Tag Archives: human rights

Lies, more lies and even more lies

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On the day when student activist Pai Daodin was refused bail once again by a military court because he held a banner opposing the military junta, Generalissimo Prayut stood up and spouted a tissue of lies about human rights. It was also a few days after leaders of rubber growers in the south had been detained in a military camp for complaining about the low price of rubber.

In the same week the junta also announced that it was strengthening the powers of the Internal Security Operations Command. Commentators have explained that this is yet another weapon for the army to control politics and elected governments in the future.

Without any sense of shame Prayut claimed that the junta was making “human rights part of the national agenda”, under a modernisation programme put forward by the so-called Ministry of Justice. Prayut’s lies were supported by two government spokes people, both military officers.

Prayut’s lies included the following bullet points:

  1. “Raising standards of human rights to international levels”. He probably meant the kind of international standards exhibited in Burma with regard to the Rohingya or the standards seen in Cambodia or even Saudi Arabia.
  2. “Encouraging businesses to respect human rights and human dignity in order to build stability and sustainability”. But the junta has prevented trade unions from staging protests and strikes and also capped pay rises for already low paid workers. It has also allowed large extraction companies to ride roughshod over the rights of local communities.
  3. The Generalissimo stated that he had no fear in proudly announcing Thailand’s human rights record to the world! This is when all reliable surveys put Thailand among the worst countries for rights and freedoms. Basically this man has no fear or shame of telling bare-faced lies to the world, probably because world leaders like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and the leaders of the EU, don’t give a damn about human rights anyway.
  4. The wise General warned against nasty academics who just taught about democracy and human rights without being interested in the junta’s crafted laws. Such laws were drafted after the junta took power in an illegal military coup, overthrowing an elected government!
  5. Prayut promised to make speeches to bodies like the United Nations to explain the development of sustainable human rights.

Prayut also claimed that the junta would promote “a culture of respecting human rights in society”, no doubt by dragging those who do not understand the definition of the junta’s “human rights” into military re-education camps.

The fact of the matter is that Prayut’s military dictatorship has one of the worst human rights records of any Thai government. For the first time since the end of the Cold War Thailand has a large number of political prisoners and activists forced into exile. The use of the lèse majesté law has sky-rocketed and numerous opponents of the junta have been subjected to “attitude changing” detentions in military camps. Not only did Prayut stage an illegal coup to destroy democracy, but he is also guilty of mass murder for his role in shooting down redshirt pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets. His government has significantly militarised Thai society and is busy designing a system of sham democracy with fixed elections so that the influence of the junta can be extended for decades. The so-called National Human Rights Commission is also stuffed full of military and police officers.

Every time Prayut and other members of the junta open their foul mouths we just hear lies, lies and more lies.

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Latest: Junta’s security forces break up protest against Teppa coal-fired power station and arrest leading activists in late November 2017.

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Human trafficking case only deals with the tip of the iceberg

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The huge human trafficking court case in July where 62 people were given sentences was only the tip of the iceberg in the country’s murky record on human rights.

[See http://bit.ly/2uJ8Hqh ]

Although Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the convictions are a “major step” in combat human trafficking, the trial was criticised by Fortify Rights. Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights stated that “Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years.” The rights organisation criticised the fact that the government did not prevent witnesses and interpreters from being threatened with violence. Most vulnerable were the Rohingya witnesses who are the victims of these gross crimes of trafficking. Despite the fact that the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution providing automatic protection to witnesses involved in human trafficking trials, the implementation of this Cabinet Resolution failed to extend to Rohingya witnesses confined to closed-door government-run shelters. [See http://bit.ly/2uA4QeI ]

What is more, the most senior military figure who was on trial, Lt.-Gen. Manas Kongpan, was allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined in secret “in order to protect state security”. At the time of the crimes he was deputy of the special military unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4. ISOC was in charge of the disgusting government policy of pushing Rohingya refugees back out to sea. In contrast to government policies, local villagers offered the Rohingya humanitarian help.

In December 2015 the chief police investigator in the case fled the country to seek political asylum in Australia because he was facing intimidation.

This trial raises a number of serious issues.

Firstly, given that a senior member of ISOC was involved in human trafficking, and that his evidence was heard in secret, who else among the top military generals were involved but have so far not been charged?

