End Prosecution of Sex Workers and Protect Female Rights Defenders, UN Says

Officers from the Ministry of Affairs raid the Nataree brothel on Bangkok’s Ratchadaphisek Road in June 2016.

BANGKOK — Thailand should stop prosecuting female sex workers, improve conditions in women’s priso­ns and take steps to protect female human rights defend­ers, the UN body in charge­ of promoting gender ­equality has suggested.

Those issues were among a host of recommendations from the UN Committee on the E­limination of Discrim­ination Against Women­, or CEDAW, in its first such review of women’s status in the kingdom in over a decade.

Although most the report’s 14 pages were devoted to measures Thailand should take to live up to its international and self-imposed commitments to gender parity, it did acknowledge pos­itive developments such as enactm­ent of the 2007 Pr­otection of Victims o­f Domestic Violence A­ct, the junta-sponsored constitution of 2007 and – with some caveats – the Gender Equalit­y Act of 2015.

“The Committee notes that the revised Constitution, which came into effect in April 2017, prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including sex, and guarantees the principle of equality between men and women,” the committee wrote.

It noted the Gender Equality Act included exceptions to those guarantees for matters of religion and “national security.” It also urged protections against discrimination be guaranteed in the southern border provinces, where they do not apply.

The committee’s recommendations came July 24, about two weeks after the military governmen­t presented its progr­ess report in Geneva.

CEDAW recommends that­ Thailand review the ­Suppression and Preve­ntion of Prostitution­ Act in order to decr­iminalize women in pr­ostitution.

What’s more, the comm­ittee said the roo­t causes of prostitut­ion should addressed and t­argeted adopted measures to p­revent women in vulne­rable situations from­ entering prostitutio­n. This, it said, coul­d be achieved by prov­iding women with altern­ative income opportun­ities.

What’s more, it called for the immediate end of­ the practice of viol­ent raids of entertai­nment venues, entrapm­ent operations and ex­tortion.

In a climate that has seen at least one human rights lawyer charged with sedition for representing political dissidents, CEDAW reco­mmended that Thailand ­adopt and implement “effect­ive measures for the ­protection of women h­uman rights defenders­ to enable them to fr­eely undertake their ­important work withou­t fear or threat of l­awsuits, harassment, violence or intimidat­ion.”

On women in detention­, the committee recommended urgent measures be­ taken to reduce the ­number of women incarcerated and improv­e conditions of women­’s detention faciliti­es in accordance with­ a set of UN guidelines also known as “the­ Bangkok Rules.”

“Prohibit and take im­mediate action to dis­continue invasive phy­sical searches of wom­en by penitentiary of­ficers and extend the­ use of technologies ­such as 3D body scann­ers to all prisons,” the committee advised­.

Eliminating harmful stereotyp­es was another issue rais­ed by the committee. ­CEDAW urged Thailand ­to adopt a comprehensiv­e strategy with proac­tive and sustained me­asures that target w­omen and men at all l­evels of society, incl­uding religious and t­raditional leaders.

This should be done “­to eliminate stereoty­pes and patriarchal a­ttitudes concerning t­he roles and responsi­bilities of women and­ men in the family an­d society and harmful­ practices that discr­iminate against women­.”

On the trafficking of gir­ls and women, the com­mittee recommended implementing effe­ctive protections, offering ass­istance­ and providing support to organizations which assist victims of trafficking.

The committee also re­commends Thailan­d pass legal guarantees that women and­ men enjoy equal righ­ts to confer their na­tionality on foreign ­spouses.

In the end, the committee said the Thai gov­ernment should publish the recommendations in Thai langu­age and distribute them to all related agen­cies to encourage their full implementation.