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Hypocrisy can amplify human rights problems

Coup or no coup, Thais have a big problem with basic principles

The military is being flooded with calls to return democracy to the country as soon as possible. That is a key issue at the moment, but it's not the only one. The country as a whole needs to be "adjusted" if we are to really "move forward", as many are demanding. At the root of all our problems is Thais' inability to standardise fundamental values, including those concerning human rights.

When human rights are tied to political leanings, double or multiple standards are inevitable. That's pretty much the case in Thailand, where one side condemns the imposition of martial law and its impact on "democratic" rights while the other points to attacks on anti-government protesters and applauds the military for intervening. Every single person in Thailand is an advocate for human rights. But each individual advocates only for the issues that fit his or her ideology.

Double standards are now rife in Thailand thanks to our divisive politics. One faction screams in outrage when a taxi driver is attacked by protesters, while the other just ignores the incident. The situation is reversed when M79 attacks claim lives, with the former faction turning a blind eye. This has happened, is happening and will happen again.

Even rights organisations are culpable. Statements in response to controversial political developments toe strict ideological lines. And academics who claim to be fighting for "the people" cannot escape the trap of double standards. In fact, many are at the forefront of the rights hypocrisy. But it's difficult to single them out for blame - like so many of us, they are casualties of this political war.

We can extend the scrutiny a bit further, to diplomatic circles. Reactions to developments in Thailand's political crisis have become predictable for their inconsistency. One incident may be condemned more strongly than another, despite their equal gravity in terms of numbers hurt. Human rights values are not supposed to be slippery. In Thailand, they are and always will be.

Should such fundamental principles be politicised? Of course not. Are they being politicised? Yes, they are. Worse is the tendency to wait eagerly for our ideological enemies to commit outrages against human rights so we can scream "See?" Politics has intensified that tendency. Politics has brought out the bad in us, yet made us feel more self-righteous in the process.

What's worse in Thailand: martial law, or the "disappearance" of a Muslim lawyer under a democratically elected government? Everyone has a different answer, but the truth is that rights abuses are intolerable no matter who the perpetrator is. The truth is that while Thailand has no shortage of rights advocates, many are simply fakes.

Some say you either are a rights advocate or you are not. However, we can actually be something in-between. The only important thing about being "something in-between" is that we recognise what we truly are.

A coup is depressing. But perhaps a country with uniform fundamental values could deal with it. And agreeing on human rights would be a start. After all, nobody, let alone the military, could twist such an important set of standards for their own gain.

Failure to advocate the full gamut of human rights values is not a crime. But it's shaming to discover that we don't possess the agreed-upon basic values we pretend to. More than shaming, in fact, as many of our devastating problems have stemmed from this absence. Human rights abuses are bad, but they can be amplified one way or another by hypocrisy.


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