NHRC chief taken to task at media event
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NHRC chief taken to task at media event

Audience slams govt human rights failings

The head of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) tried to reach out to a foreign audience and set the record straight on Thailand's rights record on Thursday evening, but the event backfired with many in the audience asking tough questions that went unanswered.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), NHRC chairman Wat Tingsamit talked up the agency's achievements to a crowd that appeared unconvinced.

"Since we have taken office last November, one quarter of the 495 complaints have been probed and concluded; 214 complaints are being considered by the relevant sub-committees, and 174 issues are being considered by the screening committees," Mr Wat told the briefing.

The NHRC works in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and operates under Thai law, added Mr Wat.

The agency has advised the government that communities' rights must be respected when looking to develop areas of land for special economic zones, awarding mining concessions, and other development projects.

However, when it came to more thorny human rights issues, Mr Wat gave little explanation.

During his talk, the media and activists asked for more details and policy stance on such issues as alleged torture and deaths in military camps in Bangkok and the South, to which Mr Wat did not answer.

Specific cases were mentioned, such as the Erawan shrine bomb suspect, who was allegedly assaulted by authorities in order to extract a confession; a suspect in the Criminal Court bomb attack, who was allegedly kicked while in military custody; and Pvt Vichian Puaksom who was beaten to death five years ago at the Narathiwat Ratchanakarin army camp.

"Usually when cases are under court proceedings, the NHRC will not touch them," Mr Wat said.

When necessary and possible, the NHRC also issues statements, such as on the recent detention of seven students, the referendum on the draft constitution, and the Rajabhakti Park corruption allegations, he said.

"But being fast is not always right. In the next few weeks, we will have a thorough report on some issues, but please wait for that time," he said.

Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand with the Asia division of Human Rights Watch's, said serious human rights concerns required a prompt response and transparent communications with the agencies concerned. And it is the duty of the NHRC to protect human rights defenders, he added.

"It's a matter of life and death that a national agency like the NHRC acts promptly to make the situation better for victims and affected parties," he told Mr Wat at the talk.

Mr Wat said: "We're adjusting legal amendments too. Some of our reports don't get a good response, though a correct stance, as the government hasn't followed our recommendations."

Sutharee Wannasiri, from Fortify Rights, asked him about a Rohingya migrant shot dead by authorities in Phangnga province.

"There needs to be more opportunities, like this FCCT event, for dialogue with the commission. The opportunity to engage on priority human rights concerns is encouraging and appreciated, particularly given the shrinking space for free discussion in Thailand," said Ms Sutharee.

She urged the NHRC to expedite an investigation into attacks on human rights defenders protesting gold mining operations in Loei, and the fatal shooting of the Rohingya refugee.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, the chairwoman of Amnesty International (Thailand), said she was disappointed that the leader of a top human rights agency could not make a major effort to respond to important subjects such as torture and inhumane treatment by the state against the people.

"Death and torture while in authorities' custody, not to mention our case, is a serious concern but one that [Mr Wat] couldn't provide a vision on the matter.

"This raises concern and undermines the confidence of human rights defenders," said Ms Pornpen in a telephone interview. She is among a trio being sued by the military for releasing a report that focused on torture in the southern provinces.

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