The National Human Rights Commission will take a stance on what to do with the lese-majeste law by the end of this year, NHRC chairperson Prof Amara Pongsapich said yesterday(Thursday).
The promise came after Amara acknowledged that the controversial law is now being widely debated. Numerous petitions alleging human-rights violations in relation to lese-majeste charges and detentions were lodged with the independent rights body last year.
“We’ve just begun to make a move. The issue is very difficult, and we’ve been uncomfortable and unable to move. This is the first month that we’ve succeeded in clearly making a move,” said Amara in response to a question by an activist.
Asked by The Nation why the commission has been so slow to take a stance on the issue, and why the commission has managed to make a move now when it couldn’t months ago, Amara said: “We have not finished thinking it through. We’re still talking and studying so we can clarify our thoughts. We want to look at it from a human-rights dimension. We have moved slowly because we were reluctant. There’s nothing [more to it].”
The commission met the press yesterday to report on its work last year. The issue of the lese-majeste law was conspicuously absent from the discussion, and only touched on in reply to questions after the presentation.
Commission officials said there were 629 cases filed with the NHRC last year – about 100 fewer than in the preceding years – but added they had to do more to make people understand that some issues are not under the jurisdiction of the NHRC.
Three other issues besides the lese-majeste law dominated the discussion after the presentation.
The first was the yet-to-be-concluded NHRC report on the violent clashes of April-May 2010. Payao Ak-had, the mother of slain volunteer nurse Noppakaet Ak-had, accused the commission of delaying the report and of failing to inform her about the press conference.
Amara said the initial report would be made public verbally at the end of this month and that Payao was not informed about yesterday’s event because the report covered other issues as well.
On the second issue – the violence in the deep South – National Human Rights Commissioner Paiboon Warahapaitoon said the use of “special laws” remained a point of concern and urged security officers not to “torture” suspects after arrest.
Amara gloomily said she concurred with the view of one expert that perhaps it would take another century to solve the violence in the South.
On the third issue – improper treatment of some refugees stranded along the Thai-Burmese border – Amara admitted that the powers of the NHRC are limited.
“We tried to pressure [the government and the Army], but it was unsuccessful,” she said candidly, resulting in some laughter. “You might think we are able to order the government and the Army; you may think we’re big, but actually we’re tiny,”
confessed Amara, who pointed out at the very beginning of the press conference that the event was held so no one would “accuse the NHRC of not doing anything”.