On the 1st of June, in Geneva, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opened its 55th Session hearing from national human rights institutions and NGOs which included consideration of country reports from Thailand.
On this occasion, Thai CSOs presented a joint statement about Thailand’s Human Rights landscape today, denouncing the constant deterioration of the situation, since the military Government reform removed institutions granting human rights protection and southern provinces of Thailand are still under martial law.
According to the statement, Human Rights Defenders are facing threats and intimidation from both state and non-state actors, and their work is criminalized by the restrictions on civil and political rights recently introduced by the Military government. 60 land rights activists have been killed since 2003 and many have disappeared, making Thailand one of the most dangerous countries in Asia to defend land rights.
Also, concern has been expressed about the persecution of Rohingya in their country of origin, the normative gaps in the effective protection against gender discrimination, the violations Indigenous Peoples are subjected to, and the limited enjoyment of the right to education.
As part of its broader mission to defend HRDs, Protection International was among the co-signers of the following statement.
“55th Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Geneva, 1 – 19 June 2015
Initial and Second Periodic Report of THAILAND
A joint statement of NGOs
Dear Excellency, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
This is a joint statement by various Thai civil society groups who have submitted Alternative Reports to the Committee. What follows are some of the key concerns and dynamics in Thailand’s Human Rights landscape today. We hope to present the committee with both an overview and a complement to our reports, as the situation is in constant flux, and deteriorating.
Firstly, the on-going national reforestation programme is affecting poor communities because the Army and forestry officials have been evicting poor people from the land they have settled. The National Human Rights
Commission has received more than 44 urgent requests for intervention by communities at threat of eviction since the beginning of the programme one year ago. Not only evictions, but the authorities have also been cutting down the agricultural trees planted by farmers. Furthermore, changes to legislation on ‘Reserved Forest Areas’ will see such land become more accessible to private, corporate entities for economic exploitation.
The military government should repeal NCPO No.64/2014 and 66/2014 and stop arrests relating to allegation of land encroachment and stop threatening local communities to evict or move out prior to consultation and verifying the land location with participatory approaches. The National Reforestation Programme is a tool for the junta to evict poor people, and pursue favourable opportunities and treatment for established corporations.
Moreover, the broader land rights issue and redistribution of land to the poor and landless people has been worsening by the military effort to reforestation except all existing legislative and administrative mechanism. Criminal and civil charges has been increasing dramatically with harsh punishment.
Furthermore between 22 May 2014 and 1 April 2015, the martial law has been used as tool to lead all operation arbitrarily. Up to day the affected individual and committee has not yet been compensated.
Secondly, regarding land rights, more than 60 land rights activists have been killed in Thailand since 2003 and other prominent activists and their families have suffered forced disappearances. This makes Thailand one of the most dangerous country in Asia to defend and advocate for land rights.
The extent of the land rights problems is such that, 811,892 families don’t have land and 1.5 million families have to rent out arable land for agricultural use. Research shows that 90% of land documents in Thailand is concentrated in the hands of 50 individuals and legal persons. Community-based Human Rights Defenders are at the forefront of rural and poor people’s struggle to enjoy rights of self-determination over natural resources in their areas. But, across Thailand, community-based Human Rights Defenders are facing threats and intimidation from both state and non-state actors. Such threats range from hired gunmen raiding villages at night, extrajudicial killings, repeated death threats, defamation lawsuits by companies and authorities, legal harassment campaigns, manipulation of media stories by local authorities, and more. The work of Human Rights Defenders is also being criminalised by the restrictions on civil and political rights such as the new Assembly act which recently introduced by Military government .
Yet, new mining concessions are being granted, new gas and oil exploration is starting, and local communities are excluded from all decision-making processes. We ask the committee to pay specific attention to the criminalization of Human Rights Defenders for their legitimate work in monitoring, promoting and defending Human Rights in Thailand.
Furthermore, authorities should suspend reform on natural resource management legislation until democratic and representative legislative structures have been elected. It is also important to reiterate that supporting and enhancing Women Human Rights Defenders working on land rights and natural resources management is the best way to redistribute land, social and economic power to women, especially for the Women Human Rights Defenders who are facing higher security risks, unjust division of labour in the home based on gender discrimination and social stigma for taking leadership roles.
Thirdly, the military government’s reform is also removing the state institutions which are there to safeguard Human Rights in Thailand, as we can see with the planned merger of the National Human Rights Commission with the Office of the Ombudsman. It is important to remind ourselves that the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand remain under martial law, as they have been since January 2004. From 2004 to 2013, a total of 22,979 people were reported as physically affected by violence in the southernmost provinces, 7,567 of whom died (more than 6,000 deaths are directly attributed to the violent conflict).
Also, the families of people who have been arbitrarily arrested or arrested on national security grounds face discrimination and stigmatisation at school and in the workplace. Women are left as breadwinners, but also in a situation of insecurity and psychological pressure from and on the children. State support programmes aimed at people who have suffered from the violence in the south don’t cover the families of the people who have been arbitrarily detained. Furthermore, the military government should make every effort to protect ethnic Malay Muslim women and empower them to join local administrative organizations, by adopting the provisions of UN Security Council No. 1325.
The state should protect the rights of teachers and public health workers to work in armed conflict areas, ensure access to health services for families, women and children, particularly reproductive health and rights, maternal health for pregnant women, alleviation from drug addictions and disease, such as HIV/AIDS, and guarantee the rights of ethnically Malays Muslim women to access to justice. The military government must stop child marriage, forced marriage and gender base violence, despite the fact that Thailand ratified and enacted the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), it is still legal to discriminate against women if it serves a national security, religious, or safety concern.
Fourthly, The emerging concern of the state-sponsored and systematic Human Rights persecution against the Rohingya people, require that the countries in the region implement a binding agreement to put in place the immediate protection of the Rohingya and a long-term solution. We would like to urge the Committee to seek urgent clarification on how the recent regional summit hosted by Thailand brought about meaningful action on the root causes of persecution against the Rohingya in the country of origin, the transit country and the country of destination. The discrimination faced by the Rohingya is spread across the region as the Rohingya are at high-risk of being sold into forced labour in the fishing industry, including with the collusion of high-level state officials.
Fifthly, repeated violations and intimidation against the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, namely by destroying the specific means of subsistence of Indigenous Peoples. The marginalization and exclusion of
Indigenous People benefits the economic development model which the Thai state is, often violently, imposing on peoples who have different livelihoods and means of subsistence.
Sixthly, education is a basic rights as well as a means to acquire economic, social and cultural right. We request the committee to raise concern and give recommendations to the Thai military government to adopt and implement a rights based approach to education as guided in UNESCO document of A Human Rights based Approach to Education for All. The military government should also take steps to effect the ratification of UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child -the 59th session in 2012.
Based on all these issues raised we, as civil society organisations, are here to call for democratic and just governance which will enable people, particularly the most marginalized, to participate in local and national institutions and to make free and informed decisions over their own lives, their communities, and their futures.“