Secondly, human trafficking of refugees on this scale is only possible because Thailand does not accept the resettlement of refugees within the country. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures. Therefore refugees are either forced to live in appalling prison camps indefinitely without the right to work or earn a living, or to become illegal migrants without any protection from exploitation, arrest and deportation. [See http://bit.ly/2uJuZs5 ]

So when will Thailand ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and bring in a humanitarian refugee and asylum law? Given the poor state of human rights for refugees throughout the world and especially in the West, and given the track record of the junta in abusing the rights of Thai citizens, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Within Thailand itself, the rabid nationalism and racism throughout society, which is continuously promoted by the ruling class, means that there is virtually no social movement which calls for the humane settlement of refugees. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ]

Thirdly, we should long ago have stopped idolising the Burmese Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is her government in alliance with the Burmese military and extremist Buddhists who have been oppressing the Rohingya and forcing them to escape the country into the arms of the human traffickers.

Thai NGOs short-sighted because of single-issue politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently a number of NGOs in Thailand, including Amnesty International and many local groups, have been announcing “demands” on the military junta. One would have expected that the number one demand would be for the junta to resign and make way for free and fair elections immediately. The Second demand ought to have been the immediate release of all political prisoners. Not so, these NGOs seem to think they can work with the junta and spend time lobbying them like they were a normal and legitimate government. Of course, in the past some of the NGO activists even went as far as to support the overthrow of democratically elected Thai governments.

The first group of NGOs “demanded” that the junta and private businesses respect human rights according to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. There was no mention of trade unions or trade union rights among the list of demands.

The second group of NGOs “demanded” that the unelected junta “reform” the police. This is at a time when the police are controlled by military units who act as policemen in local areas and force their way into people’s homes.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry at such naïve calls from these NGOs!!

The present ruling military junta shot its way to power by murdering pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, encouraging the judiciary to undermine elected governments and allowing anti-democratic mobs to wreck elections. After taking power, Prayut’s junta has continually detained those who oppose the dictatorship, forcing them to attend “attitude changing sessions” in military camps. More and more people have been jailed under the notorious lèse-majesté law, often after appearing in military courts. Academic seminars and political meetings have been banned or forcibly shut down. Social media and the internet are constantly monitored and the junta has attempted to censor posts and video clips. The junta’s servants have drawn up a new constitution with the specific aim of installing a system of Guided Democracy under the control of the military. And yet there are people who seem to believe that the bunch of thugs now ruling Thailand will somehow respect human rights and reform the police?!

And why should the junta listen to these “demands” by people who cannot or will not build mass social movements? What bargaining power do the NGOs have?

In order to believe the NGO fairy-stories you have to be extremely short-sighted about politics, even to the point of closing your eyes to the real world. This mind-set is helped by a single-issue obsession and a rejection of political and economic theories. [See http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh ]

Another current issue is that the present junta is trying to destroy the universal health care system which was brought in under the first Taksin government. High up on their agenda is an attempt to bring in “co-payments” for health treatment which is currently free. It is good to see that NGO health activists and their supporters have been on the streets opposing this. It is a credit to these groups that they have mobilised around this issue.

Yet, even these NGO activist suffer from single-issue politics and the rejection of theory. One of their demands is to maintain the purchaser-provider split, in other words they support the internal market in health care. The internal market has been helping to wreck the health service in Britain by allowing privatisation and funding cuts and the destruction of family doctor services in local communities. It is also extremely wasteful, leading to the employment of thousands of accountants and administrative staff instead of employing more clinical staff. That is why the British Labour Party is talking about abolishing the internal market which was brought in under Margaret Thatcher.

One particular Thai NGO leader has even called for the private sector to play an important role in health care! This is just aping the right-wing ideology of the neo-liberals throughout the world.

The internal market in health is the opposite to a universal health care system which prioritises the needs of all citizens irrespective of wealth. Profit-seeking by private companies should never have a place in the provision of health care.

The health NGO activists also see themselves as “representatives of the people” without having ever stood for elections. They distrust representative democracy. Yet the real democratisation of health care, with elected representative taking part in the management of local hospitals and health budgets would be a significant step forward in Thailand. Of course, none of this could be achieved under a military junta.

The pattern of Thai State Crimes

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The bloody massacre in Bangkok of pro-democracy civilians by the military and the Democrat Party in April and May 2010 was not the first time that unarmed political protesters had been brutally killed by the Thai State. It is now 40 years since the cold-blooded massacre at Thammasart University on the 6th October 1976.

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Before 2010, State Crimes were committed under the Thai Rak Thai Government in the South in 2004, by the military junta in 1992 in Bangkok, by the police and state-sponsored right-wing forces in October 1976 outside Thammasart University and by the army on the streets of Bangkok in October 1973. In 1973 and 1992, the people managed to overcome the army and win. But 1976, 2004 and 2010 were defeats. To date, no one has been punished or held responsible for any of these State Crimes.

