Violating human rights? Yes, indeed!

The article “Is this government violating human rights? Think again” by Arie Bloed published in the Bangkok Post on 3 June 2010 raises many important points.

First of all, the author argues that the dispersal of the two-month-long demonstration by the Thai government is legitimate and proper. And that no other countries in the world would have tolerated such a marathon demonstration. But, in fact, the demonstrations would not have lasted as long as they did had there been any offer of a speedy and viable political solution from the Prime Minister. The futile first and only round of negotiations resulted in no acceptable option for resolving the demands for speedy elections since the duration after which he would call a House Dissolution was too long.

Secondly, whilst it can be agreed that the government is supposed to “maintain public order” and prevent the “the disproportionate violation of the rights of others”, government is surely also supposed to act in response to the genuine grievances of its own people. The protesters peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly. Prior to the crackdown on 10 April, there were no reports whatsoever of any violent and aggressive incidents coming from the Red Shirt gathering.  Nor does Arie Bloed find any evidence of any such violent incidents.

Thirdly, the author disclaims himself from talking about the “raging censorship” in Thailand and goes on to criticize the protesters for their invasion of TV stations and public offices and even a hospital. This reflects a vital flaw in his argument, since the very reason that protesters were prompted to storm into public places stemmed largely from indiscriminate and blanket censorships of their own media and communications possibilities by the government – not to mention government propaganda of various kinds.  Enforcement of draconian laws authorizes the Thai government to put extremely harsh pressure on the demonstrators including the restriction of their mobility, their rights of free speech, and their self-organizing.

Finally, the author criticizes the government rightly about its poor intelligence which made it unable to identify the “armed groups” among the demonstrators, but he nonetheless says the government is somehow justified by international human rights standards in ordering the troops to use firearms against demonstrators. This is such an oxymoron – using human rights norms to justify killing innocent people – the point is that the poor intelligence which made the government unable to identify alleged “armed groups” in the midst of the protestors, should not have been used to justify using firearms against a crowd of mainly unarmed protestors.  In other words, how would it be possible for the government to use firearms against the right targets, namely the “armed groups”? As a result, none of the slain and injured demonstrators and passersby, more than 2,000 of them, was found to have in possession any weapon. Can this justify the use of gunshots for “self-defense”? Worse, many of the victims are found to have been shot by “indiscriminate shootings” including foreign and local journalists and medic personnel who literally gave and risked their lives to save others. All of this is in serious violation of the most basic principles of humanitarian law, let alone the human rights obligations of the Thai government.

On 31 May 2010 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated unambiguously that human rights had been violated, when she said: “…the authority has the responsibility to restore order. In doing so, however, they must abide by international standards concerning the use of force and due process for those detained.”  The United Kingdom’s statement said: “We deeply regret the violence and loss of life in Bangkok. As a friend of Thailand, we wish to see all sides engage in an urgent process of national reconciliation to address the underlying social, economic and political causes of the recent violence and continuing instability. Differences need to be resolved through an open, honest political dialogue rather than through violence.” (Philip Tissot, UK Chargé d’Affaires, The Human Rights Council in Geneva).

In the same meeting, Spain (on behalf of the European Union) voiced its concerns over degrading human rights situations in various countries including Thailand, thus welcoming independent investigations into the human rights abuses in relation to the government crackdowns.

After all it was the bloodiest dispersal in Thailand’s history. The number of casualties among civilians far exceeded that of the officials. The whole legal system has been bent toward providing for the state to use excessive powers against its own people whose demand was simply an earlier election. Such restrictions of freedom have been made without any concern for the obligations Thailand has toward international instruments that it has ratified, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to life of Thai people has been trampled underfoot so brutally. Yet, according to ICCPR even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation” (Art. 4), there can be no derogation to the right to life.

As Arie Bloed must realize, misapplying some clauses of international law, without fully understanding its purpose and without taking the deeper context into account is like giving governments a ‘license to kill’ and perpetuating the status quo of murderous governments.

[Kwanravee Wangudom is a human rights professional and activist, and graduate of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University, The Hague, The Netherlands (Masters in Human Rights, Development and Social Justice).]