Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions / Forum Asia

(Bangkok, 27 January 2015) - National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Asia still have considerable steps to take to ensure their full compliance in law and practice with the Paris Principles, the Asian NGO Network on NHRIs (ANNI) said following the recent release of the outcome report after the accreditation review from 27-31 October 2014 convened by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs, the international governing body of NHRIs. Reflecting on the international body’s latest review exercise, ANNI stressed the importance of compliance with the Paris Principles through the practices and activities of NHRIs, and reiterated its call for NHRIs to ensure timely interventions, quality of responses and systematic follow-up plans to collectively address larger systemic issues in the country that can lead to institutional change.

The International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs’ Sub-Committee on Accreditation (ICC-SCA) recommended that the NHRIs from Mongolia, Afghanistan and Nepal retain their ‘A’ status, while the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand was downgraded and the determination of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s status was deferred to the March 2015 session.

The Asian NHRIs under review (including those re-accredited with ‘A’ status continue to be beset by problems that inhibit their independence and effectiveness. The ICC-SCA recommendations from the review also highlighted the critical role that States must play in the creation of an enabling environment for NHRIs to discharge their duties and actualize their mandates. Many NHRIs continue to be under-resourced or confront restrictions to their mandate and competence.

Commenting on the ICC-SCA’s review of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia (NHRM)’s accreditation, Urantsooj Gombosuren, Executive Director of Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) said, “Despite retaining its ‘A’ status, the NHRCM cannot afford to be complacent and must begin to robustly address repeated recommendations relating to the selection and appointment process as well as strengthening protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.”

South Korea’s NHRI, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK), had the decision on its accreditation once again deferred by the ICC-SCA. The international governing body of NHRIs reiterated its concerns expressed in previous assessments of NHRCK, particularly in relation to deficiencies in its enabling law concerning selection, pluralism and immunity of its members.

Responding to this, NHRCK-Watch’s Eunji Kang said, “Even despite repeated deferrals by the ICC-SCA to prove its compliance with the Paris Principles, the NHRCK has been disingenuous and even diluted its proposed amendments on the Enabling Law to Parliament at the last minute. The recent appointment, again through a problematic selection process, of Commissioner Choi Ee-woo who has openly spoken out against LGBT rights, again highlights how the NHRCK is in crisis.”

Meanwhile, although the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRCN) was given an ‘A’ status, with the ICC-SCA welcoming the recent appointment of five Commissioners after a long period being vacant, the international body nevertheless recommended for further improvements, including for the NHRCN to advocate for changes in its enabling law that will ensure for a more comprehensive and transparent selection process of Commissioners. Bijaya Gautam, Executive Director of Nepal’s Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) noted, “We are relieved that the NHRC Nepal has finally emerged from a period of limbo and welcome the appointment of all members. However, a myriad of issues continue to exist, especially those relating to the transitional justice process, and the NHRC must prove itself at this critical juncture.”

Finally, the ICC-SCA recommended that the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) be downgraded from ‘A’ to ‘B’ status for its persistent deficiencies in the selection process of its members, including the absence of requirements for public advertisements of vacancies and for broad consultations in the application, screening and selection of applicants. The international body also registered concerns over the NHRCT’s inability to address serious human rights violations in a timely manner. NHRCT has been given a period of one year to provide evidences of improvement, failing which the downgrading will be enforced.

We are hardly surprised at this outcome as the NHRCT has suffered from a serious legitimacy deficit, which the SCA report poignantly points out. However, this is not a time to dismiss or disengage with the NHRC.  On the contrary, it is time for heightened vigilance and efforts to ensure the NHRC can function as a credible actor, in particular in this challenging political and security environment”, said Chalida Tajaroensuk, Executive Director of People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF), Thailand.

The NHRIs under review and governments in the respective countries must take the review and recommendations seriously. The poor or non-implementation of ICC-SCA recommendations, even for ‘A’ status NHRIs, has been a recurring feature and suggests a sense of complacency or indifference,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, the designated secretariat of ANNI.

