US-based Human Right Watch says for Thailand to show real signs of progress in advancing human rights, the government should take steps to prosecute human rights' abusers, especially those from the state security or police forces.
Rights activists say police reform in Thailand will help prevent rights abuses
Human Rights Watch says Thailand’s human rights performance is showing few signs of progress despite greater willingness by the Thai government to debate the issue.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director, says the right’s group wants to see prosecutions of rights abusers to show real signs of progress, given a backlog of rights abuses over recent years.
“There are so many cases, whether it’s the war on drugs during (Prime Minister) Thaksin (Shinawatra’s) period, whether it’s attacks on human rights defenders, whether its violence in the South – there are so many cases – where the evidence is quite clear- where the government with the political will could ensure prosecutions start.”
Government’s failure to tackle rights issues
Adams says a major disappointment over recent years was the failure in the development of the National Human Rights Commission, which itself was undermined by political interference.
"The NHRC in Thailand has been a huge disappointment," says Adams. "It had built up a certain level of competence – mostly bureaucratic competence in the years before Thaksin came to power. It was on the path towards becoming a serious institution. And since Thaksin came in (in 2001) it has essentially imploded. The current commission does no serious work."
A key focus of Human Rights Watch’s work in Thailand has been the insurgency in southern Thailand’s largely Muslim dominated provinces. Over the past five-years, strife has claimed more than 3,500 people. The group says there has been a "failure to address local resentment and frustration over abuses by security forces and injustice".
Police and judicial reforms
Adams says besides prosecutions there also needs to be reform of the judiciary, the police and prosecutors' office.
"If they are not overhauled in a way that they become professionally competent, corruption is addressed and they have political independence, we won’t see any systematic changes here."
Human Rights Watch also pointed to Thailand’s widening political polarisation that led to protracted protests and deadly clashes last year. In October, Thai border patrol police opened fire with tear gas canisters on protestors opposing the pro-Thaksin government during a demonstration outside the Parliament. One person died and hundreds injured, including police.
Thailand’s political divide was evident again Thursday when up to 30,000 pro-Thaksin supporters, wearing the distinctive ‘red shirts’, besieged the main government administration building calling on the government of Prime Minister Abhisit to resign.
The protesters were also calling for the removal of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, for the Parliament to be dissolved for fresh general elections and the prosecution of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) key leaders, who led protests to close down Bangkok's airports last year.