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  • Southeast Asian Indigenous Women leaders demand stronger climate action support from COP 25 delegates

    More than 60 representatives from Indigenous Women’s Organizations and Networks from Southeast Asia called on world leaders currently gathered in Madrid, Spain for the last three days of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 25th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP 25) to recognize the importance of working with Indigenous Peoples particularly Indigenous Women and their Indigenous Knowledge in mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

    In a three-day conference entitled “Climate Smart Women Connect: Climate and Gender Justice for Indigenous Women in Asia” jointly organized by the Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and Cuso International in Asia, Indigenous Women leaders from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines gathered to consolidate their voices, express solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples’ representatives, and influence the ongoing discussions in COP 25. 

    “Indigenous Women like me are doubly experiencing the impacts of climate change through rising temperature levels which makes food production like farming and forestry harder for us,” shared Daw Nyo Nyo San, an Indigenous Woman leader from Myanmar. 

    Hornkeo, an Indigenous Woman herself and the Field Coordinator of Laos-based grassroots organization Global Association of People and Environment (GAPE), has this message to world leaders attending COP 25: "Women, especially Indigenous Women, must play a main role in discussing climate challenges and solutions." Ei Ei Min, Director of POINT Myanmar and a member of AIPP's regional network is participating in COP 25, in an effort to include the voices of Indigenous Women in the climate discussions.

    According to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), women are responsible for half of the world’s food production. In most Global South countries, women produce between 40-80% of food, and are central stewards of seeds and agricultural biodiversity. Further, 80% of the remaining global biodiversity is within the lands of Indigenous Peoples who have protected them over generations. 

    Sushila Kumari Thapa Magar of the AIPP said: “Due to their close relationship with the land and natural resources, Indigenous Women hold unique and invaluable Traditional Ecological Knowledge, as well as spiritual and cultural understandings critical to healing and maintenance of the Earth and  climate cycles. However, the increasing frequency and devastating effects of extreme weather events are disproportionately affecting Indigenous Peoples especially Indigenous Women and people of diverse identities in Asia. The impacts of climate change are most severely felt around agriculture and food security as they directly bear on livelihoods,” she added. 

    Jonathan Burton, Head of Programmes for Cuso International Asia said: “Indigenous Women are at the forefront of local and global efforts to protect and defend these territories of immense socio-ecological diversity – taking action on the frontline of grassroots movements and struggles. Indeed, state delegates attending COP 25 must recognize the impacts of climate change on Indigenous Women and their role as knowledge holders in adapting to its impacts. Clearly, facilitating the flow of climate adaptation resources to them should be a priority.”

    The conference concluded with the drafting of a common message realizing the structural barriers of Indigenous Women to effectively contribute in adapting and mitigating the climate crisis, and collectively recommended and called for immediate actions for climate and gender justice. 

    12 December 2019
    8297 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Lumpini police station denies pressuring FCCT into cancelling ‘Run Against Dictatorship’ press conference

    On Monday (9 December 2019), the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) issued a statement on their Facebook page that they have been asked by Lumpini Police Station to cancel a booking for a press conference for the “Run Against Dictatorship” event, organized by activist Tanawat Wongchai.

    The FCCT said that the police explained that the title of the event was “objectionable” and that “they considered it likely to create what they called a ‘mob.’” The police also reportedly threatened the FCCT with “serious consequences,” possibly closure, if they did not comply with the request.

    “Thailand has been under a civilian government since May this year, which should make such orders or even ‘suggestions’ to curb free speech a thing of the past. In demanding the cancellation of this week’s event the police gave no legal justification, although they made it clear they were acting on orders from higher up,” said the statement.

    Lumpini Police Station has since denied that they pressured FCCT into cancelling the event. Kampol Rattanaprateep, Superintendent of Lumpini Police Station, told BBC Thai that the police only asked the FCCT for information about the event, and claimed that it was the FCCT’s decision to cancel the event.

    The “Run Against Dictatorship” is an event organized by activist Tanawat Wongchai and others. After the cancellation of their FCCT booking, the organizers said that they will find a new venue for their press conference.

    Tanawat Wongchai (left) submitting the complaint to Pannika Wanich (right), vice chairperson of the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice, and Human Rights

    Earlier today (11 December), Tanawat and the team behind the event also went to Parliament to submit a complaint to the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice, and Human Rights of the House of Representatives, calling for the Committee to summon the superintendent of Lumpini Police Station to explain what happened. 

    FCCT STATEMENT ON CANCELLATION OF A PRESS CONFERENCE BY ‘RUN AGAINST DICTATORSHIP’

    The professional committee of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand is concerned about pressure from Thai police to cancel a planned press conference. Over the weekend the FCCT’s management was asked by Lumpini police station to cancel a booking by a group involved in the ‘Run Against Dictatorship’ planned for next month. The group had agreed to pay to use the FCCT for a press conference announcing the event. The police explained that the title of the event was objectionable, and that they considered it likely to create what they called a “mob.” They also stated that there would be serious consequences for the FCCT – suggesting possible closure -- if it did not comply with their request. After discussion with the group, the organizers agreed to find an alternative venue.

