Rights record needs scrutiny
Next Wednesday, Thailand will commemorate its 75th year of engagement with the United Nations. There are a number of reasons for the country, which was the organisation's 55th member, to be proud, particularly the army's contribution to peace keeping, health care and humanitarian missions. However, the present celebration comes at a less than favourable time amid the news that Thai authorities deported four Cambodian activists in the past month.
On Nov 9, two political activists, Voeun Veasna and Voeung Samnang, were sent back to Cambodia where they were immediately detained on pre-existing criminal charges, according to the official press statement from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On Nov 19, a third activist, Lanh Thavry -- a female former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) commune official -- was arrested in Thailand and deported to Cambodia. A fourth activist, Mich Heang, was also deported on the same day. All these activists fled after facing political charges, and in Thailand they had been officially recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
On Dec 1, Venerable Bor Bet, a human rights defender and vocal critic of the Cambodian authorities, who entered the monkhood and now resides at a temple in Thailand, was also arrested before being released on bail on Dec 3. It is an event that would have been hushed up had Democrat MP Siripa Intavichien not raised the matter during a House meeting last week. It was reported that Bor Bet is to now receive an emergency visa and escape deportation.
However, many similar cases fail to make headlines, largely because of the clandestine nature of the process. These are not actions which the government wishes to trumpet at a press conference.
A trend of serial deportations has drawn harsh criticism from international rights groups. This is particularly understandable given that Thailand has signed on to several human rights protection treaties. For instances, the country is a party of the International Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (CAT) that prevents forced return or "refoulement" of persons who might be subjected to torture if sent back to their home nations.
While the powers that be would wish the world to perceive Thailand as an open society that welcomes foreigners, but it is anything but a Land of Smiles for the political asylum seekers and UN-acknowledged refugees who find themselves being sent back to their places of persecution without due process.
Most such orders stem from agreements between the government and foreign countries, which the police have little choice but to follow.
Questions have been raised over the country's policy on the deportation of refugees and what code of practice the government adheres to.
Thai governments have often pledged to uphold international standards of human rights, yet such deportations confirm suspicion that most of these assurances are little more than lip-service paid to appease the wider international community.
Ministers and related agencies need to clear the air over these recent events as many questions need answering. If these are refugees with UN-protected status, why are they being arrested and on whose orders? A government that boasts of its record on rights cannot simply remain idle over such serious accusations in the hope that media attention will also disappear if it waits long enough.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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