Human rights in Thailand
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The current (2016) constitution, drafted by a body appointed by the military junta (NCPO), states in section 4: "The human dignity, rights, liberty and equality of the people shall be protected". This is unchanged from the 2007 constitution. Sections 26 to 63 set out an extensive range of specific rights in such areas as criminal justice, education, non-discrimination, religion, and freedom of expression.
The 2007 constitution reinstated much of the extensive catalogue of rights explicitly recognized in the People's Constitution of 1997. That constitution outlined the right to freedom of speech, freedom of press, peaceful assembly, association, religion, and movement within the country and abroad.
The 1997 constitution was abrogated in September 2006 following a military coup. The military regime imposed an interim constitution which was in effect until the 2007 version was approved a year later by referendum. The 2007 constitution was partially abrogated by the military regime that came to power in May 2014 and replaced by an interim constitution in effect until the new constitution was approved in 2016.
Many new rights were introduced in the 1997 constitution. These included the right to free education, the rights of traditional communities, and the right to peacefully protest coups and other extra-constitutional means of acquiring power, the rights of children, the elderly, rights of the handicapped, and equality of the genders. Freedom of information, the right to public health and education, and consumer rights were also recognized. A total of 40 rights, compared to only nine rights in the constitution of 1932, were recognized in the 1997 constitution.
Infringement of human rights
In general, the Thai government reportedly respects the rights of its citizens. The U.S. Department of State, however, has registered concerns in several areas.
Human trafficking is a major issue in Thailand. This includes misleading and kidnapping men from Cambodia by traffickers and selling them into illegal fishing boats that trawl the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. These men are promised better paid jobs but instead forced to work as sea slaves as much as 3 years. Numerous international news organizations including The Guardian, AP, and The New York Times have extensively covered the topic; The Associated Press, in particular, has won prominent awards for their coverage (although not without controversy for overstating their role in combating trafficking).
Children trafficking is also another major issue in Thailand forcing kidnapped children as young as four to use as sex slaves in major cities like Bangkok and Phuket. Such activities are especially rife in rural areas of Thailand.
Instances of forced labor in the fish and shrimp industry as well as child labour in the pornography industry are still observed in Thailand and have been reported in the 2013 U.S. Department of Labor's report on the worst forms of child labor and in the 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
Rights of the press and right to assembly
In the wake of the 2006 Thailand coup d'état, the right to free speech and travel has been seriously eroded. The military has implemented a ban on political meetings and does not allow for any criticism of them in the media. Political activities of all types were also banned. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) noted that Thailand's media environment—prior to the coup considered one of the freest and most vibrant in Asia—had quickly deteriorated following the military ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra. It noted the closure of around 300 community radio stations in Thai provinces, the intermittent blocking of cable news channels (particularly whenever news on Thaksin and criticism of the coup came up), and the suspension of some Thai websites devoted to discussing the implications of military intervention to Thai democracy. SEAPA also noted that while there seemed to be no crackdown on journalists, and while foreign and local reporters seemed free to roam, interview, and report on the coup as they saw fit, self-censorship was a certain issue in Thai newsrooms.
Infringement in the south of Thailand
Problems have been reported in the southern provinces related to the South Thailand insurgency. Some 180 persons are reported to have died there while in custody in 2004. In a particularly high-profile case, Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit was reportedly harassed, threatened, and finally forcibly disappeared in March 2004 following his allegations of torture by state security forces. In 2006, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stated that he believed that Somchai was dead and that state security forces appeared to be responsible. Five policemen were eventually charged in Somchai's death, though the trial only resulted in one conviction that was overturned on appeal in March 2011. The verdict was denounced by the Asian Human Rights Commission, and Somchai's wife Angkhana declared her intention to continue to appeal the case to the Thai Supreme Court.
Deaths relating to the 2003 war on drugs
The government's antidrug war in 2003 resulted in more than 2,500 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers. Prison conditions and some provincial immigration detention facilities are characterized as poor. In 2004 more than 1,600 persons died in prison or police custody, 131 as a result of police actions.