    On several occasions during the preceding five years of military rule the FCCT was forced to cancel events, both those run by the club and those booked by outside customers. In all those cases the police explained that they were under orders from the military authorities, saying neither they nor the club had any choice in the matter.

    Thailand has been under a civilian government since May this year, which should make such orders or even “suggestions” to curb free speech a thing of the past. In demanding the cancellation of this week’s event the police gave no legal justification, although they made it clear they were acting on orders from higher up.

    The FCCT continues to host a rich variety of events, including many which focus on free expression and dissenting political views, and believe such events contribute positively to the broader debate on Thailand’s future. We hope we will be allowed to continue this role in the future.

    FCCT Professional Committee

    11 December 2019
    8296 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Women in ‘model’ prisons face conditions below international standards, new report finds

    Conditions in most of Thailand’s so-called ‘model’ prisons are below international standards, a new report published today (11 December 2019) by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) reveals.

    The report, titled “ Flawed models - Implementation of international standards in Thailand’s ‘model’ prisons for women,” is based on visits conducted by a team from FIDH and UCL to nine of the 12 ‘model’ prisons between May and August 2018. Thailand’s Department of Corrections designates these 12 prisons as ‘model’, because it claims these facilities have successfully implemented the United Nations (UN) Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (also known as the ‘Bangkok Rules’).

    “The designation of ‘model’ prisons is an attempt to disguise the dreadful reality of women incarcerated in Thailand. Conditions in these prisons are not even close to meeting minimum international standards, so one has to wonder how bad conditions must be in non-‘model’ facilities,” said FIDH Vice-President Guissou Jahangiri.

    The main issue of concern remains overcrowding – a chronic phenomenon that plagues prisons across Thailand and negatively impacts many other aspects of prison conditions. When the FIDH/UCL prison visits began in April 2018, the occupancy levels in all the nine ‘model’ prisons were high, with levels of up to 652%. Since then, the combined population of the nine prisons has increased by a total of 6%.

    Other important areas, where deficiencies and challenges were observed, are: special arrangements for pregnant prisoners and prisoners with babies; the water and sanitation situation, including shortage of sanitary napkins and other toiletries in many prisons; the quality of food; healthcare services, including mental health assessments; prison labor conditions; contact with the outside world; and access to information from the outside world. Lastly, punishment and disciplinary measures used on prisoners are often inconsistent with international minimum standards and, in some cases, may amount to torture or ill-treatment.

    The report makes numerous concrete, specific, and achievable recommendations that Thailand’s Department of Corrections should implement in order to improve conditions for women in prisons across the country. The implementation of these recommendations is necessary, but not sufficient to address the root cause of poor prison conditions. This would require the Thai government’s political will to adopt and carry out key policy measures to reduce the country’s prison population. Such measures should include: the decriminalization of certain drug-related offenses; the granting of bail to defendants awaiting trial for certain categories of crimes; and the use of home detention coupled with functioning electronic monitoring devices.

    “Thailand needs to be bold in its approach to reforming the criminal justice system to tackle the horrific overcrowding of prisons. Ultimately, the cabinet, the Parliament, and the courts —not prison administrators— have the power to create broad-based, high impact solutions,” said UCL Senior Advisor Danthong Breen, who took part in some of the FIDH/UCL visits to the ‘model’ prisons.

    11 December 2019
    8295 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Feeling the draught when the draft is no more

    There are not many countries where it makes sense to ask an 86-year-old to choose, among all the dictators they have lived under, which was the worst.  This is simply because most countries don’t offer much choice.  But Sulak Srivaraksa was recently asked which dictator, going back to Plaek Phibunsongkhram, was the scariest.

    His choice was Sarit, because he was the cleverest.  And he had this comment to make about our erstwhile dictator-wannabe-PM and current PM-wannabe-dictator: ‘Mr. Prayut, he doesn’t know a damned thing about anything.’

    So is Prayut the least clever?  I had ma doots.  Thanom wasn’t exactly Professor Brainiac, doddering from one funeral to the next while Prapass looted the country.  And Phibun himself was the clown who thought national progress came from everyone wearing hats and husbands being compelled to kiss wives before leaving for work each morning. 

    So the dictator stupidity bar is limbo-dancingly low.  Does Prayut manage to slither under it? 

    In the past he’s regurgitated the nationalist nonsense about the Thais originating from the Altai Mountains, but then loads of Thais his age still believe this Ministry of Education propaganda even if the MoE itself has quietly disavowed it.  And he did recommend Animal Farm while arresting people for reading 1984.  But, you know, understanding allegories like Animal Farm is not exactly a straightforward reading comprehension exercise.  (And, apart from constitutional oaths, there is good evidence that Prayut can in fact read).

    But he’s now tried to take another swipe at Future Forward’s Thanathorn on the topic of conscription and put himself well in the running for dumbest despot of the decade. 

