MFA’s Information Dept clarifies Thailand’s protection of rights of human rights defenders

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BANGKOK – The Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Department of Information has clarified Thailand’s protection of rights of human rights defenders in the country.

The Department of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has clarified Thailand’s protection of the rights of human rights defenders following Reuters’ news report, stating that the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia has urged the Thai Government to allow female human rights defenders to conduct their work without fear, and to drop cases against the activists who are helping to protect community rights.

Mrs. Suphap Khamlae, wife of a prominent land rights defender Den Kamlae who has disappeared since April 2016, was found guilty of forest encroachment in relation to a legal dispute between her community in Chaiyaphum Province and the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary. She was sentenced to a six months imprisonment term under the Criminal Code.

In a separate case, seven female activists from Loei, were indicted for violating the Public Assembly Act and the Criminal Code in relation to their activism surrounding the operation of Tungkham Gold Mining Company in Loei province and the environmental and health impact it has on the community. If found guilty, they will face a maximum imprisonment term of five years and six months.

Information Department Director General Bussadee Santiphithak disclosed that Thailand is fully aware of the importance of ensuring the rights of all human rights defenders.

In 2016, the Rights and Liberties Protection Department under the Ministry of Justice developed the Handbook to Protect Human Rights Defenders which outlines the protection measures for women and men on an equal basis. This was completed in collaboration with the Civil Society Organization partners and also with the OHCHR Regional Office for Southeast Asia. Thailand recognizes that there are remaining challenges and looks forward to working collaboratively with the civil society in this regard.

Human rights defenders have also been included as a target group specifically in the draft 4th National Human Rights Plan for 2019 – 2023. This reflects that human rights defenders is being recognized for their importance by the government, on their roles of promoting and protecting human rights in the country.

Legal disputes shall be resolved through relevant procedures under due process of the law, including those involving the Public Assembly Act and the Criminal Code, which are applied equally to both women and men. The accused are entitled to prove their innocence under the judicial process and have the right to appeal to a higher court until the final judgment is reached. Recognizing the economic, social, and cultural rights of local communities such as the right to adequate living standards and land rights, the government continues to ensure relevant laws and measures to address the dispute, which is implemented through a fair and transparent process.