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Senators Edward J. Markey and Jeffrey A. Merkley asked Thailand and U.S. Government to address concerns about the Draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations (NPO Bill), arguing that it would undermine the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Myanmar.

On March 22, 2022, senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Senate East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, and Senator Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led their colleagues in letters to the governments of Thailand and the United States asking leaders to address significant concerns with a proposed Thai NPO law which human rights groups have said will threaten the ability of Thai civil society to operate freely and negatively impact the humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Myanmar.

The letters also call on the U.S. and Thailand governments to do more to address the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar precipitated by the military’s February 1, 2021 coup and offer support to those fleeing violence.

“The conflict in Myanmar has resulted in 14.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance within Myanmar, many of whom are close to the border with Thailand in Kayah, Karen, and Shan States and whose access to such assistance is limited due to the ongoing violence and the military’s politicisation of aid. 

“Cross-border assistance provides a critical lifeline for these vulnerable populations and we urge your government to work with the international community to allow for its increased flow from Thailand into Myanmar, including in areas not controlled by the regime’s military,” write the Senators in their letter to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

 “The international community must work together to support those in need and prevent a mass catastrophe that impacts the stability of the entire region. Providing cross-border assistance will hopefully prevent future refugee flows and mitigate risks to both those fleeing violence and the communities that host them.”

In their letter to Secretaries Blinken and Yellen, and Administrator Power, the Senators write of the draft Thai NPO law, that “[if] enacted, it will represent one of the most restrictive NPO laws in Asia and will have an irreversible effect on civil society in Thailand.” They continue, “It threatens to eliminate what could soon be the last available place for Burmese civil society organisations to operate. We therefore call for an urgent, coordinated, whole-of-government approach to pressure the Thai government to drop all consideration of this dangerous law.”

The letters are also signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

In the letter to the Government of Thailand, the lawmakers urge Thailand to:

  • Allow unimpeded humanitarian access to Burmese refugees in Thailand for civil society organisations and the United Nations.
  • Revoke harmful provisions of the draft NPO Law and keep the law focused on the promotion, rather than the restriction, of NPO activities.
  • Use Thailand’s voice as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to press for a resolution to the crisis in Myanmar.

In the letter to the United States Government, the lawmakers urge the United States to:

  • Use all available opportunities to raise concerns about the proposed NPO law with the Government of Thailand in coordination with allies and partners.
  • Engage with affected organisations to understand the law’s impact on civil society and begin contingency planning should the law go into effect.
  • Urge the Thai government to explicitly commit to uphold protections for civil society and freedom of expression, association, and assembly, as required under international human rights law.
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