    Sulak claimed that Prayut knows nothing.  We might also ask, ‘does he understand what little he does know?’

    And when he comes out with ‘We have already drafted men on a voluntary basis’, you’ve got to wonder.  Draft: ‘select for compulsory military service’.  Voluntary: ‘done without compulsion’. 

    So Prayut’s army has selected men for compulsory military service without compulsion.  Duh.

    OK, slip of the tongue, maybe.  But then he says, ‘It [conscription] doesn’t mean everybody has to become a soldier’.  Well, no, the draft has always been a male-only affair.  But remember ‘select for compulsory military service’?  ‘Select’ automatically means not everyone. 

    Alright, maybe there are people in Thailand who don’t know what conscription means, so it is generous of Prayut to bestow on them the intellectual fruits of his long military service.

    “Should we scrap the conscription and hire soldiers?” Gen Prayut asks. “If so, how much will we have to spend?  Do we have a budget large enough for that?”

    One assumes that by ‘hired soldiers’, Prayut means volunteers, not mercenaries.  At least one hopes he does.  Volunteers and conscripts currently get the same pay.  Replace conscripts with volunteers and the wage bill stays exactly the same. 

    Of course, right now the number of volunteers is less than the total number of enlisted men, so maybe Prayut is thinking that to get more volunteers, appeals to patriotic spirit may not be enough, so he may need the sweetener of a pay raise.  So he will need more money.

    Future Forward of course have already told him one way he can get that.  The Thai military has a totally disproportionate number of high-earners with the rank of general.  Get rid of the majority of unnecessary generals by some version of the ‘up or out’ promotion system of most military systems (and the US has already been advising the Thai military on how to do this, at no little expense but to little or no effect), and you may already have made enough savings.

    Prayut also argued that soldiers are among the “first rescuers” when there are natural disasters like floods or drought and indeed if they are properly trained (which at the moment most are not) this is an excellent use of military manpower.  But if conscripts are replaced by volunteers, where’s the difference? 

    Drifting off into the edges of insanity, Prayut argues that ending conscription and relying on a volunteer army would somehow prevent people from participating in national security.  It seems that in Prayut’s mind if you stop compelling people to do something (like conscription), you then have to compel them not to do that thing.  Can he not get away from this mindset that every human action needs compulsion from some higher authority? 

    And finally, Prayut turns to the last refuge of the authoritarian.  Military training instils discipline.  Which explains why every constitution (which all say that everyone must obey it) has been disobeyed, and summarily ripped up, by an undisciplined military. 

    Go on, look at the mayhem on the roads.  All those scofflaw drivers must be the ones who never benefitted from conscription, but all those law-abiding drivers, ahem, must be ex-recruits.  ’Slogical, innit?

    But one thing that Prayut fails to mention about conscription is that it is maybe the biggest source of corruption in the military.  Forget about generals muscling their way into directorships of private companies.  Forget the 10 or 20 per cent creamed off the top of military hardware budgets.  Conscription is a regular money-earner, month after month, year after year.

    Once they have gone through basic training, most conscripts do no real soldiering at all.  The visible abuses – privates cleaning officers’ homes and working unpaid in their private businesses – are exposed in the media from time to time with vague promises to get rid of the practice.

    But a much bigger problem is with the conscripts you can’t see.  Thousands and thousands of them are on the books but not on the bases.  Their TMB bank books, ATM cards and PINs are still there, safely in the hands of their officers; but the supposed soldiers are out in the real world, doing whatever you can do when you don’t have a civilian ID card.  In exchange for the freedom to work the black economy, they consign their salaries to those officers who drive chauffeured Mercs on 20-odd thou a month. 

    They’ll not be doing that once the draft is scrapped.

    11 December 2019
    8294 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: "re-education" camps in Xinjiang

    6 December 2019
    8293 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • CIVICUS Monitor downgrades two countries in Asia as the numbers living in repressive states increase

    The People Power Under Attack 2019 report shows that the assault on civil society and fundamental freedoms has persisted in Asia. In this region, out of 25 countries, four are rated as closed, eight repressed and ten obstructed. Civic space in South Korea and Japan is rated as narrowed, while Taiwan is the only country rated open.

    The CIVICUS Monitor map showing status of most Asian countries as either obstructed, repressed, or closed, with Thailand classified as repressed. 

    “Our research shows that there continues to be a regression of civic space for activism across the region. The percentage of people living in Asian countries with closed, repressed or obstructed civic space is now at 95 percent” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for CIVICUS, at a launch event co-organized with the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok today.

    CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA are particularly alarmed by the regression of fundamental civic rights, such as the freedom of speech, assembly and association, in two countries in this region: India and Brunei.

