Tag Archives: 2007 Constitution

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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Thailand’s new rights commission is a joke

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(คณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชน ชุดใหม่ ของประเทศไทย เป็นเรื่องตลก)

This week the Asian Human Rights Commission issued three open letters on the selection of candidates for the new National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. The regional body has warned that if the Senate goes ahead and accepts the seven current nominees then the commission may cease to meet international standards, causing it to lose its status before the United Nations.

The seven candidates have been thrust forward after a hurried selection process about which almost no one in Thailand knows anything. The process began only in March after a long delay. It is set to be completed Friday, when the country’s upper house of military and bureaucratic yes-men will consider making the appointments. [UPDATE: The Senate on Friday elected all seven candidates to the NHRC. See further below.]

While few people in Thailand know that new commissioners have been nominated, few of the nominees know about human rights. Only one of the seven aspirants, Nirand Pithakwachara, formerly an elected senator under the repealed 1997 Constitution, has practical experience. Nirand has worked with environmental and citizens’ groups on a variety of issues, and was on Senate committees that inquired into rights abuses prior to the 2006 military coup.

The other six include Police General Vanchai Srinuwalnad, who states that he has conducted various human rights training courses but does not indicate from where he has obtained his knowledge on the topic; Constitution Court Secretary Paibool Varahapaitoorn, who claims to have participated in the making of judgments favorable to human rights, even though his role is administrative, not judicial; and Taejing Siripanich, head of a group that does good work in discouraging drunken driving but which has little if any relevance to the job for which he is applying.

The worst of the lot is Parinya Sirisarakarn, an industrialist who was a part of the undemocratic assembly that drafted the regressive 2007 Constitution. Not only does he have nothing to suggest himself to the post of rights commissioner, he was himself named in a 2007 NHRC investigative report as responsible for causing environmental damage in the northeast, where he holds a license to extract salt. Continue reading

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

Constitutional game-playing imperils Thailand

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The verdict to dissolve three parties in Thailand’s coalition government and ban the prime minister and his party executives from politics for five years is the latest in a series of increasingly surreal judgments that have brought the country’s senior judiciary to the center of its political mayhem. It follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court’s predecessor last May to terminate the party of the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from which the newly-disbanded People’s Power Party was born. It also follows another unanimous ruling from the court this September to throw out the then-Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, for cooking on TV.

Like the cooking show verdict, the judges this time ruled on a narrow legal question under section 237 of the 2007 Constitution. According to this clause, any member of parliament found to have committed or abetted an offense under the electoral act, or contrary to any order or announcement of the Election Commission, shall be deprived of voting rights. These offences could be minor, may change from time to time with new orders from the commission, and do not even constitute criminal acts. But anyhow, if it can be shown that the party leader or any executive member knew about the offense and failed to do anything about it, then it is mandatory that the party is dissolved and its executive banned.

Imaginary scenarios for how a similar law might apply to other professions don’t need to be stretched very far to realize the section’s absurdity. Continue reading

Constitution court rewards criminality

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(ศาลไทย ตบรางวัลให้แก่กลุ่มคนที่ทำผิดกฎหมาย)

History repeated itself in Thailand this week when a top court for the second time in as many years dissolved the biggest political party, along with two of its partners, and effectively banned its leader and executive members from politics.

The Constitution Court, which inherited the job from an interim tribunal that issued a similar order against the former ruling party last May, unanimously disbanded the three coalition partners in accordance with section 237 of the 2007 Constitution.

Under this remarkable clause, which an unelected panel wrote into the charter on behalf of the 2006 coup makers, political parties must be dissolved if it can be shown that they failed to prevent electoral offences from occurring in their ranks.

In football, this would be the equivalent of a rule that if one player gets a red card, the whole team is disqualified from the league, with the captain and coach sent into early retirement.

The ruling allowed the political extremists, who had brought thousands of human shields to occupy the airports for a week, to declare victory and go home in time for the king’s birthday on Friday.

Irrespective of the formal grounds for the sentence, in timing and content it has been perceived as endorsing the extremists’ ideology and goals. In effect, the court has indicated that while vote buying cannot be tolerated, hijacking public facilities, vandalizing property, shooting at people and vehicles, illegally detaining fellow citizens, attacking state officers and setting up a proxy police force not only can be tolerated but can even be rewarded. Continue reading

Cooking lessons, guilty; coup, no problem

"I won't leave! I won't leave! I won't..." "LEAVE!"

Among all the responses to the judicial sacking of the prime minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, this week, the New Mandala blog summed it up:

Hosting a TV cooking show = Guilty!

Staging a coup and tearing up a constitution = No problem!

As the blog post suggests, arguments about the technicalities of whether or not Samak was employed to be a television chef during his time in office, thus violating the 2007 constitution, miss the point. Although that may have been the matter upon which the court was asked to decide, this is not what the rest of us should dwell upon.

Let it not be forgotten that in September 2006 when the generals took power in Thailand, the upper courts did as they have always done at these times: nothing. The junta quietly chucked out the constitution and its court while farcically purporting to uphold judicial independence.

In May the following year, the coup was tacitly endorsed in a verdict of the court’s successor, a military-appointed tribunal, on the simpleminded premise that as every other military takeover was legitimized through the courts, then why not this one too.

It did not have to be that way. Continue reading

Thailand’s rights commission in limbo

Thailand’s human rights agency has been in limbo since September 2006 when the army took power for the umpteenth time.

The National Human Rights Commission was by no means the coup’s biggest casualty. After all, it wasn’t shut down completely, like the parliament and one of the upper courts. But the commission has not fared well since then, and its confused and contradictory response to the military takeover in some ways typified its deeper problems.

Commissioners took dramatically different stands on the coup, its chairman refusing to condemn it, one member joining protestors on the streets, ultimately to be forced out by the junta’s unelected legislature. Some others were gently critical, while a number were neither seen nor heard.

There was also disagreement about whether or not the commission even had a mandate to keep operating, given that it was a body expressly established under a constitution that no longer existed.

These sorts of inconsistencies have dogged the commission’s work for the last few years. Continue reading