UN Human Rights Council asks Thailand about possibly distorted reports

The Thai government has published several reports on human rights issues in Thailand, including the problems in violent Southern Thailand.

These reports differ drastically from reports published by NGOs. These differences will be discussed at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday.

Given the widespread inability among Thai officials to admit mistakes, and to take credit for imaginary accomplishments, this isn’t surprising, but it’s nice that someone shines the spotlight on it.

Read more about it:

‘Cargo Containers Stuffed with Human Remains’

News reports (apparently, I had not seen any) say that three to five cargo containers ‘stuffed with human remains’ have been found in the Gulf of Thailand. Activists and relatives of those who were killed or are still missing after the Black May of 1992, when pro-democracy protestors were gunned down by the military, again called upon the government for a thorough investigation of the events and prosecution of those who ordered them. Yesterday was the 17th Anniversary of the state-ordered murders.

Local trawlers are reported as having brought up human skulls. Of course, the remains need not belong to the Black May missing people as there have been so many uninvestigated murders and massacres in modern Thai history – we still have no proper evidence as to how many were killed or wounded by gunfire during the military’s use of force this Songkran and that was during events that were quite well-covered by modern media techniques.

Even so, activists called for a proper investigation to take place. They also railed against the continuing use of double standards in Thai society:

“The person who ordered the mass killing has not been punished, nor have the others involved … who still are living a happy life, playing golf, sipping wine and making comments to the media.” The official number of Black May dead was 38, but the figure reported to the United Nations by a committee representing victims was 357, said Adul Khiewboriboon, who heads the committee.

There is very little chance the current government, given how it owes its power to the military and given the shameful way PM Abhisit behaved when news about the Rohingya refugees emerged, ever investigating these issues properly.

Justice becomes even less likely when the state uses bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission as opportunities to protect the dirty secrets of the elite.

Refugees, Migrants and Human Rights in Thailand

Of Vietnamese refugees in 1979:

“As dusk fell, a band of Thai fishermen bearing rifles, hammers and knives came to us with torches. They gave us a thorough search, took some clothing and then went away. Just after they were gone, another band came to take their place, searching us everywhere and this continued until beyond midnight. All in all there were three bands that did this. The last one, completing their search, drove all the men and youths into a cave and stood guard over it while they took the women away to rape them. In the dark mist and the cold wind, we could only listen to the cries of the children being torn from their mothers’ arms, the prayers and beseeching of the feeble women … Women were pulled out of some spots and beaten, and then gang raped cruelly by as many as ten fishermen at a time. Some pirates engaged in sadistic sex, striking the victims as they raped them until the girls fainted.”

Source: Stefan Eklof, Pirates in Paradise: A Modern History of Southeast Asia’s Maritime Marauders (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2006), p.22.

Of refugees:

“The reports of harsh treatment come in the context of a huge flow of refugees from neighboring countries in the past three decades that has imposed a social and economic burden on Thailand. Since the mid-1970s, Thailand has been a refuge for millions fleeing conflict and repression in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

“Thailand is surrounded by dangerous neighbors who have generated huge refugee flows, and it has sometimes felt overwhelmed by these flows,” said Kenneth Bacon, president of the human rights group Refugees International. “Its record in handling them is mixed.”

In the most notorious episode, in 1979, 42,000 Cambodian refugees fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge were forced back down a cliff into a minefield by the Thai military. Survivors said many of them died.

During the same period, Vietnamese boat people were victimized by Thai pirates operating without official restraint.

Although tens of thousands of refugees now live in semipermanent camps along the Thai border with Myanmar, some of them are periodically forced back against their will. Last summer Human Rights Watch protested [against] the forcible repatriation of a group of ethnic Karen refugees who had fled military brutality in Myanmar, formerly Burma.”

Source: Seth Mydans, “Thailand Is Accused of Rejecting Migrants,” New York Times (January 17th, 2009), available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/world/asia/18thailand.html?_r=1.


Of Burmese migrant workers:

“A sea prisoner refers to a Burmese who was sold by a broker (Burmese or Thai) to a Thai owned fishing trawler. The owner of the trawler would keep the Burmese at sea, not allowing them to disembark at any ports at any time. If their boat had to dock for unloading fish, the victim was put on another fishing boat that was sailing out to sea. The people who come alone to Thailand without relatives or friends from their native village suffered this problem. A sea prisoner does not get a salary either. Sometimes they would receive money to spend on cigarettes or other amenities. Most sea prisoners are children in their early teens.