    India, the world’s largest democracy, has been downgraded to ‘repressed’. Of specific concern are attacks on activists and journalists – some who have been assaulted or killed just for doing their job. CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA are also concerned about the use of restrictive laws to stifle opposition voices: students, activists and academics have all been silenced by stringent legislation. Another repressive law being enforced by the Indian government is the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which has been used to stop foreign funding and investigate NGOs that are critical of the government. The clampdown on civic space in Kashmir since August is also extremely worrying.

    Brunei has also been downgraded to ‘repressed’. While fundamental freedoms have been curtailed in the country for years, the revised Sharia (Islamic) penal code that was enacted in April 2019 has further increased these restrictions by imposing the death penalty for various offences including insulting the Prophet Mohammed and punishments against individuals for publications against Islamic beliefs.

    Our research reveals that censorship is the most common civic space violation in Asia, occurring in 20 countries. China continues to be the main offender as it expands its censorship regime, blocking critical outlets and social media sites. This was demonstrated in the run up to the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and during the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, when the government blocked domestic coverage of these events and employed an army of internet trolls to disrupt social media narratives and control public discourse.

    Censorship has been used in many other countries in the region, including Bangladesh, Thailand and Pakistan. In Bangladesh, the authorities blocked news outlets and websites that were critical of the state. In Thailand, censorship increased before the elections in March 2019 - international outlets were cut off and journalists were targeted. Journalists were also targeted in Pakistan, many were harassed or criminalized when they attempted to report the mass mobilization of ethnic Pashtuns demanding their rights.

    The second most common civic space violation in Asia is the use of restrictive laws to stifle democratic and political rights - this has been documented in 18 countries. Criminal defamation laws are commonly used in this region to repress activists and opposition members. Such laws were used in Bangladesh with scores of critics and journalists were prosecuted under the draconian Digital Security Act. Malaysia’s criminal defamation laws were used to stamp out online criticism of religion and the monarchy, and in the Philippines, anyone who dared to criticize President Duterte now faces sedition and other charges.

    “Governments in Asia are increasingly adopting China’s authoritarian tactics to hold on to power or control the narrative. Censorship is on the rise with states blocking news outlets and social media sites, shutting down the internet and attacking journalists exposing abuses of the state. This is often coupled with the use of restrictive legislation such as defamation laws as a weapon to silence public debate or prevent activists and journalists from revealing inconvenient truths” said Benedict.

    The harassment of activists and journalists in Asia is a well-documented trend noted by the CIVICUS Monitor, occurring in 18 countries. In China, activists are routinely placed under surveillance, house arrest, or detained. Vietnamese activists are also placed under strict surveillance. In Cambodia, members of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) are routinely threatened or attacked.

    CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA are particularly alarmed by the harassment and attacks of protestors in Hong Kong. Civic space is rapidly shrinking in Hong Kong since mass protests against a proposed extradition bill began in June 2019. There have been reports of excessive and lethal force by the security forces, as well as evidence of torture in detention.

    Despite this bleak picture across Asia, there are some bright spots. The Maldives repealed an antidefamation law; Malaysia scrapped its repressive Anti-Fake News Act and Taiwan historically voted to legalise same-sex marriage.

    Over twenty organisations including FORUM-ASIA collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. The Monitor has posted more than 536 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2019. Civic space in 196 countries is categorized as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology which combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    6 December 2019
    8292 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • UNDP launches new study on discrimination against LGBT in Thailand

    On Monday (2 December), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a new study on attitudes towards LGBT people in Thailand, which found that while there is significant support for inclusive laws and policies, experiences of stigma, discrimination, violence, and exclusion remain persistent.

    The study launch at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 2 December 2019. (Source: UNDP)

    Over 2,210 people participated in the study, entitled “Tolerance but not inclusion: A national survey on experiences of discrimination and social attitudes towards LGBT people in Thailand.” It found that while 69% of non-LGBT participants reported generally positive attitudes towards LGBT people and support equal rights and access to services for the LGBT community, their support drops when it comes to accepting LGBT people as family members, colleagues, students, and community members. 88% of respondents said they would accept LGBT people outside the family, while only 75% said they would accept LGBT people within the family. 63% also said that they would feel uncomfortable if a family member were to fall in love with an LGBT person and 44% believe that LGBT people should not be permitted to set up organizations to “promote gender issues.”

    It also found that people who live in urban areas, women and non-LGBT respondents who had interactions with LGBT people in their non-family social network were found to be more supportive while those who only knew LGBT members in their family were significantly more likely to be against LGBT-inclusive policies.

    Nevertheless, the study found that there is significant support for inclusive laws and policies among non-LGBT Thais. 48% of non-LGBT respondents believe LGBT people should be allowed to adopt children, while 47% think same-sex marriage should be legal. 35% of non-LGBT respondents agreed that people should be allowed to change their gender markers on identity documents post-operation, and 21% were neutral towards the prospect. Between 20.5% and 23.3% of respondents do not feel strongly either way on these issues, which may reflect a lack of knowledge and points to opportunities to influence public opinion through advocacy campaigns.

