Human rights commissioners face removal by junta’s constitution drafters

The drafters of the constitution claim that the new organic law requiring removal of the current National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) would make it more credible internationally. The commission chair disagrees.     

On 20 June 2017, Meechai Ruchuphan, chairman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) told the media of the plan to remove the current commissioners at NHRC.

The CDC-drafted organic law on the NHRC requires the commissioners to re-register under the new selection process.

Meechai said the removal of the commissioners in accordance with the organic law is crucial to make it more in line with the Paris Principles, the benchmark in accrediting national human rights institutions, after the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) in 2016 downgraded the NHRC due to failures in addressing human rights issues.

The CDC chairman claimed that the ICC, an independent international association of national human rights institutions (NHRIs), was satisfied with the measure, adding that it will make the NHRC “more diverse”.

Meechai, however, contradicted himself by saying that there would not be conflicts within a more diverse NHRC because the new law demands the Commission to work through consensus to seek solutions.

What Tingsamitr, the NHRC chair, on 17 June, posted a comment on his Facebook account, saying “the rules [on the NHRC selection process] under the organic law do not exist in the Paris Principles.”

“The work of the [current] NHRC will surely be affected because many projects which are now going smoothly will be halted,” What wrote, adding that the drafting process of the 2017 Constitution is problematic both in principles and practicality.

On the contrary to the NHRC chairman’s statement, the Paris Principles in fact address the issue of diversity.

It states “the composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members ... shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights.”

In response to the new NHRC law, 86 civil society groups and 71 individuals led by Union for Civil Liberty on 20 June issued a joint statement pointing out that although the new law has some merits on the selection process of the NHRC, some articles could be further improved.

The NHRC should have more rights to give opinions to the Constitutional and Administrative Courts under the new law because many cases of human rights violations deal with interpretations of the constitution and administrative laws, the group stated.

They added that the National Human Rights Commission’s role should not be to act in defence of the state, but take a critical role in investigating and documenting human rights abuses in the country.

According to Sunai Phasuk, a researcher from Human Rights Watch (HRW), 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 commissioners,” said Sunai.

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.

Wat Tingsamit, the NHRC chairman