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[see http://bit.ly/1WxSkEF , http://bit.ly/22Ts5cM , http://bit.ly/1TKgv02  ]

There is a general pattern to the brutal methods which the Thai State has used over the last 40 years. Firstly, armed combat troops or paramilitary police are used to gun down unarmed protesters in the streets. Tanks are often deployed to intimidate people. Government officials then deny any shootings. There are no attempts to arrest people in order to keep the peace. Instead those that are captured are treated like enemy soldiers.  Captives are stripped to the waist and made to crawl along the ground under a hail of kicks and beatings. They are then tied up. After the incidents government spokespersons tell deliberate lies. One typical lie is to say that the security forces were “forced to act as the situation was getting out of hand”. Another lie is to claim that the “trouble-makers” were foreigners and couldn’t speak Thai or that they wanted to over-throw the monarchy. Yet another lie is to claim that the protesters were well-armed and posed a threat to security forces. These lies are all trotted out despite video, photographic and eye-witness evidence which directly contradicts the accounts given by the Thai State.

In the light of general amnesties given to all sides after the 6th October blood bath and also after the 1992 military crack-down, it is worth remembering that the most important function of these amnesties is to white-wash the actions of state officials in the name of “reconciliation”. This is why we must never accept any general amnesty for what happened between 2006 and 2010. The Red Shirts were carrying out legitimate pro-democracy demonstrations and need no amnesty. Those charged with lèse majesté have been imprisoned under an anti-democratic law. All these political prisoners should be immediately released. They do not need to be “pardoned” for they have done no wrong.

But what is of vital importance is to charge the coup makers of 2006 and 2014, and all those who were responsible for the killing of Red Shirts in 2010, and bring them to justice. A genuine enquiry should be conducted into the 2004 massacre in the South and other State Crimes before that. All those deemed to be guilty should be prosecuted.

A “Human Rights Marker” needs to be laid down in Thailand. Without such actions, Thailand can never have genuine standards of human rights or democracy. Making all laws and constitutions passed by military juntas null and void, would be an important first step. Drastically cutting the military budget, which is used to buy weapons which kill Thai citizens and to line the pockets of the generals via kick-backs, is also vital. The lèse majesté law needs to be scrapped and citizens need to have the right to openly discuss whether or not to maintain the monarchy.

But to achieve these things we need a mass movement allied to a political party of the left and the working class. Those who reject these necessary pre-conditions conditions for genuine change, and instead turn to symbolic gestures of a tiny handful of activists or look to international ruling classes or the United Nations, will change nothing of significance.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/1qGYT9r

Prison conditions in Thailand are a crime against humanity

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In mid-June 2016 Somyot Preuksakasemsuk wrote a letter exposing the shocking deterioration of conditions for prisoners in Thai jails.

Since March 2016 the Department of Prisons has issued a number of new regulations that have reduced the standards of life and well-being for prisoners. This amounts to a gross abuse of human rights.

Firstly, the prison authorities have removed all mattresses, pillows and blankets from prisoners and destroyed them. The excuse for this act of barbarism was that the authorities were searching for drugs. These items of bedding and blankets were originally sold to the prisoners by the prison. The new regulations state that prisoners will now only be allowed 3 extremely poor quality blankets given to them by the authorities. Such actions are having a negative impact on the psychological and physical well-being of prisoners, many of whom are in poor health or are elderly. Often at night, Thai prisoners are chained together in small rooms.

A couple of years ago Surachai Darnwatanatrakun, another activist who was also jailed for lèse majesté, described the disgusting conditions in Pataya jail. The prison was built for 600 inmates but was housing 3600 people. There was not enough space on the floor to sleep, so some had to sleep on cardboard covers over the toilets. Even then, 5-10 prisoners had to take turns to stand and sit during the night. Surachai was kept in a room 5X10 metres with 60 inmates at night. They had to build shelves to sleep on. Water was cut off except for 2-3 hours from 10 am to noon. No toilet paper was supplied and many prisoners had skin diseases. Fortunately, Surachai has been released, but Somyot is still in jail because he refuses to plead guilty and ask for “forgiveness”.

Thailand has the 17th highest proportion of citizens in prison in the world, with 340 prisoners per 100,000 people. This compares to 64 for Norway and 94 for France.