    Meanwhile, a significant number of LGBT respondents reported discrimination. For transwomen, 21% reported often being verbally attacked, 9% reported that they were often sexually harassed, and 8% reported often being subjected to physical violence. Moreover, 41% of LGBT respondents and 61% of transwomen respondents said they faced discrimination as students, while 64% said their school curriculum did not include topics relevant to their gender or sexuality. 10% of LGBT respondents and 32% of transwomen also reported discrimination in their current or most recent job.

    Family life is also complicated for LGBT people, as half of the LGBT respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination in the family. Respondents also reported feeling more acceptance from people outside their family and are more inclined to be more open about their sexuality to their social networks than to their family.

    The stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT people also contribute to mental health problems. Nearly half of the LGBT respondents have contemplated suicide, and nearly one-sixth have attempted suicide. Mental health services were reported as a high priority by 49% of respondents, while one in five people reported having difficulty accessing such services.

    The findings of the study show that there is a need for intervention to decrease stigma, eliminate stereotypes, and increase knowledge of the consequences of stigma and discrimination towards LGBT people. The report recommends that the government begin to track health, educational, and labour outcomes of LGBT people as part of national data collection efforts, and also include a number of recommended actions for the government to take in order to contribute to the legal and social recognition of diverse sexualities and genders, establish equal rights for LGBT people, and support social and legal inclusion of LGBT people in schools, workplaces, healthcare settings, and civil society.

    The study was supported by the Being LGBTI in Asia and the Pacific programme in collaboration with a national survey reference group consisting of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the National Statistical Office, the National Human Rights Commission, LGBT civil society organizations and development partners.

    4 December 2019
    8291 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Four international unions confederations call on Thai government to address labour violations

    The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), along with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and IndustriALL Global Unions, issued a letter last Wednesday (27 November) calling on the Thai government to address labour violations after the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced that Thailand’s trade preferences under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) would be partially suspended on 25 April 2020.

    The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the ITUC, and the Global Union Federation have raised “serious concerns on labour violations in Thailand, including endemic violations of the right to freedom of association, to organise and to bargain collectively, and concerning the widespread use of trafficked forced labour,” said the letter, which went on to say that most of these concerns have not been “addressed in any meaningful way.”

    The letter then called for the Thai government to take the following actions:

    1. Reform labour laws, such as the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the State Enterprise Labour Relations Act (SELRA), which have failed to protect the fundamental rights of workers.
    2. Adopt measures which “ensure that anti-union discrimination is sanctioned fully and that workers are afforded commensurate remedies – including rapid reinstatement.”
    3. Address labour violations in the automotive and electronics industries and ensure the reinstatement and compensation of workers in cases where workers were dismissed for legitimate trade union activities and who have been subjected to “re-education” in military bases.
    4. Strictly prohibit the use of criminal libel actions against workers who complain of their employers’ illegal conduct.
    5. Amend domestic legislation so that it conforms to the provisions of ILO Convention 188 on Work in Fishing and allow migrant workers to join and form their own independent and democratic trade unions in order to protect fishers’ rights and address the human trafficking issue in the Thai seafood industry.
    6. Ratify ILO Convention 87, on the freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and ILO Convention 98, on the right to organize and collective bargaining.

    Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
    Office of the Prime Minister
    Government House, 1 Pissanulok Road, Dusit,
    Bangkok
    Thailand
    Email: webmaster@thaigov.go.th
    Fax: +6622834000
    Via Royal Thai Embassy Brussels, Mission of Thailand to the European Union
    876 Chaussee de Waterloo, 1000, Bruselles, Belgium
    Email: consular@thaiembassy.be

    HTUR/JB                                                         27 November 2019

    Suspension of US Generalised System of Preferences

    Dear Prime Minister,

    The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is sending this letter in alignment with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and IndustriALL Global Unions. For years, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the ITUC, and the Global Union Federations have raised serious concerns on labour violations in Thailand, including endemic violations of the right to freedom of association, to organise and to bargain collectively, and concerning the widespread use of trafficked forced labour. Most of these concerns have not been addressed in any meaningful way. It comes as no surprise then that on 25 October 2019, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it would partially suspend Thailand’s trade preferences under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) as of 25 April 2020. This six-month delay is meant to give the Royal Thai Government (RTG) a last opportunity to take the necessary steps to protect fundamental workers’ rights in law and in practice. The ITUC, ETUC, ITF and IndustriALL Global Unions, including our affiliates in Thailand, strongly urge the RTG to address fully the issues raised in the GSP review, in consultation with legitimate and representative unions, without any further delay.

    The issues below are of highest priority and their full resolution are for us the minimum necessary to indicate the intention of the RTG to comply with fundamental worker rights.

    1. Labour Law Reform

    The Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the State Enterprise Labour Relations Act (SELRA) fail to protect the fundamental rights of workers and as such are not fit for purpose. Draft amendments put forward by RTG in 2017 and 2018 would have done little improve these laws even had they been adopted. These laws exclude the majority of the Thai workforce, including civil servants, government employees, teachers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and workers in the informal sector. Even those who are covered by these laws face substantial limitations on these rights. For example, employers have no obligation to bargain with trade unions in good faith and the regulation of the right to strike is so cumbersome as to be nearly impossible to exercise. The RTG must review and revise the labour laws, in coordination with legitimate trade unions and with the support of the ILO, in order to ensue conformity with core ILO conventions.

