Thai junta fails to change country's image abroad: The Nation

Thai policemen secure the area as they block the entrance to Wat Phra Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani province, on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Thai policemen secure the area as they block the entrance to Wat Phra Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani province, on the outskirts of Bangkok. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on March 6, the paper discusses the United States State Department's 2016 report on human rights practices in Thailand, the latest international assessment criticising the situation in the military-led nation.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The unending litany of negative assessments from overseas regarding rights violations and the suppression of democracy in Thailand leaves no doubt that the military-led government has failed abjectly in its efforts to explain or justify what's happening here. It has tried formally on several occasions to alter foreign perceptions. It has changed no one's mind. Thailand's fumbling excuses make it an international laughing stock.

Under the signature of new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the United States has just issued its 2016 report measuring the quality of democracy and rights in regions and countries around the world. In Thailand's case, it offers little that hasn't already appeared in the countless evaluations previously offered by the United Nations and non-governmental watchdogs.

What this tells us is that the Foreign Affairs Ministry has wasted all those millions baht of taxpayers' money in dispatching its senior diplomats abroad to try and clarify, justify and otherwise explain away the grievous situation here. Its efforts to demonstrate that the post-coup junta has made significant inroads against rights and is steering the country back towards full democracy haven't made the slightest dent in international opinion.

The US State Department's 2016 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Thailand finds reason to criticise the Kingdom on every single aspect of human rights. It notes that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the National Legislative Assembly and the military acknowledge such shortcomings in the interim constitution - and that, despite this, nothing has improved.

Any government claim of commitment to "the rule of law" withers against the fact that additional laws have been introduced curtailing citizens' rights. No rational observer would accept such contradictions in intent.

"The interim constitution promulgated by the NCPO in 2014 granted immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any pre-coup or post-coup actions ordered by the ruling council, regardless of the legality of the action," the US State Department notes with distaste.

It further cites the slew of other NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on the freedoms of speech, assembly and the press. It sees no evidence of the "positive developments" touted by the military government.

The report puts forth a damning list - "arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded and unsanitary prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable populations, including refugees; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hilltribe members, and foreign migrant workers; child labour; and some limitations on worker rights".

The Foreign Ministry, naturally, dismisses the report, saying it's typical of the US State Department and outsiders' perspectives in general. Many of the concerns, statistics and cases cited derive from unidentified or unverified sources, the ministry argues in a six-paragraph response to the US report's 62 pages plus appendices.

From a nationalist point of view, it might be claimed that the United States is biased, meddling, politically motivated and even hypocritical in condemning other nations when its own house is in disarray.

However, the findings laid out in this report are echoed in numerous other assessments by other observers, most notably the UN, whose Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights just last month slammed the Legislative Assembly's rejection of a measure against torture and forced disappearance. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch expressed dismay as well.

The military government isn't listening. If it feels stung by foreign criticism, which is increasingly less the case, it will have Foreign Ministry diplomats prevaricate on its behalf once again. They will repeat the mantra "Thailand respects, promotes and protects human rights" - without a hope of anyone believing them.

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