The Nation reported on 27 November 2007:
"Of 2,500 deaths in the government's war on drugs in 2003, a fact-finding panel has found that more than half was not involved in drug at all. At a brainstorming session, a representative from the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) Tuesday disclosed that as many as 1,400 people were killed and labelled as drug suspects despite the fact that they had no link to drugs....Senior public prosecutor Kunlapon Ponlawan said it was not difficult to investigate extra-judicial killings carried out by police officers as the trigger-pullers usually confessed."
The 24 January 2008 edition of The Economist reported:
...a panel set up last year by the outgoing junta recently concluded the opposite: over half of those killed in 2003 had no links to the drugs trade. The panel blamed the violence on a government 'shoot-to-kill' policy based on flawed blacklists. But far from leading to the prosecutions of those involved, its findings have been buried. The outgoing interim prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, took office vowing to right Mr Thaksin's wrongs. Yet this week he said there was insufficient evidence to take legal action over the killings. It is easy to see why the tide has turned. Sunai Phasuk, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, a lobbying group, says that the panel's original report named the politicians who egged on the gunmen. But after the PPP won last month's elections, those names were omitted.
The New York Times reported on 8 April 2003:
Since the death of 9-year-old Chakraphan, there have been frequent reports in the Thai press of summary executions and their innocent victims. There was the 16-month-old girl who was shot dead along with her mother, Raiwan Khwanthongyen. There was the pregnant woman, Daranee Tasanawadee, who was killed in front of her two young sons. There was the 8-year-old boy, Jirasak Unthong, who was the only witness to the killing of his parents as they headed home from a temple fair. There was Suwit Baison, 23, a cameraman for a local television station, who fell to his knees in tears in front of Mr. Thaksin and begged for an investigation into the killing of his parents. His stepfather had once been arrested for smoking marijuana, Mr. Suwit said. When the police offered to drop the charge if he would admit to using methamphetamines, he opted instead to pay the $100 fine for marijuana use. Both parents were shot dead as they returned home from the police station on a motorbike. Mr. Suwit said 10 other people in his neighborhood had also been killed after surrendering to the police.
In a report entitled, "Make Him Speak by Tomorrow": Torture and other Ill-Treatment in Thailand that was to have been formally released in Bangkok on 28 September 2016, Amnesty International accused the Thai police and military of 74 incidents of brutality. An Amnesty International press conference to unveil the report was halted by Thai authorities who cited Thai labour laws prohibiting visiting foreigners from working in Thailand. The three foreign speakers were Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Yubal Ginbar, a lawyer working for the rights group, and Laurent Meillan, acting Southeast Asia representative for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights. The Thai government denied the torture allegations. The government spokesman, General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, emphasized that, "Our investigations into such allegations have shown no indication of torture, I have seen no indication of torture and the Thai people have seen no indication of torture,..." Jeremy Laurence, a representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) had been scheduled to speak at the press conference. "This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand," he said.
Thailand has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture since 2 October 2007. Section 28 of the Thai 2016 constitution states, "A torture, [sic] brutal act or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall be prohibited."
Burmese refugees in Thailand can stay in one of the refugee camps along the border with Burma, which protect them from arrest and summary removal to Burma but they lack freedom to move or work. Or, they can live and work outside the camps, but typically without recognized legal status of any kind, leaving them at risk of arrest and deportation. From 2005 to 2011, more than 76,000 Burmese refugees were resettled from the border camps to third countries, though the total number of camp residents has remained at about 140,000.
Camp refugees who venture out of the camps are regarded by the Thai government as illegal aliens and are subject to arrest. Thai police or paramilitaries regularly apprehend camp residents and either return them to camp if the refugees pay sufficient bribes, or send them to one of Thailand’s Immigration Detention Centers and then deport them to Burma. Refugees in the camps find themselves subject to abuse and exploitation at the hands of other refugees. Refugees working as camp security as well as camp leaders and camp residents with hidden connections to ethnic armed groups inside Burma all wield power in the camps.
- Censorship in Thailand
- Constitution of Thailand
- LGBT rights in Thailand
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- Freedom of expression in Thailand - IFEX
- Asian Human Rights Commission - Thailand homepage
- Rule of Lords Weekly column on human rights & the rule of law in Thailand and Burma
- Royal Thai Police catalogue or torture and murder