    2. In Practice

    a. Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining

    Anti-union discrimination by employers is commonplace and weak dispute settlement mechanisms mean that workers are rarely reinstated or even compensated. The authorities do little to compel remedies even when ordered by a competent tribunal. In some cases, the state itself has engaged in anti-union retaliation, including in the transportation sector. The widespread abuse of agency, subcontracted or temporary work arrangements also undermine the enjoyment of these rights in practice, including in industrial zones and the construction industry. We expect that measures are adopted to ensure that anti-union discrimination is sanctioned fully and that workers are afforded commensurate remedies – including rapid reinstatement.

    Below are among the priority cases:

    i. State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT)

    In Case No. 3022, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) urged reinstatement of and payment of back wages to the leaders of the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT) who were sacked after organising a demonstration against the deadly conditions prevailing on the nation’s rail system. The RTG has failed to do so. Worse, since November 2018 the RTG has garnished the leaders’ wages and pensions, leaving them with close to nothing, to pay damages (24 million Bhat) to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) which the ILO found were not legitimate. These leaders are now being tried before the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases for breach of official duties in a case filed by the SRT with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The union leaders are not however public officials and have committed no acts of corruption. Despite having committed no crime, the workers face a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. All garnished wages/pensions must be returned, no further garnishment should be imposed and all criminal charges be dropped immediately.

    ii. Thai Airways International Union (TG Union)

    In Case No. 3180, the CFA held that that the damages of 326 million Thai Baht (roughly USD 10 million) ordered against four TG Union officials allegedly over losses attributable to a spontaneous two-day protest by off duty Thai Airways staff in 2013 were contrary to the principles of freedom of association protected under international law. The CFA found that the damages were based on violations of strike prohibitions which are themselves contrary to the principles of freedom of association, and that their excessive amount is likely to have an intimidating effect on the TG union and its leaders and inhibit their legitimate trade union activities. The union’s appeal is currently 

    pending before the Supreme Labour Court. The Government must communicate the recommendations of the CFA to the Supreme Labour Court without delay.

    iii. Automotive and Electronics Sectors

    The GSP petition also refers to widespread labour violations in the nation’s automotive and electronics industries, including the use of “reeducation” camps on military bases (see General Motors and Mitsubishi Electric Consumer Products cases). These cases collectively concern hundreds of workers who were dismissed for legitimate trade union activity, almost none of whom have been reinstated to their jobs and compensated for the lost income. The RTG must ensure the reinstatement and compensation of workers in each of these cases.

    b. Criminal Defamation

    With alarming frequency, workers have been charged with criminal defamation by their employers when they complain about the employers’ illegal conduct in violation of the labour law. In some cases, workers have been found guilty at the same time their employers have been absolved of any responsibility for their labour violations. The RTG must strictly prohibit the use of criminal libel actions over allegations of labour violations.

    c. Forced Labour and Working Conditions in the Seafood Industry

    Despite recent measures, including to amend its anti-trafficking law, to eliminate recruitment, to prohibit the withholding identity documents and to ban child labour, it is still the case that human trafficking for forced labour is rampant in the Thai fish and shrimp industries (both on land and at sea). Human rights abusers operate with almost total impunity. The Fishers Rights Network (FRN), an initiative of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to build an independent democratic union of fishers in Thailand, mainly organizes Burmese and Cambodian migrant fishers. More than 90% of the Burmese fishers the FRN has interviewed in the past 12 months are in debt bondage for more than 20,000 THB (~$600 USD). While Thailand’s ratification of ILO Convention 188 on Work in Fishing should be welcomed, the Government is yet to effectively implement and enforce the provisions of the Convention that protect fishers’ rights on board vessels, including requirements on occupational safety and health, medical care at sea and ashore rest period written work agreements, and social security protection. The RTG must comply with Convention 188 in law and in practice as well qs allow migrant workers to join and form their own independent and democratic trade unions - which are essential to protecting all workers, including migrants.

    d. Ratify ILO Conventions 87 and 98,

    Thailand remains one of the few countries in the world to have ratified neither Convention 87 nor Convention 98. Indeed, these conventions enjoy near universal ratification. We urge the RTG to ratify these two instruments as soon as possible,

    We look forward to the resolution of these priority areas over the next six months. We extend our offer of technical assistance to help your government address these issues in the shortest possible time. 

