The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) will remain in Grade B for the next 18 months because the current constitution deprives them of independence and obliges them to speak in defence of the government, says the Sub-Committee on Accredition (SCA).
Its rank was lowered from Grade A in 2016 because of the non-participatory process of selecting the commissioners, delayed responses to violations, lack of autonomy, and inefficiency in delivering support and relief to the victims of human rights violations.
The Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) belongs to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), which has the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as permanent observer and secretariat. The SCA’s key mission is to review and accredit national human rights institutions in terms of their compliance with the Paris Principles.
According to a press release by the NHRC on 22 January, Acting Chairperson of the NHRC Prakairatana Thontiravong said that they had requested an assessment to recover the original ranking in June 2018. They had a distant interview with the SCA on 8 December 2020.
On the day of the interview, Prachachat reported that a dozen activists reported to police stations to acknowledge 3 lèse-majesté charges for holding pro-democracy protests. The activists included Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong Jadnok, Shinawat Chankrajang, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon.
After the interview, the SCA’s secretariat sent a letter to the NHRC’s chairperson saying that it had decided to postpone the assessment for 18 months. Phillip Wardle from the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) told the NHRC that the major concern of the SCA was Section 247 (4) of the 2017 Constitution.
The Section 247 (4) says that the NHRC shall have duties “to explain and report the correct facts without delay when there is a report on human rights situation in Thailand which is incorrect or unfair.” Such a provision is found in no other national human rights institution, and the SCA was concerned that it may undermine the “actual or perceived independence” of the Commission.
Prakairatana said that the NHRC had expressed its concern to the Constitution Drafting Committee that the Section 247 (4) was not in compliance with the Paris Principles. Before the interview with the SCA, they also tried to engage with the legislature and the executive branch to abolish this Section, but with no result.
Even though the assessment has been postponed for 18 months, the NHRC must submit documents to the SCA by October 2021. In the press release, Prakairatana asked the legislature, the executive branch and the new commissioners who will soon be appointed, to push forward a constitutional amendment to dispel the misunderstanding of perceived lack of independence.
The NHRC consists of 7 commissioners who can serve for only one 7-year term. In its third rotation, the current commissioners were appointed by the putschists’ legislature in 2015. Their term should have ended in 2017 with the new 2017 Constitution. However, the military National Council for Peace and Order announced an order, made legal by the 2017 Constitution, to prolong their terms as interim commissioners.
4 out of the original 7 have so far resigned. Chartchai Suthiklom resigned to work for Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission. Surachet Sathitniramai resigned out of stress from internal tensions. The other two, Tuenjai Deetes and the veteran human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit, resigned to protest the NHRC’s lack of independence in combating human rights violations. For 4 months, the NHRC was not fully functional because it lacked a quorum to approve important decisions.
The NHRC came back to work, with more than 200 pending cases, after 4 interim commissioners were appointed in November 2019. With the retirement of the former chairperson What Tingsamitr at the age of 70 on 14 September 2020 as required by the Constitution, Commissioner Prakairatana Thontiravong took over as the interim chairperson on 6 October 2020. The 6 current commissioners have remained in office because of the delayed selection process.