There remains much work to be done to revitalize NHRIs in the region before they can truly earn their place as the principal human rights mechanism in the country to their stakeholders, particularly human rights defenders and victims of rights violations,” added Balais-Serrano.

 

Background:

The Paris Principles articulate the minimum standards and provide a normative framework required for their effective work and functioning. The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions’ Sub-Committee on Accreditation (ICC-SCA) has also developed General Observations to provide interpretive clarity to the Paris Principles and further guidance concerning the implementation of the Paris Principles. The ICC-SCA determines the status of each NHRI through assessments and periodic reviews of each insititution’s compliance with the Paris Principles and the General Observations. Most recently, in October 2014, five NHRIs in Asia from Mongolia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand and South Korea were assessed for their institutional compliance with the Paris Principles both from a legal point of view as well as by considering their effectiveness at the national level. The outcome report of this latest round of reviews was released recently. The ICC-SCA accreditation statuses denote varying levels of participation rights and related privileges (such as voting rights and governance positions) within the United Nations human rights system.

 

About ANNI:

The Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) was established in December 2006. It is a network of Asian NGOs and human rights defenders working on issues relating to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). ANNI is composed of members that are national organizations from all over Asia. ANNI currently has 30 member organizations from 17 countries or territories. The work of the ANNI members focus on strengthening the work and functioning of Asian NHRIs to better promote and protect human rights as well as to advocate for the improved compliance of Asian NHRIs with international standards, including the Paris Principles and General Observations of the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC). The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is the Secretariat of ANNI.

FORUM-ASIA has Consultative Status with the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) since 2004.

 

For further inquiries, please contact:

  • Joses Kuan, NHRI Advocacy Programme Officer, FORUM-ASIA, joses@forum-asia.org, +66 83544 5166

  • John Liu, South and East Asia Programme Manager, FORUM-ASIA, johnliu@forum-asia.org, +66 80282 8610

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BANGKOK, 27 January 2015: Thailand’s Ministry of Transport’s Department of Land Transport is considering a proposal to raise the Suvarnabhumi Airport taxi fee to THB100 up from THB50 at present. Taxi drivers at Suvarnabhumi International Airport complained to authorities that they are not making adequate income serving passengers at the airport and have requested that […] Read more...
Harrison George

In a move that caught observers completely unaware, the National Anti-Corruption Commission has initiated moves to impeach the National Legislative Assembly.

Fresh from its victory in impeaching former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the NACC seems intent on purging Thai politics of all forms of corruption.  And in their way of thinking, voting constitutes a form of corruption. 

Commissioner Vicha Mahakhun, who is on record as saying ‘We all know elections are evil’ during the drafting of the 2007 Constitution, has apparently persuaded his fellow commissioners that elections are also corrupt.

Because the NLA voted in the Yingluck case, the NACC will therefore impeach the entire Assembly, with the exception of one member who failed to cast a vote because illness prevented him from attending last Friday’s session. 

‘The NLA did not come into existence from elections, but was appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order, and neither was the NCPO voted into office.  It is quite unsuitable for them suddenly to decide that an important matter like impeachment should be decided by voting,’ explained the NACC.

The NACC move, while perhaps philosophically consistent, raises some serious questions about its practical application.  If the NLA is not to decide any issue by voting, then how are decisions to be made?  An NACC spokesperson said this is no real problem.

‘For any situation, there is a right decision and a wrong decision.  And good people will choose the right decision and bad people will choose the wrong decision.  The military, who are good people, have appointed the NLA, so they must also be good people.  In fact, since the majority of the NLA are military officers, they are doubly good.

‘So as good people they will automatically make the correct decisions.  And if they are in any doubt, they can just ask other good people, like the NCPO, or even us at the NACC, and we can tell them what the right decision is.

‘In the case of the Yingluck impeachment, it should have been obvious that the right decision was to remove her from an office that she no longer holds,’ he added.  ‘In fact most of the NLA did that, but in the wrong way, by voting.  This gave the nation a bad example of how to make important political decisions.’