    Sincerely,

    Valter Sanches
    General Secretary 
    IndustriALL Global Union

    Per Hilmersson
    Deputy General Secretary
    ETUC

    Sharan Burrow
    General Secretary
    ITUC

    Stephen Cotton
    General Secretary
    ITF

    Copy
    Mr. Chatumongol Sonakul, Minister of Labour
    Email: webmaster@mol.mail.go.th
    Mr. Jurin Laksanawisit, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Email: webmaster@moc.go.th
    Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    Email: information01@mfa.mail.go.th ; permsec@mfa.go.th

    2 December 2019
    8290 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • ICJ condemns the use of criminal defamation law to harass Angkhana Neelapaijit

    On Wednesday (27 November), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a statement condemning Thammakaset Co., Ltd’s use of the criminal defamation provisions of the Thai Criminal Code to harass former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.

    Angkhana Neelapaijit

    “This action by Thammakaset is a textbook case of how defamation laws are used in Thailand to silence human rights defenders.  It is clearly without any legitimate basis, and intended to harass and intimidate Khun Angkhana, who is a leading champion of human rights in Thailand and the region,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director. “We hope that the Courts will dismiss this frivolous case at first opportunity.”

    On 25 October 2019, Thammakaset Co. Ltd., a poultry farm in Lopburi Province, filed a criminal defamation suit under sections 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code against Angkhana Neelapaijit for two posts she shared that contained links to press statements of 16 organizations, including the ICJ, and Fortify Rights. 

    The statements cited in the warrant as the basis for the action were a post on 3 December 2018 in which Angkhana Neelapaijit re-tweeted an ICJ link to a joint statement co-signed by 16 organizations, including the ICJ. The statement contained a link (now defunct) to a short film in which former employees spoke out about alleged labor abuses; and a post on 28 June 2019 which included a link to a Fortify Rights’ news release containing the same link.  The film refers to a previous defamation complaint brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers, and called upon the authorities to drop criminal defamation charges against them and decriminalize defamation in Thailand. Thammakaset claimed that the film was defamatory.

    Criminal defamation, under sections 326 of the Criminal Code, carries a maximum sentence of one year of imprisonment, a fine of up to 20,000 Baht (approx. USD 640) or both. Section 328 criminalizes defamation “by means of publication” with up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (approx. USD 6,400).

    Thailand is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The UN Human Rights Committee, the supervisory body that provides the authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR, has called on States that criminalize defamation to abolish criminal defamation laws and reserve defamation for civil liability.

    “The criminal defamation provisions in the Criminal Code have been repeatedly invoked for nefarious ends, such to target persons seeking to bring public attention to human rights violations, including by business enterprises. They need to be removed from the Criminal Code as a matter of urgency,” said Rawski.  “The imposition of criminal penalties for speech, even allegedly defamatory speech, is disproportionate and risks having a ‘chilling effect’ on the exercise of freedom of expression.”

    Background

    Angkhana Neelapaijit is a Thai human rights defender and the wife of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who was abducted more than 15 years ago. His abduction was the only case of enforced disappearance to ever be tried in a Thai court. In 2015, she was appointed commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, before resigning in July 2019, and is a recipient of the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Awards.

    A court warrant was sent to Angkhana Neelapaijit on 23 November 2019. A conciliation conference, at which parties are brought together to settle a dispute before trial, is scheduled to be held on 12 February 2020 at Bangkok South Criminal Court.

    The ICJ has repeatedly expressed concerns about the use of existing defamation laws to harass human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, academics, and journalists in Thailand, for carrying out their legitimate and important work to raise awareness and highlight human rights issues.

    This case is one of many defamation and other cases brought by Thammakaset against any individuals perceived to have expressed dissent, conducted advocacy on or released information relating to labour rights violations committed by the Company. According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), as of May 2019, Thammakaset has filed complaints with the police, the Criminal Court, and the Civil Court against at least 22 individuals in at least 14 cases.

    These included criminal defamation complaints against Sutharee Wannasiri, human rights defender and a former Thailand Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights, for three comments she was alleged to have made on Twitter related to the same film produced by Fortify Rights; Ngamsuk Rattanasatiean, who had shared information on the Facebook page of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies; Suchanee Rungmuanporn, a reporter from Voice TV who had made a post on Twitter highlighting labour rights violations by Thammakaset; Suthasinee Kaewleklai, coordinator of the Migrant Workers Rights Network, who had shared information on Facebook relating to the cases; and other separate cases against 14 migrant workers and former employees.

    Further reading

    Thailand: Drop defamation complaints against human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri

    Thailand: ICJ and LRWC submit amicus in criminal defamation proceedings against human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri

     

    29 November 2019
    8289 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Czech revolutionary celebrated in Bangkok

    Chulalongkorn University and the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Bangkok celebrated the 30th anniversary of the return of democracy to Czechoslovakia and the 25th anniversary of Czech revolutionary and statesman Václav Havel’s visit to Chulalongkorn University with a concert on Saturday night (23 November) and a panel discussion on Monday (25 November).