Although other Burmese fishermen know about the sea prisoners, they have no opportunity to rescue them. They are away at sea for a very long time, and most of the owners of the fishing boats are very rich and have the power to kill a person any time while at sea.”

Myint Wai, A Memoir of Burmese Workers: from Slave Labour to Illegal Migrant Workers (Bangkok: Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, 2004), p.57.

There is a great deal more material of this sort.

Plan A: Deny All Knowledge about Anything, Ever.

We have all seen the coverage of the Thai military’s treatment of the Rohingya refugees and we have all seen the photographs. Even the denials by at least some of the military people involved seem little more than perfunctory. So when the, as some people believe, PM who was appointed by the influence of the army chief decides to claim that the reports were ‘exaggerated,’ many people will think he is merely starting to repay the numerous favours paid to him.

What a huge difference today between the USA and Thailand. In the first, a rejection of human rights abuses and a desire to repair the country’s image in the eyes of the world; in the second, back sliding and weaseling by the son of enormous privilege aiming to restore the class system and the inequalities of the past. The Quisling Thai PM Abhisit has already made a name for himself by denying the Amnesty International report about systematic torture and abuse in the South of Thailand.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has meanwhile requested access to Rohingya refugees to see their situation for themselves. Let us see what international opinion has to say about Abhisit after this – if required to turn on the army for the sake of principle, I think we all know what the outcome will be.

Thai Exceptionalism

Various recent political controversies have seen the re-emergence of that old phrase, one which will be familiar to all foreigners interested in Thailand and its people: “You don’t understand. Thailand is different.”

Certainly, different countries and their people do differ from each other in noticeable and important ways. For example, climate and geography influence the type of food available to people and that in turn influences what they look like (i.e. tall or short, slight or well-built) and a number of health impacts (e.g. prevalence of diabetes or heart disease). Linguistic differences, meanwhile, influence the way that people think and express themselves and that in turn affects behaviour and philosophy. The weather, on the other hand, determines whether people meet indoors or outdoors and what kind of community relations exist between them. A reasonably long list of such factors could be written, no doubt, although the processes of globalisation (e.g. television and internet shows us how other people live, cheap air travel increases experience and so on) mean that there is some convergence of lifestyles on a regional or global basis: nearly everyone owns a pair of jeans, for example, while mobile phone and personal computer penetration is increasing around the world.

Do these variations actually mean that people and systems are different or are they simply symptomatic of environmental differences? In other words, are things so different in Thailand that foreigners cannot properly ever understand them and, therefore, western-originated institutions such as democracy can never work in the same way in the Land of Smiles as elsewhere?

For ideological reasons I, of course, would strongly dispute this. As a supporter of universal human rights, working rights and equality, my opinion is that these rights should supercede local variations: so, female circumcision should not be permitted since even though it may be sanctioned in some cultures it is nevertheless cruel and abusive and contrary, therefore, to human rights.

However, my opinion is neither here nor there and I might well be wrong, after all. Let us consider whether Thai Exceptionalism (i.e. Thais and Thailand are different) benefits everyone equally or does it serve a specific section of society. Privileging Thai values over human rights, the right of free association or the right to collective bargaining, for example, would benefit whom? Rich or poor equally?

Privileging Thai values over genuine democracy benefits whom? Powerful and weak equally? Those with money and the poor equally?

And, finally, who are the ones who proclaim these Thai differences?  

Why No Mention of Human Rights Abuses?

Some extracts from a post at Thai Politico by Giles Ji Ungpakhon (i.e. not including the bits that may be illegal) (and possibly not the original source – he has a blog of his own somewhere as I recall):

What is the root cause of this crisis?

The root cause of this crisis is not the corruption of the Thaksin government in the past. It isn’t about vote-buying, good governance, civil rights or the Rule of Law. Politicians of all parties, including the Democrats, are known to buy votes. The elites, whether Politicians, Civil Servants or Military, have a history of gross corruption. Even when they don’t break the law, they have become rich on the backs of Thai workers and small farmers. The Democrat Party is stuffed with such millionaires.

