Despite the junta leader’s recent visits to London and Paris, the European Union is still looking for Thailand to hold an election and to show increased respect for human rights before a full resumption of ties is possible, according to the chair of a European parliamentary sub-committee on human rights.
The committee discussed a broad range of human-rights issues on a three-day visit to Thailand that ended on Wednesday, including labour rights, the fisheries sector, migrant workers’ rights, issues related to human trafficking and the upcoming election.
Coup-related human-rights failures since 2014 and several rights issues related to the fisheries sectors had led to a suspension of diplomatic relations that lasted until last December, when the junta promised to hold an election.
UK PM Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron also agreed to meet with junta leader Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha on recent visits to London and Paris. The contact was hailed by junta supporters as evidence that Prayut, having promised an election for early 2019, had garnered acceptance by the free world.
But the human rights subcommittee chairman Pier Antonio Panzeri repeatedly stressed in press conference before leaving Thailand that full restoration of ties depends on further progress.
Thailand must first meet prerequisites, including organising a free and fair election based on recognised international standards, he said.
At repeated meetings with Thai authorities, the delegation had repeatedly stressed the importance of the election as a fundamental pre-requisite for the resumption of bilateral relations, including any development of a free trade agreement, said Panzeri
The diplomatic ties related to Prayut’s recent visit to Europe, are completely different from the full resumption of the economic, social and political cooperation with Europe, said Panzeri. That step would require the country aligned with the core principles of democracy and organising free and fair elections, he told the media.
During the visit, the delegation met with the two main political parties – Pheu Thai and Democrat. Panzeri said he noticed that both parties were aware of the need for democratic reforms and changes in order to get over past problems and allow the election to be properly organised.
The subcommittee’s chair also expressed concern over the ban on political assembly. He urged the junta to lift it ahead of the national vote and reconsider its disproportionate use of criminal and sedition laws against human-rights defenders.
The delegation also visited Samut Sakhon province to discuss rights issues in the fisheries sector. Panzeri said he had noticed a slight difference from the first visit around two years ago.
A new inspection system to trace fishing products had been put in place, he said. Due to the time limit, it was impossible for the delegation to see if it was properly implemented, he added. But the fact that the new system was there was already significant to the subcommittee.
The EU issued the yellow-card warning against the Thai fisheries three years ago. Thailand had since struggled to resolve the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing issues. The EU has said that the country needed a better system to trace products as a solution to the IUU problems.