    The Chulalongkorn University Music Hall, where the concert took place on Saturday night

    On Saturday (23 November), as part of the Bangkok International Piano Festival 2019 under the patronage of the Embassy of Italy in Bangkok, a concert by Czech pianist Matyáš Novák, a member of the Petrof Art Family, was held at the Chulalongkorn University Music Hall. The concert was a collaboration between the Czech Embassy and the International Keyboard Academy at Chulalongkorn University.

    Novák, 21, started playing the piano at the age of 5 and has won a number of national and international competitions. He is now known to be one of the most promising pianists of his generation. His Saturday night concert, the second of his two performances in Bangkok, sold out within 48 hours, and the audience was won over by his technical brilliance, his sensitivity for the repertoire, and the ease with which he took on several of the most demanding compositions for the piano.

    The Saturday night programme, chosen by the pianist himself, featured works by the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, alongside that of the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, who Novák said was “something like a Czech Franz Liszt” and “the most nationalistic composer in the Czech Republic” for the musical nationalism that can be seen in the presence of motifs from folk music in his compositions. 

    Matyáš Novák (Source: Embassy of the Czech Republic in Bangkok)

    Novák’s first album, recorded at the age of 18, is a recording of Franz Liszt’s cycle of compositions for the piano, known as “Years of Pilgrimage.” Written between 1848 and 1855, the cycle is the composer’s musical travel diary, drawn from his experiences in Switzerland and Italy between 1835 and 1839. This album, 14 copies of which Novák brought to his concert in Bangkok and which sold out immediately, is further proof that it is in Liszt’s works and other virtuosic compositions of the 19th century where Novák’s technical brilliance and musicality come to the fore.

    Novák said that the atmosphere at his two Bangkok concerts was very different from what he has experienced in Europe, but nevertheless, he said that he found it to be enjoyable. He has previously performed in China, but this is the first time he has visited and performed in Thailand.

    Then on Monday (25 November), the panel discussion “Living in Truth amidst the Lies: the Life and Ideas of Václav Havel” was held at the Chulalongkorn University Central Library and was a collaboration between the Office of Academic Resources at Chulalongkorn University and the Czech Embassy.

    Marek Libřický (left), the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Bangkok, with Sulak Sivaraksa (center), who gave a speech before the panel discussion, and the director of the Office of Academic Resources at Chulalongkorn University (right) 
    (Source: Office of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University)

    The panel discussion was part of the launch of the Thai translation of Václav Havel’s Letter to Dr Husák, the first of Havel’s works to be translated into Thai from the Czech original, and the opening ceremony of two exhibitions commemorating the 25th anniversary of Havel’s visit to Chulalongkorn University.

    The panellists were Pitch Pongsawat, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Verita Sriratana, lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, political activist Nuttaa Mahattana, and Chayanggoon Thamma-un, student at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, and one of the translators for Letter to Dr Husák.

    The panel discussion. From right: Chayanggoon Thamma-un, Verita Sriratana, Pitch Pongsavat, and Nuttaa Mahattana. The panel was moderated by Anna Lawattanatrakul (left) 
    (Source: Office of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University)

    The exhibition of photographs from 1989, which commemorates the events of the Velvet Revolution and those who took part in the revolution, will be on display at the Chulalongkorn University Central Library until 20 December 2019.

    Born in 1936 in Prague, in the country then known as Czechoslovakia, Havel was a poet, a playwright, a psychedelic rock fan, and a dissident labelled a threat to national security and imprisoned by the Communist regime. He was also a signatory to Charter 77, a document which criticised the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of a number of agreements it had signed, and a leader of the Civic Forum,  a political movement fighting against the Communist regime and calling for a democratic reform.

    Following the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia elected Havel as President. The June 1990 general election, the first election in Czechoslovakia in 44 years, resulted in a landslide win for Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence, and Havel once again was elected President. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Havel became the Czech Republic’s first president on 26 January 1993.

    Václav Havel (Source: Václav Havel Library)

    In Letter to Dr Husák, along with his later work, the essay “The Power of the Powerless,” Havel emphasized the idea of “living in truth,” arguing that if an individual sees the lies in which they live and refuses to blindly follow the culture prescribed by the State for their own survival, they may overcome their powerlessness. The panellists agreed that this idea is very important in the current Thai political situation, since the people need to see what the state can do and is doing to them, and to challenge what is happening as the abnormality and injustice it is.

    The panellists also noted the similarities between the current Thai government and the Czechoslovak Communist regime, and Nuttaa observed that her experience with state surveillance is remarkably similar to the activities of the Czechoslovak secret police during Gustáv Husák’s tenure as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the process of “Normalization” following the brief period of political liberalization known as “Prague Spring”.

    Nuttaa Mahattana
    (Source: Office of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University)

    However, Chayanggoon raised the question of whether the Thai people have the same public space for political expression as the people in Czechoslovakia in 1989, since people are so often discouraged from staging demonstrations, and online political action could result in arbitrary detention by state officials. Meanwhile, Nuttaa emphasized the role of the media in holding the government accountable in order not to become entirely submissive to the system and to show the people the truth.

    29 November 2019
    8288 at https://prachatai.com/english