Ironically, the Thai Rak Thai party was helping to reduce the importance of vote-buying because it was the first party in decades to have real policies which were beneficial to the poor. They introduced a universal health care scheme and Keynesian Village Funds. People voted on the basis of such policies. The Democrats and the conservative elites hate the alliance between Thaksin’s business party and the poor.

The Red Shirts, who are organised by government politicians, are the only hope for Thai democracy. They have now become a genuine pro-democracy mass movement of the poor. This is what is meant by “Civil Society”, not the PAD fascists. Thai academia fails to grasp this basic fact. But the Red Shirts are not a “pure force”. Many have illusion is ex-Prime Minister Thaksin. They overlook his gross abuse of human rights in the South and the War on Drugs. But these human rights issues are also totally ignored by the PAD and their friends.

So, my question today is, why do so many of Thaksin’s and Thai Rak Thai/People’s Power Party/ Puea Thai’s enemies ignore these ‘human rights abuses’? Bear in mind that several committees have sat to find evidence and not brought any prosecutions. Readers will be aware of the low level of evidence now required by the courts to hand out prison sentences and other punishments. So why nothing?


1)      life is cheap in Thailand and no one cares – the ‘War on Drugs’ for example was so popular (and some argue it was successful in getting methamphetamines out of schools, which is what people were really worried about) that the PPP government tried to bring it back twice this year alone.

2)      Thaksin is innocent or at least there is no smoking gun. It is illogical to argue that the government controls the police and the army when we have seen both police and military repeatedly to refuse to obey the orders of the government and Thaksin was, in any case, ousted by a military coup.

3)      Bringing prosecutions would reveal the complicity of a number of people whom the elites who now control the courts do not wish to see revealed. In this case, Thaksin may or may not be guilty.

Any other explanations (apart from conspiracy nonsense about Thaksin stooges controlling the world, possibly in the form of eight foot high lizards)?

Some Truths about Thaksin

So, John, you work for Khun Thaksin, even if you have never met him (although he did walk by on his way to meet more interesting and important people as few weeks ago). Answer me these important questions, entirely according to your own opinion:

Q. Is he going to buy Ronaldinho and is that a good idea?

A. It certainly looks like he will try. I doubt it would work out well because Ronaldinho has attracted a reputation for being a workshy party animal who is unlikely to value new manager Mark Hughes and his approach to football highly – Blackburn were not given the nickname Blackeye Rovers for nothing.

Q. Was it a good idea to sack Sven?

A. Not in my opinion.

Q. Where does his money come from, anyway?

A. He achieved success through securing a government license to operate in the telecommunications and satellites industry. This turned out to be enormously profitable – much more so than previous careers in the police and computer retail. As the money mounted, his company diversified into a variety of different fields – real estate, hospital ownership, media and others. He divested himself of shares in the company so as to be permitted to become Prime Minister and his family subsequently sold them to Singapore’s Temasek. That left a lot of cash, some of which has been invested in Manchester City, a much smaller amount supports Shinawatra University and, presumably, there are other investments about which I have not been notified.

Q. How about these corruption charges?

A. Well, after the military coup, the junta put its best people and a lot of resources in trying to justify their action by bringing corruption charges against Dr. Thaksin and his family (especially his wife and children). The results have been negligible – some trivial charges about the Phaholyothin land sale which will soon disappear, complaints against government policy to make a loan to Burma and to manage the lottery which the government, overwhelmingly supported by the electorate, seems entirely mandated to have done. Some members of the Electoral Commission, also supported by the junta, are themselves in prison because of the way they tried to find evidence of electoral wrong-doing.

Q. Any truth to the human rights abuses?

A. More than 3,000 people were killed during the War against Drugs, which is the issue most commonly raised. Khun Thaksin was certainly PM at the time, the policy was very popular (the new PM Samak Sundaravej was thinking of reviving it) and it seems to have had a positive effect in removing drugs from schools. Khun Thaksin made some intemperate comments but there is no smoking gun linking him directly to any extra-judicial killing – and the extent to which he was able to control the military, for example, was shown when he was ousted in a military coup.

Q. Other people completely disagree with your views, don’t they?

A. Yes.

Q. Are you writing this column without sources because the network is so desperately poor that you have no choice?

A. What do you think?