO DATA.

NO DATA. However, according to Wikipedia: “Brunei's revised penal code came into force on April 22, 2014, stipulating the death penalty for numerous offences, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, robbery, rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims and murder. Stoning to death was the specified "method of execution for crimes of a sexual nature." Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) declared that, "Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law.””

Death Penalty.

Table: Thailand in Context - ASEAN in the 2015/2016 AI Report

The last paragraph in the MFA press release reads:

The Government views reports by Civil Society, including that of AI, as a perspective and reflection from outside that should be listened to. We believe that constructive engagement and dialogue as well as partnership with Civil Society on various social issues including human rights would lead to effective promotion and protection of human rights for all in the country.  

The extent to which this is true is very interesting, especially given the fact that General Prayut apparently views AI’s campaign to defend Thailand’s political dissidents, such as Sirawit Serithiwat, a pro-democracy student activist leader who was forcibly abducted by the security apparatus and temporarily ‘disappeared’, as encouraging lawbreakers. General Prayut’s position is, nonetheless, a logical one: as everything in Thailand is according to Section 44, General Prayut is The Law.

Given that everything that is done is according to The Law, there can be no human rights violations – which is the official position of the Thai government. Thus, according to General Prayut’s logic, AI has no need to write a report about human rights abuses in Thailand as there are no infringements of The Law, therefore no human rights abuses. General Prayut is very clear about this:

“[It’s the] enforcement of the law against law breakers. Please, don’t mix them up. Law is law and I have already talked about this in the past. It’s up to [you] to believe what I said or not. Don’t mix up human rights issues with the law and personal issues with those of the country.”

While it is quite possible that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, staffed by intelligent, necessarily cosmopolitan individuals, does respect the AI viewpoint as in the quote, there are no obvious signs that the military dictatorship actually comprehends what human rights abuses are – or that The Law may not be a perfect, unblemished, whole – or that The Law cannot be used as a justification for all and any human rights abuses.

This is not a delusional viewpoint from the internal logic of General Prayut. However, some in the military must understand The Law is not always cast in stone, as repeated coups and tearing up of constitutions would indicate. Ultimately, the internal logic of the present Thai ‘special circumstances’ can equally be accused of what it accuses the AI report of lacking – context. 

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