19 May 2024

The timing of the enactment of Thailand’s law against torture and enforced disappearance and whether Thailand will ratify the Optional Protocols of the Convention against Torture were questioned at Thailand’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycle in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday. Concerns have also been raised over the current implementation of the Kingdom’s lèse majesté law.

Sweden raised similar questions when the law against torture and enforced disappearance will be enacted, four draft bills on which passed only the first parliamentary reading in September 2021, while the United States asked how the law will be enacted.

The exact timing has not yet been given by Thailand, but the drafts are being deliberated by a parliamentary committee and are expected to be debated and voted on in Parliament in this parliamentary term which will last until February 2022.

Having seen several delays over the past seven years, demands for such a bill have intensified over the past few years, with cases of enforced disappearances earning more public attention, especially the case of political activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who disappeared from the streets of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, near his apartment, in June 2020. His disappearance was one of the triggers for a growing anti-establishment movement last year.

Torture has also gained more attention in Thailand due to a case in the northern province of Nakhon Sawan, in which a group of seven, now dismissed, police officers were seen, in a leaked and widely shared video, suffocating to death a drug suspect with plastic bags.

The US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, Finland and Norway have also expressed concerns over Thailand’s lèse majesté law, with such concerns already voiced in previous UPRs.

Canada has urged a restriction of the enforcement of strategic laws against public participation (SLAPP), including lèse majesté, sedition and the computer crime act. The US has urged changes in the use of the lèse majesté law and the Emergency Decree, in place since March 2020. Others had similar recommendations related to revising the lèse majesté law.

The international calls for revisions of lèse majesté echo the Thai Opposition’s, particularly the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties, stance and movements to get fellow parliamentarians to vote for amendments of the law. Some anti-establishment protesters are calling for a repeal of the law altogether, with a hashtag for the movement top trending on Twitter over the past few weeks.

Among other human rights issues in Thailand which were raised, and of which revisions are being urged by other UN members, are the rights to assembly and freedom of expression, under which several anti-government protesters have been arrested, charged and prosecuted. Also of concern are refugees’ rights, as Thailand is not a party in the 1951 Refugee Convention and still does not recognise the refugee status, resulting in refugees being treated as illegal immigrants by the authorities and detained in immigration detention centres (IDCs) and being sent back to the countries they were fleeing from.

The US representatives said they welcomed Thailand’s previous commitments to end detention of migrant and refugee children and its efforts to address reports of overcrowding in the country’s IDCs, but questioned why refugee children are still being detained in IDCs, according to civil society reports.

The UPR is a unique process, which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states, and takes place for each country approximately every five years. The first Thailand UPR was in 2011 and the second in 2016.

In his opening statement, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Permanent Secretary Thani Thongphakdi stated that Thailand continues to make progress towards higher standards on human rights and remains committed to their promotion and protection, while fulfilling its obligations under international human rights treaties to which Thailand is a signatory.

Thailand’s human rights implementation and management during the COVID-19 pandemic was also highlighted by the MFA, together with a forward-looking perspective on the country’s human rights work in the future.

Thani said Thailand respects Thai people’s rights and freedom in their political gatherings, but those rights and freedoms need to be exercised appropriately and constructively, while taking into account the spread of the coronavirus.

According to the Thai MFA, many countries have commended Thailand for its efforts to promote economic, social and cultural rights, in particular for various vulnerable groups, taking good note of Thailand’s Universal Health Coverage policy, particularly during the COVID-19 situation.

Reported by Hathai Techakitteranun