Thailand’s Leaders Shun UN Human Rights Chief

In an apparent effort to avoid human rights scrutiny, Thailand’s prime minister, foreign minister, and other senior government officials did not meet with the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, when he visited Bangkok on June 5 and 6.

Türk’s visit was consequentially downgraded from an official mission to a “stopover,” unlike with other regional destinations, such as Malaysia, where he met government leaders and publicly commented about the human rights situation.

But avoiding Türk won’t make Thailand’s human rights problems disappear. Nor will it address the many concerns UN member countries have about rights abuses in Thailand,  including during Thailand’s most recent human rights assessment by the UN Human Rights Council at Thailand’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Since the start of pro-democracy protests in July 2020, Thai courts have prosecuted at least 1,954 people, including 286 children, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly.

The recent death of anti-monarchy activist Netiporn Sanesangkhom, who started a hunger strike in January while in pretrial detention on lèse-majesté charges (insulting the monarchy), has drawn global attention to the Thai government’s strict enforcement of this law, which infringes on free expression and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

More than 270 people have been prosecuted on lèse-majesté charges related to either the democracy protests or social media comments. Some have also been charged with vague computer-related crimes and sedition laws. Even former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra faces lèse-majesté charges for media comments he gave in 2015.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners have repeatedly opposed amnesty for people accused of lèse-majesté or revisions to the law to align with international human rights standards.

Meanwhile, in January, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the opposition Move Forward Party’s attempts to amend the lèse-majesté law amounted to treason, which could result in the party’s dissolution and its leaders banned from politics.

As Thailand campaigns for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for 2025-2027, its government should recognize that all council members are obliged to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”  This means actually addressing human rights issues, not making empty promises and evading scrutiny from the UN human rights system.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *