NHRC judge plea is futile
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has suffered another major setback. Last week, NHRC chairman, What Tingsamit, called on the chief judges of the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court to appoint a new commissioner to enable the agency to function temporarily.
The embattled chairman said the deadline for the submission of a work report to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), which is set to reconsider the NHRC's performance status, is approaching.
In 2015, the Geneva-based institution downgraded the independent Thai body's status from A to B. This stripped the NHRC of the right to address and present its views during Human Rights Council sessions.
But the NHRC, with a current membership of three, needs another commissioner to fulfil this mission. The last day for an appointment is today in order for the commission to be able to submit the report before the Oct 15 deadline.
In July this year, two commissioners, prominent rights activists Tuenjai Deetes and Angkhana Neelapaijit, resigned from the What-led commission. They said the working environment was not conducive for them to perform effectively.
In other words it was internal rifts in the commission that made them leave. It was said the chairman issued regulations limiting the role each commissioner has in accepting complaints.
At the time, Mr What, a former Supreme Court judge, was adamant that the agency could continue functioning with the help of the chief judges, who have the power to appoint two replacements in accordance with Section 60 of the 2017 National Human Rights Commission Act. He shrugged off calls from academics and social activists for him to resign to pave the way for a new selection process, insisting that the court judges could come to the rescue by making some picks.
It is uncertain if and how the chief judges will respond to his urgent call. Even if the judges accede to Mr What's request by picking a replacement to enable the agency to file the report in time, it does not necessarily mean the agency's ranking will improve, given its poor track record over the past few decades and the commission's relative silence over the suppression of human rights during the coup years. In particular, Mr What's tendency to interpret the law by the letter may not be helpful in such a challenging job.
The What-led commission's role is now more caretaker in nature. It's term came to an end in 2017 but the appointment of a full seven-member agency has been delayed due to a technicality. Late last year, the military-installed National Legislative Assembly picked two retired bureaucrats as commissioners, namely Pittikan Sitthidej and Pornprapai Kanchanarintwo, while ditching all other candidates with solid backgrounds in rights advocacy. This caused major concern over a lack of broad-based representation on the commission. The remaining five commissioners will be named by the Senate amid similar concerns.
In this latest plea to the chief judges, Mr What insisted it was necessary for the commission to become fully functional with an additional member who will act temporarily. If not, he said national dignity will remain hurt.
This is partially true. The NHRC can restore national dignity only by performing independently, free from partiality and interference.
What the NHRC chairman should realise is that with or without an additional member, the commission under his leadership will continue to fail to live up to expectations and he has only himself to blame.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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