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Government Rhetoric and Pledges Not Matched by Actions in 2010

(New York, January 25, 2011) – The government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand failed to fulfill its pledges to hold human rights abusers accountable in 2010, a turbulent year for the country, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2011. At least 90 people died and 2,000 were injured in street battles in Bangkok between March and May.

The 649-page report, Human Rights Watch's 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights developments in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide. In a year in which Thailand joined the United Nations Human Rights Council, the government used emergency powers to hold dissidents and critics without trial in unofficial places of detention and repeatedly failed to provide exact information about those held and their whereabouts, Human Rights Watch said. Freedom of expression was a casualty of a far-reaching government censorship campaign that shut down thousands of websites and dozens of community radio stations, TV and satellite broadcasts, and publications.

“Human rights in Thailand suffered a sharp and broad reverse in 2010,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Violence on the streets of Bangkok is the most troubling image of the past year, but just as worrisome was the willingness of a government that claims to be rights-respecting to ill-treat detainees and engage in broad-based censorship.”

During and after the anti-government protests, the Thai authorities responded with excessive force to violence committed by militant elements in the anti-government United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), Human Rights Watch said.

After the mass protests, the government publicly endorsed an impartial investigation into politically motivated violence and abuses by all sides as a fundamental component of a “road map” for national reconciliation. However, it has yet to conduct or allow such an investigation. Lacking the necessary military cooperation, parliamentary inquiry commissions, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Independent Fact-Finding Commission for Reconciliation were unable to obtain complete information about security forces’ deployment plans and operations, autopsy reports, witness testimony, photos, or video footage from the joint civilian-military Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES).

Using the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, the CRES questioned, arrested, and detained UDD leaders and protesters, as well as accused sympathizers. The CRES also summoned hundreds of politicians, former officials, businessmen, activists, academics, and radio operators for interrogation; froze individual and corporate bank accounts; and detained some people in military-controlled facilities. The CRES also used emergency powers to hold some suspects without charge for extended periods in unofficial detention facilities, where there are inadequate safeguards against possible abuse in custody.

The National Human Rights Commission reported that many UDD detainees had experienced torture and forcible interrogations, arbitrary arrest and detention, and overcrowded detention facilities. While the lifting of the state of emergency on December 22 was a positive development, the government has yet to provide the exact number and whereabouts of those detained without charge by the CRES, Human Rights Watch said.

Thailand has been conducting a rolling crackdown on peaceful political expression. Emergency powers were enforced to shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, publications, and more than 40 community radio stations, most of which are considered to be closely aligned with the UDD. In addition, Thai authorities used the Computer Crimes Act and the charge of lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, to censor online information and opinions, as well as to persecute dissidents.

“Thailand has chronic problems with police and security operations that use abusive tactics,” Adams said. “Officers responsible for horrendous misconduct have rarely faced punishment.”

Across the country, security and law enforcement personnel were largely able to commit abuses with impunity during 2010. Despite the government’s strong opposition to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s 2003 “war on drugs,” which resulted in more than 2,800 unresolved extrajudicial killings, it made little progress in bringing to justice those responsible. Nor did it end ongoing police brutality in drug suppression operations.

In the southern border provinces, where a separatist insurgency flared up in 2004, separatist groups attacked and killed civilians. State security forces committed serious abuses with impunity. No member of the security forces has been criminally prosecuted for human rights violations, even in high profile cases like the Al-Farquan mosque massacre.

Violence in the restive region continued to seriously disrupt children’s right to education. Deadly attacks on teachers prompted government-run schools to close down temporarily. At the same time, the security forces transformed hundreds of government-run schools into armed camps and sometimes raided private Islamic schools to search for insurgents and weapons.

Thailand made a significant number of human rights pledges in its successful campaign to join the United Nations Human Rights Council, but has carried out few of them. Thai authorities blatantly breached Thailand’s obligations under international law to protect refugees and asylum seekers when the army forced more than 4,600 Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers back to Laos on December 28, 2009, despite an international outcry. In November and December 2010, Thai authorities sent back to Burma thousands of Burmese fleeing fighting in border areas before the UN High Commissioner for Refugees could adequately assess whether they were returning voluntarily.

“The Thai government should honor its promises to the UN to make human rights a priority and ensure accountability for abuses,” Adams said. “Ensuring refugees are not sent back into harm’s way is one way to show the government’s human rights rhetoric in international forums is matched by action on the ground.”

To read Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2011, please visit:

To read the Thailand chapter of the 2011 Human Rights Watch World Report, please visit:

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