When asked to explain the seemingly nonsensical situation of the NLA deciding on whether to impeach itself, the spokesperson again saw no problem.  ‘In the case of that woman, she no longer held any office from which she could be removed by impeachment.  Furthermore, the interim constitution that governs the working of the NLA does not give it any powers of impeachment.  But that didn’t stop us from doing what was right.  Everyone in this country must obey the rule of law.  Especially when the rule is without mandate and the law is non-existent.’

The spokesperson was asked how the NACC had come to a decision on this impeachment move, and notably whether it had involved any voting among members of the NACC.  He became quite heated in his response.

‘It is a slander to insinuate that the NACC would ever resort to corrupt practices such as voting.  We did approach the Office of the Attorney-General to ask for their endorsement of our action, but the OAG kept asking for evidence that voting was corrupt, which just proves that they do not understand basic justice.  We also suspected that the OAG was going to demand that any decision of the joint committee be decided by a vote.  We obviously could not condone such corrupt behaviour.’

A reporter then asked for confirmation that the NACC was the only agency behind the impeachment.

‘Of course not,’ retorted the spokesperson.  ‘The OAG is also behind it.  After their initial foot-dragging, we called a special meeting of our joint committee where we did not invite them.  This meeting then decided, without taking a vote, to impeach.  Everything is perfectly fair and honest and has been done strictly according to the rules that we make up as we go along.’

The media then wanted to know what would happen to the NCPO’s roadmap for democracy if there was no NLA.  In response, it was suggested that the NCPO could always appoint a new NLA, but with strict instructions to decide things as they were told, instead of holding votes.  An alternative would be to transfer the NLA’s responsibilities to some other agency.  To the NACC, for example. 

‘But wouldn’t it violate the principle of separation of powers to have an independent agency take on a legislative role?’ asked one journalist.  The spokesperson pooh-poohed that idea, noting that the judiciary had long had a de facto legislative role and the current constitution allowed the NCPO to do anything.

It was also asked how the elections promised for 2016 could take place if voting was corrupt.  The NACC said that this was a matter for the Constitutional Drafting Committee, but there were doubts. 

‘They might not be capable of devising a system of Thai-style democracy without elections.  You see, members of the CDC themselves were elected into office.  So they are already corrupt.’


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

 

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The Appeal Court granted bail to an ex-lese majeste convict, sentenced to jail for failing to report himself to the junta after the coup.

The Appeal Court on Monday granted bail to Nat S., a former lese majeste convict who was first to be sentenced to prison without suspension for defying junta’s order, after the defence lawyer submitted 40,000 bail request.   

On Thursday, the Court of First Instance sentenced Nat to two years and 20 days in prison with the jail term reduced by half. The court did not suspend the jail term like other anti-coup protesters because the defendant was once convicted under Article 112 or the lese majeste in 2009. However, the defendant appealed, hoping that the jail term will be suspended.

After Nat was detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison for four nights, the defence lawyer submitted a bail request to the appeal court. He was released on bail on Monday.

Nut was charged with disobeying Order No. 5/2014, which summoned him to report to the junta in late May. He was summoned by the military merely because he was convicted of lèse majesté prior to the coup.

During the hearing at the military court in Bangkok on 17 December 2014, he pleaded guilty as charged and the court ordered the Justice Ministry’s Probation Department to observe his behaviour and submit a report to the court within 30 days.

Nut was arrested and detained by the military from 7-14 June 2014. However, on 28 June, he was arrested again and brought to the Crime Suppression Division on a charge of defying junta orders.

In 2009, Nut was charged with lèse majesté under Article 112 and under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act for sending three lèse majesté video clips to Emilio Esteban, whom the police identified as an Englishman residing in Spain. Esteban ran the now-defunct ‘Stop Lèse Majesté’ blog.

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Bangkok’s Military Court dismissed a petition questioning its jurisdiction, submitted by Worachet Pakeerut, a prominent law academic and core member of the Nitirat group, who was charged with failing to report to the junta.    

According to Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA), the Military Court of Bangkok on Monday morning rejected the petition submitted by Worachet.

