THE POWER seizure by the National Council for Peace and Order has significantly altered the nature of work being done by human rights groups, both local and international.
At iLAW, a Thai non-government organisation (NGO) specialising in promoting fundamental legal rights, Orapin Yingyongpathana, a board member, said their focus had “completely changed” since the coup.
She said iLaw has two main lines of activities – encouraging people to participate in proposing and amending laws related to human rights issues and promoting freedom of expression.
“After the coup took place we couldn’t conduct activities [with people’s participation] … I think it will have long-term repercussions. On the other hand, we have to do more about freedom of expression. It has become a hot issue,” she said.
“But since we can’t criticise [the military junta], what iLaw can do is to record the facts about [human rights violations] and disseminate the information such as the number of arrest cases, charges and monitor how [the NCPO] exercises its power.”
Under these circumstances, international rights groups were better protected and shielded from the unchecked power of the Thai junta, she said.
Groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission are not shy about speaking out against the NCPO. However, this hasn’t stopped a change in policy at one major rights organisation.
One well-known Bangkok-based Thai rights activist working for an international human rights NGO told The Nation he has been asked by the organisation not to give interviews if he and the group are identified.
He said this was because of concern for Thai staff like him.
“They’re concerned about my safety but I’m not stopping myself from speaking. If [the NCPO] summons me then I must go,” said the male activist, in reference to the junta’s power under martial law to summon anyone without charge and detain the person for up to seven days.
International human rights groups fare better under the circumstances due to their leverage. They can also engage in international advocacy as well as have better access to governments like the United States or the European Union, the source said.
However, international human rights groups tend to be regarded with suspicion by the military and their Thai supporters, he said.
“They are afraid. They are very xenophobic,” the Thai activist said.
While some Thais are willing to give the NCPO a chance to govern the country without opposition and hold high hopes for what they will achieve, the Thai activist said he was not hopeful given that both freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were still being curtailed.
The activist pointed out that the webpage of Human Rights Watch, for example, is still blocked by Thai authorities today.
As for national reconciliation, that cannot occur as long as dissidents are still being suppressed and coerced, he added.