Five parties promising legal reform to address rights abuses, advocating for freedom of expression

At 13.00 on 7 March 2019 at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, the Chulalongkorn University’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, the Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), and Amnesty International Thailand organized a roundtable on “Listening to political parties and their human rights policies”. Political parties have been invited to discuss their human rights policies and an opening address was delivered by Professor Emeritus Vitit Muntarbhorn, an expert in international law. The event was moderated by Nattha Komolvadhin, a TV host from TPBS.

Watana Muangsook from the Pheu Thai Party said that Pheu Thai Party reiterates the importance of democracy founded on human rights. Post-election policies can be summed up in ‘3Rs’ including (1) Restoring the economy, (2) Returning power to the people, (3) Reforming government authority.

“Our first and foremost policy is respect the right to freedom of expression. Restrictive measures have to be repealed. Democracy is the most affordable guarantee to restore confidence in our economy. What our party will work on is reforming agencies involved the most with rights violations including the judiciary and the military. Military conscription will be revoked since it is not compatible with modern day threats. In addition, any laws issued in breach of the rule of law shall be repealed or amended in compliance with international human rights standards including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights” said Watana. 

Alongkorn Ponlaboot from the Democrat Party said that human rights and democracy are two sides of the same coin which shall be mobilized in compliance with international treaties, customs, traditions and domestic laws and belief. 

“What the Democrat aim to do if we can form the next government is (1) establish a national committee to develop a national human rights framework covering 21 major rights concerns addressed during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), (2) comprehensively reform the justice process, particularly the police preserving just the central police and provincial police. If we can ensure accountability and public participation at the beginning of the justice process, it is possible for the promotion of human rights. (3) Legal reform” said Alongkorn. 

Pauline Ngarmpring from the Mahachon Party said that her party’s policies are geared toward ensuring political, economic and social equality and the promotion of the role of citizens and culture vis-à-vis human rights. In terms of political equality, an emphasis is placed on promoting non-partisan politics and supporting the party that wins the most MPs to lead the formation of the government. Non-partisanship can solve no problem. In terms of economic equality, equal opportunities in the economy will be promoted emphasizing online economy. In terms of human rights equality, the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act which restricts human rights of the vulnerable people in the sex industry has to be addressed. Of course, LGBTQ is our major policy.

Kriangsak Teerakowitkajorn from the Commoners' Party said that the Commoners’ Party’s three ideologies include democracy founded on human rights and equality. Human rights therefore permeate in all our policies which are more distinctive from other parties including (1) developing mechanisms to protect human rights defenders and preventing torture and enforced disappearance, (2) advocating for gender equality and fairness making it a national agenda whereby a woman has the right to control her own body including their right to abortion, (3) reviewing the criminal laws which restrict rights and discriminate against migrant workers and sex workers preventing them from having access to welfare and  laws which deprive the right to work of migrants. We also have policies for ethnic peoples, stateless persons, migrant workers and people with disabilities. 

“If we can form a government, we will first start from repealing laws that restrict rights and freedom and are in breach of human rights. All the 35 restrictive decrees issued by the NCPO shall be repealed and criminal proceedings against dissents who want to bring out truth to society will be dropped. All charges levied against people simply because of their expressing their political opinions will be dropped including charges against those living in exile” said Kriangsak.

Pannika Wanich from the Future Forward Party (FFP) said that FFP present three foundational policies and eight pillar policies and pitching the flag of democracy. We aim to develop a society with equal people and ensure Thailand catch up with the world. Our most urgent human right agenda will be about the three Southern Border Provinces. All existing emergency laws including Martial Law and the Emergency Decree will be lifted and normal criminal laws will be used in their stead. Laws shall not be misused by the authorities to discriminate, the act of which will simply fuel frustration and violence in the Deep South. We will ensure that the justice process during the transition period offers remedies to all Thai people who have been violated by the state. 

“We desire reconciliation. But forcing people to forget the past and shake hands will simply put things under the carpet. We need a justice process that ensures genuine reconciliation in this country. All the unjust laws which allow the state to violate people have to be repealed. The Constitution’s Section 279 which provides for legality of all decrees issued by the NCPO has to be reviewed. Any existing decrees which benefit people will be converted into Ministerial Regulations or other laws while other decrees that violate people’s rights have to be repealed and people who have been affected by them shall be compensated” said Pannika. 

In our mock election, we asked all participants to vote for a human right issue they want to advocate for the most including (1) stop torture and enforced disappearance, (2) stop arbitrary detention, (3) protect the right to freedom of expression, (4) promote the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, (5) protect human rights defenders, (6) protect refugees and  asylum seekers as well as migrant workers, (7) promote the right to privacy in computer use, (8) offer remedy when human rights violation arises, and (9) abolish death penalty. The issue that got the most votes is protection of the right to freedom of expression which is agreed by representatives of all participating political parties as a fundamental human right.

Closing the event, Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty International Thailand, presented copies of Amnesty’s ‘Human Rights Agenda’ to the representatives of the five political parties. The agenda demands for parliamentary candidates and their parties to adhere to their human rights obligations. It reiterates that they must promote the protection of human rights in the country and stop the impunity of rights violators.