Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Khwam mankhong khong manut

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Human Security, Thai


Khwam mankhong khong manut

Relates to Human Security

Human security is usually translated as khwaam mankhong khong manut or khwaam mankhong khong khon. In general the meaning of the words khon and manut (for human) are interchangeable. With the end of the Cold War, prominent experts from the United Nations introduced an international conception of human security.  This has been translated into Thai in ways that interact with a longer history of concern for the human dimensions of security in a Buddhist context. The resulting term, khwam mankhong khong manut, is most commonly used in academic, activist and government circles.  This is not a word that has penetrated less formal parts of Thai society, mainly because it sounds scientistic and technical, and is infused with various Western notions about humanity, equality and rights. It also uses a Sanskrit derived word for “human” (manut) that is not entirely consistent with the ways that ordinary Thais talk about themselves and other people. One of the issues about this term in the wider Thai security context is that many Thais do not conceive of rights as a fundamental social concept, nor do they see the relevance of such United Nations-derived terminology in their political life.

Nonetheless Thailand has become a rare example of a country where “human security” is now fully wedded to official social development activities. The country has a Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (krasuang kan patana sangkhom lae khwaam mankhong khong manut). This branding takes its direct inspiration from international-level human security discourses. It draws on ideas about human rights and “society” in ways that are broadly consistent with how non-Thais conceive of these terms.

Many Thais are aware that the 1994 United Nations Development Program Human Development Report considered human security in seven main categories namely:  economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security (UNDP 1994:  24-25). Each of these terms is also used in Thai translation with reference to the wider ‘human security’ agenda.

In the Thai case this set of general human security concerns has a longer history.  When Thailand’s absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932 there was a preliminary effort to declare principles that were in tune with the country’s nascent democracy.  At that time the People’s Party formulated the following six principles (Thak 1978: 7) which covered most of the 1994 UNDP human security survey:

  1. To maintain and secure national independence, politically, judicially, and economically.
  2. To maintain internal security and to reduce crime.
  3. To take care of the people’s happiness and the economy by providing jobs for everyone; to set up a national economic plan, which will not allow starvation.
  4. To allow equal rights for the people (not letting royalty have more rights than the people as before).
  5. To give the people liberty and freedom which should not jeopardize the above-mentioned principles.
  6. To provide full education for the public.

Since then variations on these themes have remained a key component of political and social argument in Thailand.  Enunciations of these ideals are increasingly common and the 1997 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand was built, in part, around human security discourses.  Nonetheless khwam mankhong khong rath (security of the State) was still more commonly used in that version of the national charter.

At the same time, the term sapphayakon manut (human resource) is increasingly regarded as obsolete since it values humans only as a factor of production or to demonstrate the achievement of larger organisations. In the business sector, it has been replaced by the word thun manut (human capital) because humans  are an important component of production and are required to have special qualifications and be of high quality (Ruangchai, Matichon Weekly 17-23 November 2006:  40).





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