Secondly, Somyot reported that the prison authorities have now imposed further restrictions on access to news and reading material. Newspapers are now banned and prisoners can no longer buy books or magazines. Relatives of prisoners are only allowed to bring a total of 3 books or magazines per month from a tightly restricted list of “approved” reading material. This gross abuse of prisoners is designed to keep them totally in the dark about events in the outside world and is especially cruel to long-term prisoners. Such actions mean that prisoners are totally unprepared for life outside when they are finally released.

Finally there are new restrictions on the amount and frequency with which prisoners’ relatives can deposit money in prisoners’ accounts. Since Prayut’s military coup two years ago the number of people allowed to visit each prisoner has also been severely reduced.

Somyot is a Thai political activist and magazine editor who in 2013 was sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment for lèse majesté over articles that he did not write. He was arrested on 30th April 2011 and has been in jail ever since. What is remarkable about Somyot is that he has continued to be an active advocate for justice even while in prison. Twenty years ago he was a trade union organiser who successfully organised a number of textile factories north of Bangkok.

As with most countries, Thai prisons are full of poor people, mainly on charges related to theft and drugs. There is not enough discussion in Thai society about the role of prisons and the human rights of prisoners. Naturally, the Thai ruling class does not even regard ordinary people as “citizens with rights”. They are made to grovel to the rich and powerful and prisoners are treated even worse.

Punishment in the Thai judicial system is totally out of proportion. People get just a few years in prison for murder or violence, while lèse majesté prisoners are sentenced to anything between 20 to 40 years. Those at the top of society who commit mass murder of demonstrators enjoy impunity.

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Defendants in trials are shackled and forced to wear inhuman prison uniforms. This means that they are abused before the outcome of the trial and have to attend court looking like “criminals”. This results in miscarriages of justice. In lèse majesté trials you can be found guilty even if what you said and wrote was factually true. Many political trials under the present junta are held in military courts. There has been a crack-down on those trying to campaign against the junta’s new constitution in the upcoming so-called referendum.

Young democracy activists, shackled and barefooted, being led to a military court
Young democracy activists, shackled and barefooted, being led to a military court

When a country like Thailand is ruled by a bunch of military gangsters who destroy freedom and democracy, those at the bottom of society are not even treated as human beings.

Watch this video:

Read also: http://bit.ly/28VRjzE

The long and disgraceful tradition of impunity for Thai state murders

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In just one week at the end of 2015, the long and disgraceful tradition of impunity for state murders was reinforced once again in Thailand. That week former unelected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his thuggish right hand man Sutep Teuksuban were cleared of wrong doing for their part in ordering the cold-blooded murder of nearly a hundred pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010. This was no surprise since the present junta leader Generalissimo Prayut was also centrally involved in this state crime and had a hand in appointing the Abhisit government against the expressed wishes of most citizens in the first place. The grotesque justification for this crime was the need to clear the roads around luxury shopping centres. The unarmed protesters were demanding democratic elections.

In the same week the courts squashed the long-running case concerning the murder of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit. Somchai was defending a group of Malay Muslims who were tortured by police into confessing that they took part in a raid to steal weapons which was carried out at an army base in the south. Somchai was “disappeared” by policemen from several different units, indicating a green light from the top. Taksin Shinawat was Prime Minister at the time. Taksin also has blood on his hands from the deliberate murder of unarmed protesters at Takbai in 2004.

Impunity for state crimes in Thailand has a long tradition stretching back to 1973 and beyond. No government official, politician, policeman or soldier has ever been put on trial for unspeakable crimes of violence committed back in 1973, 1976 and 1992. All these crimes were carried out in order to defend dictatorships.

Impunity for state crimes also extends to non-state actors who are allied to the state, such as the violent mobs in 1976, and more recently the royalist mobs led by the yellow shirt PAD, the fascist monk “Buddha Isara” and Sutep Teuksuban.

It is obvious that there are no standards of human rights in Thailand.

Why is this so? The main explanation is the prevailing conservative attitude of the elites, reinforced by military brutality, which does not tolerate the fact that citizens should be equal. The Thai people are usually called “Ras-sa-don” which means “people who live in the land belonging to the king”. It is an out of date concept and is incompatible with the modern democratic world.

In the work places, employers think that they have absolute rights over their employees. The attitude is fully enshrined in labour laws as well as in the minds of the judges who fail to deliver justice. When judges sit in court they look at the poor with contempt. The children of the rich can get away easily when they kill people because “daddy” buys the police and judges.

