The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has failed to exercise its basic right to file lawsuits against human rights violators even once, thanks to its bureaucratic aversion towards any confrontation.
National Human Rights Commission chairwoman Amara Pongsapich, seen here with commissioner Nirand Pitakwatchara, says, "It's not easy" to file lawsuits, but her agency has filed none at all. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
The 2007 constitution empowers the NHRC to file cases with the Constitutional Court or the Administrative Court for the purpose of promoting human rights.
It is also authorised to file lawsuits to the court on behalf of complainants, apart from its existing power to examine acts of human rights violation or those which do not comply with the country's international human rights obligations.
The agency can also propose remedial measures to individuals or organisations concerned.
However, the current NHRC, which was installed in June 2009, has never exercised its power through the court of justice although there were recommendations for such action in 21 cases during the last two fiscal years.
Of 693 appeals in the 2012 fiscal year, most of the cases were either dropped for lack of evidence, or settled through compromise, or withdrawn by the complainants.
Only 46 cases were considered to be possible subjects for court action but again, 41 of them were dropped for different reasons, leaving only five as eligible for prosecution in court.
For the first half of this fiscal year, 16 cases were concluded to be subject for lawsuits.
Supod Wetchamuk, head of the NHRC Litigation Bureau, said the agency has not moved on these possible lawsuit cases because witnesses could not provide individual names of human rights violators.
Most of the reports about appeals on drug-related extrajudicial killings which families and relatives filed with the previous set of NHRC members did not provide adequate documents which could be used in lawsuits, Mr Supod said.
His bureau had to gather more information and gain access to witnesses, he said.
"It's rather cumbersome as the extrajudicial killing appeals were filed from various parts of Thailand and the incidents took place a long time ago," said Mr Supod, who took up the responsibility a few months ago.
He said if he saw just 20% of a chance to proceed with a lawsuit, he would recommend going ahead. "We still gather information about those [lawsuit-related] cases," he said.
His bureau, however, has helped minimise troubles for complainants by by-passing certain bureaucratic red tape to ensure remedial and problem-alleviation measures could be made in time.
A lawyer on an NHRC sub-committee told the Bangkok Post most commissioners and staff tended to act cautiously and think as bureaucrats rather than as damaged parties in handling complaints.
"Some cases have factual support but they seem not to want to confront government agencies such as police or the military. They don't seem eager or fully engaged with the complainants in receiving or hearing their grievances," he said.
He cited drug-related extrajudicial killings and Tak Bai crackdown-related deaths as examples. "The [financial] remedy given to relatives of the 78 deaths in the Tak Bai case might make their efforts to search for justice slow down, but the inert and uncooperative attitudes of the NHRC commissioners and staff have discouraged villagers' aspirations to pursue lawsuits," he said.
Amara Pongsapich, NHRC chairwoman, argued the law did not provide her agency with a blanket power.
The complainants must sign up to nominate the NHRC to take charge of any further litigation first.
"It is not easy since we do not have adequate lawyers or budgets. A new law to expedite structural and budget support to execute such power needs to be passed by parliament. It has been stuck there for three years already," Ms Amara said.
There were 7,378 appeals filed with the NHRC between the 2001-2012 fiscal years. The highest number of appeals was received in 2003 (808 appeals), followed by those in 2007 (764 appeals) and 2005 (759 appeals).
Pokpong Lawansiri, Front Line Defenders protection coordinator, said some commissioners who were in charge of justice enforcement seemed to be accustomed to bureaucratic and technocratic working styles and attitudes.
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- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat