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CSOs underline concern over viable downside of new NPO Act

A joint statement by 47 Civil Society Organizations and individuals underlines their concerns over the Not-for-Profit Organizations B.E…  Draft Act, saying there would be needless damage upon the livelihood of their operations which benefit the public.

Men in security vests observe protesters. (File photo)

27 December 2021 
Cabinet Ministers of the Royal Thai Government 
Government House 
1 Phitsanulok Road Dusit 
Bangkok, Thailand 
Cc: Council of State 
All members of the National Assembly of Thailand 
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand 

Re: The Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations B.E… 

Dear Ministers 

We, the undersigned Thai and international organizations, write to express our deep concern regarding the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for Profit Organizations B.E… (‘Draft Act’) dated 21 December 2021. We are civil society groups working on a wide range of social,  economic, environmental and human rights issues and collectively our activities assist millions of people in Thailand.  

Whilst each of our organizations are very different from each other, we are united in our alarm and opposition to the Draft Act which contains numerous provisions that would subject not-for profit organizations (NPOs) and its members to excessively restrictive measures curtailing their rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights,  including facing arbitrary interference with the right to privacy. 

Whilst many aspects of the Draft Act are concerning, in particular, Sections 19, 20, 21, 25, 26  and 27 are extremely problematic.  

Under Sections 19 and 21, several of the proposed requirements for information disclosure do  not specify the purpose, which could enable the exercise of arbitrary power. Existing legislation (including the Civil and Commercial Code, Revenue Code, regulations on foreign private  organizations) already requires a particular level of transparency and relevant authorities have the power to investigate when necessary.  

Section 20 is overly broad, vague and drafted so that legitimate activities by most not-profit organizations in Thailand could, to some degree, be interpreted as falling under its prohibited categories. In its current form, this section could allow for arbitrary interpretation and  implementation. In a country of 70 million people, any of these provisions could easily be applied arbitrarily to severely restrict freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and other human rights.

Section 20 states that “a Not-for-Profit Organization must not operate in the following manner: (1) Affect the government’s security, including the government’s economic security, or relations between countries. 

(2) Affect public order, or people’s good morals, or cause divisions within society. (3) Affect public interest, including public safety.  

(4) Act in violation of the law. 

(5) Act to infringe on the rights and liberties of other persons, or affect the happy, normal  existence of other persons.” 

The list of prohibitions in this section is so broad that it could likely capture activity by NPOs  working on most issues of public interest, or bilateral and multilateral development initiatives  involving civil society. 

Additionally, Section 20 does not respect the principle of legality in international law, which requires that laws be drafted in a way that makes their consequences foreseeable so that organizations and people can regulate their behaviour in accordance with them. 

Section 21 curtails certain privacy rights that NPOs are entitled to. Requirements around foreign  funding are overbroad and violate the right to freedom of association, which embraces the ability to seek and secure resources, both domestic and international. 

Sections 25, 26 and 27 propose punishments which are overly punitive, disproportionate and  likely to discourage individuals and groups from being active participants in Thailand’s civil society. 

This Act, if passed with its currently excessively broad provisions, could be easily misused and abused to significantly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights. Not only could it have a significant impact on a wide range of grassroots, national and international civil society groups in Thailand, but such an Act threatens Thailand’s status as a hub for local and international not-for-profit organizations working on  diverse issues of public interest in Southeast Asia. 

Urging the Government of Thailand to support civil society and to uphold human rights is  consistent with the constitutional requirement to protect fundamental rights. Additionally, this is in line with Thailand’s National Strategy on Public Sector Rebalancing and Development. While  we recognize that the Royal Thai Government has a duty to protect public order and national  security, authorities must do so in a manner that is in accordance with international human  rights law, and that is proportionate, necessary and fulfills the government’s obligations to ensure and facilitate respect for human rights.  

We note that the United Nations Charter recognizes the importance of international cooperation  to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms  for all”. 

In light of the above grave concerns, we consider the Draft Act inconsistent with Thailand’s constitutional requirement to protect fundamental rights and its obligations under international  

human rights law and standards. We call upon the Thai government to withdraw the Draft Act  immediately and reaffirm its constitutional and international obligations to measurably protect, promote and fulfill the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other  human rights. 

Additionally, the undersigned Thai organizations call on all members of the National Assembly  of Thailand and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to support a vibrant, diverse and independent civil society and oppose the Draft Act in its current form. 

Finally, we urge the Thai Government to ensure a fully transparent and constructive consultative  process of an adequate time frame that meaningfully involves the general public, not-for-profit  organizations and other relevant stakeholders, and results in an outcome that benefits, rather  than harms, people in Thailand and this region. 

Thank you for your attention to the issues and recommendations expressed in this letter. We  remain available to discuss this matter further with the Royal Thai Government and would  welcome further opportunities to support the government in meeting its constitutional and  international obligations. 

Sincerely, 

1. Amnesty International 

2. APCOM Foundation

3. Article 19 

4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 

5. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)

6. Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD) 

7. Civicnet Foundation

8. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 

9. Community Resource Centre Foundation

10. Cross Cultural Foundation

11. ENLAWTHAI Foundation

12. Feminist's Liberation Front

13. Foundation for Labor and Employment Promotion

14. Green South Foundation 

15. Greenpeace Thailand 

16. Home Net Thailand Association

17. Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)

18. Human Rights Lawyers Association

19. Law Long Beach

20. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada 

21. Manushya Foundation

22. Migrant Working Group

23. Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand

24. NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGOCOD)

25. Non-Binary Thailand

26. Peace and Culture Foundation

27. Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand

28. Social Democracy Think Tank - Thailand 

29. Sustainable Development Foundation 

30. TEA Group

31. Thai Allied Committee with Desegregated Burma Foundation

32. Thai Volunteer Service Foundation

33. The Northeastern Women’s Network

34. The Relative Committee of May 1992 Heroes 

35. The Southern Feminist’s Liberation - Thailand

37. Stop Drink Network,  

38. Committee on Agrian Reform And Rural Development Phichit Province

39. Network of Alternative Agriculture and Sustainable Development, Phichit Province

40. People Network for Community Rights and Conservation

41. Soil, Water, Forest Resource Network, Lower Northern Region

42. Soil, Water, Forest Resource Network, Kamphaeng Phet Province

43. People Network Monitoring Satun Province Development Plan

44. Disabilities Thailand

45. Angkhana Neelapaijit

46. Wanchai Phutthong

47. Suthawan Buapan

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