Thai human rights body in state of flux

Thai human rights body in state of flux

Amnesty International released a report in February that indicated a worsened human rights situation in Thailand. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)
Amnesty International released a report in February that indicated a worsened human rights situation in Thailand. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)

It was the country's people-based 16th constitution (1997) which established Thailand's National Human Rights Commission. The expectation was that the commission would act as a promoter and protector of human rights, with due regard for universal standards, complementing the constitution and national laws. It would also be a check and balance mechanism, especially where the traditional pillars of the state might not be fulfilling their tasks or impinge on human rights.

Today the commission is part of global network of over 100 national human rights institutions, under an umbrella organisation known as the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (previously known as "the International Coordination Committee"). The alliance gives accreditation to members, based upon various criteria known as the "Paris Principles" concerning national human rights institutions, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, namely: a broad mandate, autonomy from the government, independence of action, pluralism of composition, adequate resources and adequate investigation powers. Those institutions adhering to these criteria are classified as grade A, followed by those in an ambivalent situation classified as grade B, and those under par classified as grade C.

Interestingly, the record of this country's commission has been through three phases in a state of flux, paralleling the history of the country. Gradation of its status by the alliance has also fluctuated. The first phase was from 1997 onwards till 2007 when a new constitution (the 18th) took effect after a coup. The second phase was from 2007 onwards till 2017 when another constitution (the 20th) took effect also after another coup. Now the third phase has begun, bolstered by not only a new constitution but also a new organic law concerning the commission, operational since the end of 2017.

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Vitit Muntarbhorn

Professor of law at Chulalongkorn University

Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn teaches at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.  He has helped the UN in a variety of  positions and is currently a member of a UN Human Rights Commission of  Inquiry.  This article is derived from his speech at the recent Conference on Asean Traversing 2015:  Challenges of  Development, Democratisation, Human Rights and Peace, organised by Mahidol University, Bangkok.

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