Rights education key to resolving conflict
Youth protests can be avoided if the government succeeds in getting everyone to agree on what 'rights' and 'freedom' mean
As Thailand faces a political crisis amid confrontations between anti-government protesters and pro-monarchy groups, the director-general of the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection under the Justice Ministry, Ruangsak Suwaree, is playing a big role in protecting the rights of all involved.
Having worked in the justice system all his life, he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post that his old perspective and vision no longer apply to the fast-changing human rights landscape, both in Thailand and elsewhere in the world. There is an urgent need to revamp public understanding of the corrections system, he said.
Mr Ruangsak started his career at the Department of Corrections, where he once worked as a commander at Sikhiu district prison in Nakhon Ratchasima. He progressed to become director of Khao Prik Agriculture Industry Prison in Nakhon Ratchasima, a chief of the Phitsanulok Central Prison and a director of the Central Corrections Institution for Young Offenders, before becoming the deputy director-general of the department.
Prior to his appointment as director-general of the department, Mr Ruangsak was an inspector for the Ministry of Justice.
He has four years to work before he retires in 2024.
"The department's main mission is to create a society where people know their duties, respect the rights of others and are protected. We work to help civil servants in 20 ministries understand issues such as human rights, handling complaints, mediating conflicts and rehabilitating individuals for whom justice was denied," he said.
"Our mission includes protecting the rights of children and adolescents, as well as government officers involved in demonstrations by the Free Youth group or the People's Party," he added.
To understand what each age group really wants, the director-general said the department and the Ministry of Education are working together to study youth activities.
"We have started to educate them about human rights. We have received positive feedback from them," he said.
When asked if the government was too slow in responding to the youth protesters, the director-general admitted that it was, saying youth today readily take in information from their mobile phone and are adept in using social media to organise their political movements.
"Frankly speaking, I think the government was too slow in handling the young protesters, who tend to use emotions and feelings more than reason. Each side claims that their rights and freedoms were violated.
"That's why we have to make them understand what harassment, rights violation and human rights really mean," the director-general said.
In a time when "rights", "freedom" and "human rights" have become catchphrases among the protesters, Mr Ruangsak said it is important to ask how people understand the words.
"This is especially true when it comes to issues such as gender, physical and verbal assaults and bullying.
"If everyone is on the same page on these issues, the political conflict that we are now facing might not have taken place or at least, less severe,'' he said.
As a government body responsible for protecting people's rights, the director-general said his staff have worked with the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Education to publish a guidebook on human rights education for students, starting from the kindergarten level.
Younger children will be taught about the need to obey simple rules, such as queuing and tidying up toys.
Older children, meanwhile, will be taught about rights, duties, responsibilities and the need to respect differences.
Vocational and college students will learn about how to respect other's rights and think analytically, he said.
The human rights curriculum was launched in December last year, but unfortunately, it failed to keep up with the situation, the director-general admitted.
He said the government can't work as fast as social media and Covid-19 has delayed the implementation of the curriculum as schools were ordered to close at the start of the pandemic.
The department has trained teachers on the human rights curriculum in universities and schools in 10 provinces across the country.
"In pilot schools, secondary education students who have learned about human rights first asked their teachers about school rules and issues like bullying. Later, they started to ask questions about the royal institution," he said.
"Their teachers then came to us for advice about how to answer such questions. I told them to answer with facts. If they don't know the answer, just say so. They don't have to distort the facts."
Most importantly, students must know their duties and respect the rights of others.
They should be aware of the legal consequences of violating other people's rights and vice versa, the director-general said.
Mr Ruangsak said he believes the human rights curriculum can make the world a better place.
"Whether you're Gen X, Y or Z, you have to live together in the same world. The only way to live together peacefully is by adapting and respecting each other's rights, with families, schools and temples as the glue which hold society together.
"Taking to the streets won't solve any problems," the director-general added.
"Violence doesn't help anything. We must provide a space to hear different beliefs and opinions.
"The rules which hold true in one society cannot be applied to another since each society has different cultures, heritage and origins," he said.