Rights chief optimistic despite UN cold shoulder

Rights chief optimistic despite UN cold shoulder

(A charter change) will build public confidence in the NHRCT's performance of its duties,
(A charter change) will build public confidence in the NHRCT's performance of its duties," said Prakairatana Thongtiravong, acting chairperson of NHRCT.

Although the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) under the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (Ganhri) decided to defer the consideration of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand's (NHRCT) application for re-accreditation for 18 months, the acting chairperson of NHRCT Prakairatana Thontiravong still believes it's a positive sign as it means the SCA recognises the efforts of NHRCT to improve.

The NHRCT was downgraded from "A status" to "B status" by SCA in 2015 due to concerns over its deficiencies, which included its selection and appointment of commissioners, functional immunity, lack of timely intervention in human rights issues, as well as serious concerns over its independence and neutrality.

The downgrading of NHRCT means it can no longer submit reports on human rights in Thailand to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), nor actively participate in conferences organised by the UNHRC, diminishing Thailand's ability to promote its own human rights agenda with the international community.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Ms Prakairatana said the NHRCT has made serious efforts to regain its A status by improving its standards to comply with Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions known as the Paris Principles.

In term of the selection process for commissioners, she said, it has increased participation from various sectors, including civil society.

As for functional immunity, a law that protects NHRCT members from legal liability for acts undertaken in good faith in their official capacity has also been passed, she added.

Recently, the NHRCT also established regional offices in Songkhla, covering 14 provinces including the southernmost ones after receiving a high number of complaints about abuses, she said, pointing out the the diversity of cultures and religions in the region.

"This initiative is in line with the Paris Principles requiring a national human rights institution to enhance physical accessibility for the public, especially in remote areas," said Ms Prakairatana.

In 2018, the NHRCT submitted its application for reaccreditation to regain its A status to the SCA. In December, Ms Prakairatana as the acting chairperson of NHRCT was interviewed by the SCA to clarify a number of issues concerning the NHRCT's legal mandates and its performances in response to various human rights situations within the country.

"The SCA was impressed with the recent achievements of the NHRCT. However, there are still concerns on two issues that the SCA wanted us to improve, so it decided to defer the consideration of the NHRCT's application for re-accreditation for 18 months," Ms Prakairatana said.

The first issue is the independence of the NHRCT, which is attributed to the provisions of Section 247 (4) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2560 and Section 26 (4) of the Organic Act on the National Human Rights Commission.

Under this law, the NHRCT is required to explain and report correct facts without delay in cases where there has been an incorrect or unfair report on the human rights situation in Thailand. This is unique among human international human rights institutions, Ms Prakairatana said.

The SCA was concerned that such a function would compromise the actual or perceived independence of NHRCT and recommended the NHRCT to advocate removal removal of the provision, she added.

The second issue is the quasi-judicial function of the NHRCT. In the previous enabling law, the NHRCT was vested with a conciliation function as prescribed in Section 27 of the National Human Rights Commission Act, BE 2542 (1999).

However, mention of conciliation is absent in the latest revision. The SCA is of the view that the NHRCT should continue to advocate for the expansion of its complaint-handling mandate to include the conciliation function.

Ms Prakairatana said the SCA's recommendation is consistent with the Commission's own report which will promote a systematic and standardised dispute resolution, as well as allow some disputes to be resolved amicably and in a short time without the need for prosecution. This would also help lessen victims' burden and the number of court cases, Ms Prakairatana said.

"I've provided information and clarification on the issue of the legal administration to include the conciliation function in the NHRCT's mandate at the Senate meeting in February and the Senate has already agreed to the expansion of the NHRCT's mandate to include the conciliation function for human rights disputes," she said.

"Therefore, what we need to focus on in order to regain "A status" is the provisions of Section 247 (4) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand BE 2560."

Ms Prakairatana said that NHRCT previously sent a letter to the Constitution Drafting Commission expressing disagreement with the mandate in Section 247(4) for the reason that it might not comply with the Paris Principles, but it was unsuccessful.

However, the NHRCT has continued to discuss such concerns with the legislative and administrative branches at different levels both before and after the interview with the SCA, she said.

"It is necessary that Section 247 (4) be removed before the NHRCT regains the A Status. This will build public confidence domestically and internationally in the NHRCT's performance of its duties," she said.

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