Category Archives: courts

Thailand’s anti-human rights commission

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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? Continue reading

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Double legal standards jeopardize Thailand

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"We want to complain about a missing husband. He left home to join the Red Shirts and went missing." "He went missing on the day the army broke up the mob?" "No. On the day the police summoned him."

At a meeting of lawyers and jurists in Hong Kong this week a participant from Thailand identified the key issue for her country’s legal system as political control of the judiciary. Her statement was remarkable not because it revealed something that other participants didn’t already know, but because not long ago few professionals from Thailand willingly admitted that their laws and courts operate according to double standards. Now, few can deny it.

The double standards have been all too apparent this month. Following protests that forced leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and partner countries to flee from a summit venue in Pattaya, the incumbent prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, imposed a state of emergency as blockades and violence spread in Bangkok. The army deployed. A court promptly issued arrest warrants for the red-shirted demonstrators’ leaders. Some were quickly rounded up and detained, while others went into hiding.

By contrast, the yellow shirts that took over Government House and two international airports for an extended period last year were allowed to stay put until the government was forced out through a court ruling on a narrow question under the army-imposed 2007 Constitution. No soldiers came to eject them. The legal process took weeks to move against the organizers. When the new prime minister was questioned on the authorities’ inactivity he disingenuously said that it was a matter for the police, not him. The criminal inquiries have been repeatedly postponed and at no time have the yellow shirts’ leaders been held in custody. One of them, businessman Sondhi Limthongkul, last week survived a shooting attack on his car.

Although the ousted Thaksin Shinawatra regime undermined the work of the upper courts, it was the 2006 military coup that brought them back firmly and openly under executive control. The coup leaders shut down a senior court, appointed a tribunal in its stead, had it go after the former premier, declared themselves immune from prosecution and proclaimed all their orders lawful. After voters re-elected Thaksin allies to the lower house of parliament (top judges are now responsible for the upper), it took two absurd legal cases against successive prime ministers for the coup-makers to finally get a government after their own heart, rather than one that the electorate wanted. The judges responsible for the verdicts included men who owed their jobs to the generals.

The double legal standards in the handling of rival political camps have done nothing to diminish the likelihood of further bloodshed and uncertainty in the near future. On the contrary, the obvious differences in how the yellow shirts and red shirts have been treated will only encourage government opponents to resort to increasingly extralegal means to get their way. Both sides and their backers have the aptitude and means for violence. Thanks to the politicizing of Thailand’s courts, now they have more appetite for it too.

Source: Thai courts’ use of legal double standards encourages extralegal means by opposition

Visit to UNDP ends in prison

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Among the many people in Rangoon’s central jail who shouldn’t be there are a couple of journalists. These two did not write or say anything against the government. They didn’t do anything that constituted a threat to the army or its hold on power. Yet they were imprisoned on a charge of inciting others to “commit an offence against the state.”

How this happened illustrates the difficulties faced by people in Burma wanting to improve their society without putting themselves at risk.

The story begins just after Cyclone Nargis hit the country last May. The house of 24-year-old reporter Eint Khine Oo in the outer suburbs of Rangoon was not too badly damaged. After she and her family had patched it up, she started travelling around nearby areas to see how she could help. She worked with the local Red Cross, and sent some news to her journal, Ecovision.

Around a month later she ran into 29-year-old Kyaw Kyaw Thant, another reporter and a former editor of the popular Weekly Eleven journal. He had also been looking around to see what was going on and what he could do about it. Like so many people, he brought food and money to cyclone victims. He gave the money to Red Cross personnel to pay for some medicines.

The two of them got talking. Local authorities were trying to force a group of homeless people staying at a religious hall to go back to their now nonexistent houses. The people didn’t want to stay in the hall, but it was raining and they had no materials with which to make temporary shelters back where they had come from.

The reporters spoke with Red Cross country staff and agreed to go to the International Committee of the Red Cross in town, in the naive hope that they might be able to get some assistance there. But rather than going by themselves they decided it would be better if some of the people in need of the materials came too.

Continue reading

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

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A court in Rangoon on March 5 sentenced three men who didn’t know each other to a decade’s imprisonment for a crime that they never committed – or rather, for a crime so nebulous that if any of them had ever used a computer he wouldn’t know if he had committed it or not.

The three, Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo, were accused of sending news about the September 2007 protests in Burma through the Internet. All were already in jail for other purported crimes.

The next day, police in Bangkok came to one of Thailand’s few outspoken and credible media outlets, Prachatai, searched the premises and arrested its director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. She is accused of having failed to patrol, censor and delete the comments that readers left on a news website.

The police have charged Chiranuch under the Computer Crime Act 2007, which is only an “act” to the extent that the assembly of handpicked military stooges that passed it could be considered a legislature. According to this law, the importing of “false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage” to a third party or the public or “is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” can land the accused a five-year jail term.

Now let’s compare that with Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law 2004, Continue reading

Five years…

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Somchai Neelaphaijit. Still missing, still no one punished: March 12, 2004

We will not forget.

DOWNLOAD NEW BOOK: Reading between the lines, by Angkhana Neelaphaijit (Thai version available here)

Thailand’s rights reputation in the sewer

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(ชื่อเสียงของไทยด้านสิทธิเปรียบเสมือนอยู่ในท่อน้ำเสียแล้ว)

Not so long ago, Thailand’s representatives at United Nations meetings sat quietly while counterparts from nearby countries like Burma and Cambodia were grilled on their human rights records.

Around the world, Thailand’s legal, political and social developments in the 1990s were greeted with applause, and its people in Geneva could sit comfortably, confident that their country would be held up as an example of somewhere with an improved record, even as their neighbors were being singled out for the opposite reason.

How times have changed. This week, the Asian Legal Resource Center submitted a statement to the Human Rights Council (above) that has painted the bleakest picture yet of denied rights and declining rule of law in Thailand during the past few years. [การเติบโตขึ้นของรัฐแห่งความมั่นคงภายในและการเสื่อมถอยของสิทธิมนุษยชนในประเทศไทย]

According to the Hong Kong-based group, Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state. The center’s indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity, Internet censorship and the lese-majesty witch-hunt, threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas. Continue reading

Breaking Burma’s official secrets

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When some villagers in Natmauk, central Burma, made a complaint last year that the army had illegally occupied land they had been farming, they probably hoped for a more sympathetic response than what they received.

The army unit concerned – which had set up an arms depot and allowed the farmers to return to their fields only upon payment of special fees – promptly detained and interrogated four of those who complained. After it got what it wanted from them, it illegally arrested another four, keeping them at its base and allegedly torturing them.

Two were also later released, while the other two were brought to court to be charged. One of them became a witness for the prosecutor, and in the end only one person had a case brought against him.

That person is Ko Zaw Htay, a 43-year-old who had previously been detained over an accidental death on a road being built with forced labor – in breach of a government agreement with the International Labor Organization to stamp out the use of unpaid conscript workers on state projects.

Evidently, the local powers-that-be had it in for Zaw Htay. What really annoyed them was not the new complaint, but the fact that he had supposedly sent video footage of the confiscated land abroad, two-and-a-half minutes of which were broadcast on an overseas news website. Continue reading