Nitirat is a progressive law academic group based in the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, Bangkok. The group has been well known for its courageous stand on the campaign to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law.  

The petition was submitted to the military court in order to allow the Constitutional Court to interpret whether the junta’s Announcements No. 37/2014 and 38/2014 on the jurisdiction of the military courts violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the military court simply dismissed the request.

The court cited its power to rule over the case in accordance with the announcement of the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Interim Charter written by the coup-makers, and said that its ruling does not violate the ICCPR because the Interim Charter also gives civil and political rights in parallel with the ICCPR.     

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, another key member of the Nitirat group, posted on his Facebook page that the ruling of the military court breached the principles of the ICCPR which Thailand has an obligation to adhere to as a state party.   

Article 14/1 of the ICCPR states “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any charge against him, or his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

Worachet Pakeerut (third from left) with his lawyer Winyat Chatmontri (second from left) from FTLA, talking to the press in front the military court on 26 January 2015     

Moreover, Article 14/5 adds “Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction or sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law”.

Sam Zarifi, Asia and Oceania Regional Director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), earlier told Prachatai in an interview “The military courts really are designed to handle cases of military personnel. International law really does not approve of civilians being tried by military tribunals. The reason for that is simple, because the military tribunal does not always provide the dual process and protection that international law demands.”  

This is the second petition dismissed by the military court that questioned its jurisdiction to try civilians.

Earlier on Friday, the military court dismissed the same petition submitted by Sombat Boonngam-anong (aka nuling), an anti-coup red-shirt activist accused of the same charge.

Worachet was arrested in late June after he flew back to Thailand from Hong Kong and was detained at the Crime Suppression Division and Bangkok Remand Prison for interrogation for two days.

He was summoned twice on May 24 and June 9. On June 10, however, he failed to report to the junta citing health problems. Patcharin Pakeerut, Worachet’s wife, submitted a letter to the military prior to his arrest, saying that Worachet did not intend to flee, and would delay reporting due to his health problems.

The military court has scheduled the witness hearing on 26 May 2015.

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Almost 10,000 people have signed a petition urging the junta not to pass the digital economy bills which will give the state unprecedented powers of mass surveillance and control over communications in the name of national security.

Thai Netizen Network, an advocacy group promoting online privacy and internet freedom, opened an online petition on change.org last week to collect names to halt the legislative process of the digital economy bills, which were approved by the junta’s cabinet earlier this month.

More than 5,000 people signed the petition within 24 hours of the page being created.

The Thai Netizen made the following remarks on the digital economy bills:  

Stop sniffing.  Stop the “Cyber Security Bill” – In order to promote the digital economy, freedom of expression must first be protected.

Recently, several bills related to information and communication technology were proposed. The cabinet has approved in principle ten bills in the series. Three more are in the pipeline.

We, the signatories, are concerned that these 10+3 bills violate the rights and liberties of the people and operators in several ways, monopolize resources and do not promote the digital economy as claimed. They are in fact digital security bills. We have the following remarks:  

  • These bills in fact are not about the digital economy, but national security, and bestow vast powers on the authorities.
  • These bills, which will extensively affect people’s lives and the economy, have not been adequately deliberated by either the people or the state authorities.  In particular, the eight bills which were hastily proposed and approved by the cabinet on 6 January 2015 were not on the meeting agenda. Some state agencies have never seen the bills before.
  • There are at least five draft amendments and brand new bills – the amendment of Computer Crime Act, the Cyber Security, Digital Transactions and Inducement Suppression bills, and the amendment of Criminal Procedure bill – which allow the authorities to search, confiscate, have access to and intercept communications without any check and balance from any credible judicial authority and in some cases, these acts can be conducted without strong evidence. This is a violation of freedom of expression, the right to privacy and the right to personal information, and will affect the confidence of the operators of businesses related to information and communication.
  • The draft amendment of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Technology (NBTC) bill destroys the independence of this regulator and may pave the way for the return of radio frequencies into the hands of the government and the military, as was the case before the enactment of 1997 Constitution. This will destroy the principle that radio frequencies are public resources and will also destroy the mechanism of the free market. The objectives of the fund which now derives from the license fee for radio frequencies will be gravely modified. From a fund for research for the public good – promoting consumer protection, social enterprise, professional ethics, accessibility, and media literacy for people with physical challenges, the elderly and the marginalized – it will become a fund for loans to state authorities and the private sector.  
  • The draft amendment of the NBTC does not tackle the problems of transparency and accountability. The bill will establish another agency which has a rather similar financial and administrative structure.
  • All the bills lack a clear mechanism to protect the rights and liberties of consumers. Moreover, no committee has a quota for representatives on rights. The most obvious case is the committee on the protection of personal information under the Protection of Personal Information bill. The three seats for consumer rights representatives were cut and replaced with two seats for national security representatives. They also share a secretariat with the committee on National Cyber Security. The two agencies’ roles are in conflict. This may lead to conflict of interest and a poor check and balance mechanism.

