Despite concerns from human rights defenders at home and abroad, Thailand’s upper house on May 1 approved the seven nominees for the country’s National Human Rights Commission. The seven consist of a top cop, a judicial administrator, a civil servant, an industrialist, an academic, a former senator and a road safety advocate.
Only the ex-senator and academic have experience and knowledge to warrant their appointments, although critics observe that both also are tainted by their links with an army-installed government after the 2006 coup. The civil servant is a social worker who has some idea about children’s and women’s rights. The other four have no clue.
The policeman says that due process in some cases should be balanced with crime control, like in the country’s restive south. As a representative of Thailand’s preeminent agency for human rights abuse, he is now situated to block inquiries into security forces that abduct, torture and kill people on this pretext, be they near the Malaysian border or anywhere else.
The court administrator counts his human rights experience as having been involved in the drafting of a number of constitutions, including a couple written for the benefit of military dictators. He also reckons that he contributed to verdicts favorable to rights, although this is an odd and unsupportable claim from someone whose role is not supposed to include telling judges how to decide cases.
The road safety guy seems unaware that the body to which he has been appointed is a human rights commission, not a rights and duties commission, as he has so far been unable to talk about one without remarking on the other.
The businessman describes human rights as a tool for international groups to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency backing the spiritual group Falun Gong to cause trouble for China. He also says that other countries are violating the rights of Burma’s military regime by imposing sanctions. And that’s not even the start of it.
A more ugly lot of rights commissioners would be hard to find. But now they’re in, can anything be done to get them out again? Or is Thailand saddled with an anti-human rights commission for the next six years?
Abroad, the rights agency will probably lose its place in the United Nations. At the moment, it holds full status as an official national human rights institution and is entitled to participate in various gatherings and work with its peers in other countries through a special worldwide committee.
But its status is dependent on compliance with some minimum standards set down by the General Assembly, which are known as the Paris Principles. Under these, the choosing and appointing of members to a national rights body must be done in a way that results in it being pluralist and independent. The principles also specify that members should include people from human rights groups, trade unions and civil society.
The new commission in Thailand obviously is not pluralist, does not include people from these backgrounds and is not independent either, given that three of the seven members are coming straight from other state agencies. For these and more reasons, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission has called on the committee governing official rights groups to downgrade Thailand’s commission to its lowest ranking.
At home, the appointment of the seven even violates the regressive 2007 Constitution, in which the body should consist of persons “having apparent knowledge and experiences in the protection of rights and liberties of the people, having regard also to the participation of representatives from private organizations in the field of human rights.”
The appointment of the businessman too could breach a separate law on the commission because his financial interests may conflict with human rights. Actually, they already have. The former commission named him as a human rights violator for causing environmental damage in the northeast.
Even so, there is no obvious way for concerned citizens to get him or any of the others out. The 2007 charter superseded the terms of the law on the commission, and until a new act is passed there will be no clear-cut avenues for legislative removal of its members. In any case, the power to do so will ultimately rest with the same group of former army officers, judges, police and bureaucrats of the Senate who elected the commissioners in the first place.
The only other way to challenge the appointments is in the courts. But there the same problem emerges. The committee that selected the commissioners consisted of five judges, including the heads of each of the three superior courts. Approaching the judiciary to overturn the new rights agency would amount to telling the judges who chose the seven that they screwed up and should try again.
That there are no independent avenues for complaint against the electing of anti-human rights people to the human rights commission is not an accident. It is precisely what the 2006 coup-makers wanted, and what the flunkies who wrote their Constitution designed. Thailand’s superior courts are today intended to serve as proxies for entrenched military and elite interests. They are intended to obstruct people’s rights rather than protect them. Not surprisingly, they have assigned a National Human Rights Commission for the same ends.
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