Thailand pushes for Asean human rights mechanism, S’pore ‘strongly’ supports

Bangkok Post
06 Mar 07

In the past five months, the protection of human rights has been one of the few areas in which the interim government of General Surayud has performed well above average.

This is indeed an unusual commendation for an administration that was not elected and came to power through military force. Such regimes normally do not adhere to the principles of human rights. Such is the absurdity of Thai politics.

Since he assumed the premiership last year, General Surayud has reiterated time and again that his government would use peaceful means and dialogue to resolve the ongoing conflict in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.

His continued pledge of non-violence – even in the face of terrorist attacks and further threats from insurgents and political extremists – has made him unpopular among some elements in the security forces who believe that an armed response should be the name of the game.

Such people say the government and security forces should stand their ground – but the government continues to pursue peaceful methods to counter the daily violence in the South. It remains to be seen whether this pacifist approach can lead to a cessation of violence, or even to a reduction in the number of deaths and injuries.

In this regard the prime minister has instructed the Justice Ministry to establish a special committee to investigate the numerous cases of human rights violations and extra-judicial killings that took place between 2001-2006.

The objective is clear: to prosecute the perpetrators, whoever they are, at the highest level, within the framework of domestic laws. The committee, to be made up of human rights activists from both the government and private sector, will look at the overall pattern of human rights violations, rather than investigate alleged violations on a case-by-case basis.

To further prove its goodwill, the government recently approved the setting up of a regional office of the International Commission of Jurists. The Geneva-based human rights monitoring and promotion organisation has long wanted to establish a presence in Bangkok. The Thaksin government received such a request but simply swept it under the carpet.

It was General Surayud himself who instructed the National Security Council to give a positive response to the ICJ request. The organisation’s presence in Bangkok, the government believes, will have a positive, long-term impact on the human rights situation in Thailand. It will act as a deterrent against violations and ensure that future governments do not openly flout human rights conventions.

At the foreign ministerial retreat in Siem Reap, Cambodia last week, Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram told the assembly that Asean must move forward to establish a regional mechanism for human rights protection.

This is a laudable stance, as it follows the government’s policy guideline that promotion of human rights at the regional level is important. After all, Asean remains the only international regional grouping which has no human rights mechanism of its own. With such a mechanism, it would be easier to provide protection of human rights for all Asean members. Of course, not all members are ready for such an arrangement. This is still the most embarrassing aspect of Asean, because over half of its members do not have governments that are democratic or respect human rights.

At the Siem Reap meeting, Singapore, which used to be cool on human rights, strongly supported the Thai motion.

But Thailand’s overture was made to the chagrin of some Asean members, especially Laos and Burma. But while being a little recalcitrant, they eventually went along with Thailand. Indeed, the Eminent Persons Group suggested that such a mechanism was crucial for the future of Asean. In 1993 Asean agreed to set up the mechanism, but there has been no progress whatsoever. It is hoped that after the completion of the Asean Charter, the group will be able to proceed with the idea.

Furthermore, the Thai government has also urged the Asean Charter drafters – who have already started work – to take additional input from civil society organisations so that Asean will be more people-oriented. Next month, the drafters will meet representatives of such organisations to get direct input from them. However, it remains to be seen how much input the drafting committee will be willing to consider. But for now, it’s thumbs up for the government’s human rights record.