On Saturday, at a public forum on law reform, Surangkana Wayuparb, the Chief Executive Officer of the Electronic Transaction Development Agency (ETDA), told the media that some of the content of the controversial digital economy bills is in error and that the bills are not national security bills as civil society understood.

“We have to accept that with limited time because of the attempt to finish [drafting the bills] before the election along with many other bills and organic laws to be completed, this might cause mistakes [in the Digital Economy Bills] in some issues,” said Surangkana.

“We admit our mistakes, particularly Article 35 of the Cyber Security Bill (CSB), as our working team had to rush the drafting of all 10 bills so we could enforce them before the next general election,” the Bangkok Post quoted Surangkana as saying.

Article 35 of the CBS states that for the purpose of performing their duties under this Act, officials who have been entrusted in writing by the Secretary shall have the following powers:

  • (1) to issue letters asking questions or requesting a state agency or any person to give testimony, submit an explanation in writing, or submit any account, document, or evidence for the purpose of inspection or obtaining information for the benefit of the execution of this Act;
  • (2) to issue letters requesting state agencies or private agencies to act for the benefit of the NCSC’s performance of its duty;
  • (3) to gain access to information on communications, either by post, telegram, telephone, fax, computer, any tool or instrument for electronic media communication or telecommunications, for the benefit of the operation for the maintenance of Cybersecurity.

Implementation under (3) shall be as specified by rules issued by the Council of Ministers.     

In response to a question whether the junta will monopolize the distribution of the radio frequencies, the ETDA director said “I confirm that the government does not intend to intervene with radio frequencies.”

Maj Gen Pichet Kongsri, a member of one of the eight digital economy working groups led by Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, said at the forum in response to many criticisms that the digital economy bills are actually national security bills in disguise. “Currently, as for the ‘national security’ issue that many are concerned about, please interpret this in the wider context which does not imply the national security of the state, but the overall picture of society, politics, economics, and individuals all of which have to be balanced.”

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BANGKOK, 26 January 2015: Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau launched its ASEAN Rising Trade Show campaign to pull more business for exhibitions in five key sectors over the next three years. The five key rising sectors are: automotive; energy; infrastructure; food & agriculture; and health & wellness. It will involve substantial support grants for exhibition […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 26 January 2015: Kasikorn Research Centre estimates an investment in Thailand’s hotel sector will expand by 7.1% to 10.0% representing between THB513 and THB527 billion this year. The centre said the country’s hotel sector would grow this year, despite a decline in European tourists, high competition and the failure of the Russian economy. “Poor […] Read more...
CHIANG RAI, 26 January 2015: A bus accident that injured 16 South Korean tourists at the weekend is another shocking example of the risks of travelling by tour bus in Thailand. Khaosod English language news channel reported, Sunday, that the tour bus carrying tourists from South Korea crashed into an oncoming pick-up truck in Chiang […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 26 January 2015: Thailand’s has tweaked its regulations governing sale times for alcoholic beverages restricting entertainment establishments to just five hours daily. A core regulation that sales of alcohol cannot exceed 10 hours a day remains, but many of the exceptions have been rescinded. The rule that alcohol beverages can now only be sold from […] Read more...