Address UN rights worries
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya may have scored some points with his domestic audience when he insisted that foreign countries would not understand why Thailand needs the lese majeste law because they are not "civilised" nations with cultural refinement like ours.
The downplaying of international criticism and continued citations of Thailand's "unique situation" will not improve the country's human rights situation, which has deteriorated since the May 22, 2014 coup, nor will it help salvage its bruised image.
Minister Paiboon's remarks were part of his overall reaction to concerns raised by United Nations Security Council member countries during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on Wednesday.
Reiterating the line the military regime has adhered to, Gen Paiboon said the country is in a unique situation caused by violent conflicts during the recent past, and that some limitations may have been applied to exercising basic human rights. The minister insisted the curbs are necessary to maintain peace and order; however, he seems to have completely missed the point.
The review of Thailand's human rights record in the international arena has nothing to do with cultural uniqueness. At the heart of the session is an assumption that the protection of basic human rights and freedom is a universal demand that must be respected regardless of politics or culture.
Minister Paiboon's attempt to gloss over the criticism by citing cultural superiority or a higher degree of finesse is highly inappropriate.
His rationale that certain human rights and liberties could be curbed for the sake of maintaining peace and stability sounds expedient and is thus worrisome.
It is misleading for the government to continue to portray the defence of national security and human rights as if they were a zero-sum game. The UN member states definitely did not ask Thailand to choose to protect one over the other.
The member states who spoke at the UPR including the United States, Norway, Sweden and the Czech Republic were specific in what they raised at the Wednesday session.
They expressed concerns that the Computer Crime Act may have been used to limit freedom of expression. They asked how the government could guarantee a fair trial and right to bail as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Thailand is a member, when civilians are being tried in military courts. They recommended an amendment to the lese majeste law, seen as being flawed as it allows anyone to file charges against another indiscriminately.
The Thai delegation to the UPR kept to the official script in their responses. However, as the UN member states and human rights activists both in and outside the countries noted, the situation on the ground is vastly different from the picture that officials painted at the Geneva forum. While the Thai delegation vows to protect and promote human rights and restore democracy, eight netizens are being tried in military courts for allegedly posting messages criticising the junta. The regime tried to link the suspects to some elaborate plans to overthrow the government but no solid evidence has been made available to the public so far.
The regime should not need foreign countries to remind it that it is a matter of concern when anti-NCPO activities are equated to threats to national security and when citizens may be arbitrarily summoned and detained for criticising the military leaders.
Like it or not, the concerns raised at the UPR reflect the state of human rights in Thailand. The government can only benefit from the session by addressing the criticisms in a tangible manner, not by deflecting them.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
Email : email@example.com