Outgoing Rights Commission Criticizes Junta, Pre-Coup Protests

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police Dec. 25, 2013, at Thai-Japanese Stadium in Bangkok.

By Sasiwan Mokkhasen and Teeranai Charuvastra
Staff Reporters

BANGKOK — At the end of their term, members of the National Human Rights Commission said Monday the junta has trampled on human rights, while its way to power was paved by protests that occasionally violated constitutional rights to peaceful assembly.

The remark was among the commission’s frankest admissions of the ongoing repression of civil rights by the military junta so far, and came the same day it released a full report on human rights violations during the six months of protests which preceded the May 2014 coup d’etat.

“In the past year, there were problems of violation of civil rights and political rights under the situation of the coup d'etat,” said the commission’s most vocal member, Niran Pitakwatchara, on Monday. “We have to admit that although the martial law has already been lifted, Thai society still has problems about freedom of expression, such as media freedom and academic freedom.”

Community members looking to participate in the civic process and confront issues in their localities, from environmental activists to ultranationalists wanting to nationalize petroleum companies, “were blocked, and [their actions] seen as destroying the peace,” he continued. “In fact, they were exercising their civil rights.”

All commission members are due to be replaced in December. The current members have long been criticized by some activists as being a relatively weak voice for human rights in Thailand, compared to stronger condemnation expressed by international rights watchdog groups.

Protest Report

Critics of the commission also faulted the agency for not speaking out on human rights violations committed by some members of the anti-government protest movement that helped create the conditions leading to the 2014 coup. For the first time, the commission recognized such violations in its 110-page report released Monday.

The report said the protests, which aimed to topple former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, followed the constitution conduct in general, but some protesters infringed on the rights and freedoms of others, such as their campaign to obstruct voters from casting their ballots in the February 2014 election.  

The commissioners also ruled that the “Bangkok Shutdown” campaign, in which the protesters occupied major roads and intersections in the capital for months, overstepped constitutional guarantees for public gatherings.

Some protesters also destroyed property and used weapons, with little or no restraint from their leaders, the report said. The commission labeled these actions as violence and therefore outside of constitutional protection.

Nevertheless, the commission stressed those actions were by individuals and not the majority of peaceful demonstrators who simply went to the same protests.

The report is the last major work to be published by the outgoing commissioners. 

Reflecting on her group’s legacy, chairwoman Amara Pongsapich said she was disappointed the media did not understand the agency’s role, which led to “misunderstanding” and unfair criticism toward the commission.

“There has been both praise and criticism, which is normal,” Amara said. “But I can’t help feel disheartened. Sometimes, the media misunderstood our powers and duties. They were inadequately informed, yet they criticized us.” 

She added that the current commission’s six-year term, it received 4,143 complaints and completed 3,185 of them. The rest would be passed to the next commission, the members of which are expected to be appointed next month, at the earliest.

Commissioner Niran also gave some final advice for the military junta. Authorities should learn to manage protests and conflicts “appropriately,” without the use of force or harsh laws, he said.

“Political issues must be solved by politics,” Niran said. “If you solve them by military force, the problem will only escalate, like the [separatist insurgency in the] three southern border provinces.”

 

 

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