We see inequality in the mainstream body language in Thai society. Ordinary people have to crawl to show their respect to people who are in power or are their seniors. This grotesque culture has been taught through schools and families. In the elite households they make their maids crawl to them as well. The unequal concepts can be easily seen in daily conversations, especially with personal pronouns which signify social position. Women are told that they need to call themselves “Noo” which means “little mouse” in a childish fashion. The idea simply identifies women as second class citizens.

Yet all this is only half the picture. The other half is about the continuing struggle by ordinary people against injustice and inequality. This is met with violence from above, but on many occasions dictatorships have been overthrown and the elites pushed back. But what is needed more than anything is a powerful mass social movement which can establish more long lasting democracy and high standards of human rights. Throughout the world, and including Thailand, independent trade unions have played a vital part in this struggle. Without such a movement, impunity for state crimes will continue. “People Power” is the key here. Hoping to establish a “Truth Commission” by well-meaning academics will achieve nothing without this power.

We need to abolish the National Human Rights Commission. The organisation is full of soldiers, police and academics who stand against democracy. A pro-democracy mass movement, which can influence public opinion, is much more effective than a state-sponsored human rights commission.

We need to overthrow the physical and political power of the army and the ideological influence of the monarchy in order to bring state criminals to justice. In the long term, we need to increase the rights in work places, schools, and universities and we need full gender rights. We need human dignity and respect. These things have to be fought for because no one is going to hand them down from above.

Thai Junta uses torture and kidnappings

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The “Thai Lawyers For Human Rights” have issued a declaration condemning the military junta’s treatment of 4 of the 9 defendants who are accused of throwing an RGD-5 hand-grenade into the car park of the Criminal Court at Rachadpisek in Bangkok on the 7th March 2015. The grenade attack on the court car park caused no casualties. According to the “Thai Lawyers For Human Rights” these 4 defendants were subjected to severe beatings and electric shocks in order to extract “evidence” from them. The physical torture of Sansern Si-oonrungrueng, Charnwit Jariyanukun, Norpat Luapon and Wichai Yusuk took place while they were in military custody between the 9th March and 15th March 2015. They also received verbal threats of violence. They have been refused bail.

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This is not the first time that the junta have used physical and mental torture on detainees since the May 2014 military coup. Ms Kritsuda Khunasen fled Thailand shortly after she was released from a 3 week secret and illegal custody and accused soldiers of torturing her.

In addition to all this, pro-democracy activists who are arrested today in Thailand must face military courts which dispense rough justice in a routine manner.

Nattathida Meewangpla
Nattathida Meewangpla

In a separate, but related, incident soldiers kidnapped Ms Nattathida Meewangpla, a volunteer nurse who is a key witness to military killings of unarmed civilians at Wat Patum on 19th May 2010. She was taken away by soldiers without any warrant for her arrest. In the Wat Patum bloody incident, 6 people, including two volunteer nurses, were shot in cold blood by military snipers stationed on the sky train line overlooking the temple. Wat Patum had been designated as a “safe sanctuary” during the bloody crack-down by General Prayut Chan-ocha’s troops against unarmed pro-democracy red shirts. Nearly a hundred civilians were killed by General Prayut’s soldiers that month. The military installed Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister at the time were Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sutep Tueksuban from the Democrat Party. Prayut appointed himself as the present junta leader and Prime Minister after the recent May 2014 coup.

Wat Patum killings
Wat Patum killings

In August 2013 the Coroner’s Court ruled that those who were shot in Wat Patum were unarmed civilians and that the shots came from the direction of where the security forces were stationed on the sky train line. The court found that there was no evidence that there were any armed protesters or so-called “men in black”. Abhisit and Prayut have long tried to lie that red shirt protesters were armed, in order to justify the cold-blooded shootings by the military.

military snipers
military snipers

Despite the court ruling, no military officers or state officials have been charged with murder and Prayut, Abhisit and Sutep have never been held responsible.

Military and state murderers
Military and state murderers

In a bizarre twist to this case the military initially denied that they had detained Ms Nattathida Meewangpla. Col. Winthai Suwaree, spokesperson of the junta, denied that Nattathida was in military custody, and attributed her alleged abduction to “individuals with ill intentions” who disguised themselves as military officers. Then they finally had to admit that she had in fact been held by the military from 11th March. On 17th March she was transferred to the police and accused of being involved in the Criminal Court grenade attack.

The treatment of Nattathida and the accusations against her are an undisguised attempt by the military to white-wash the Wat Patum incident and absolve state killers like Prayut and Abhisit.

LATEST UPDATE: Nattathida and the other defendants may be fitted up with false lèse majesté charges!