5 June 2015
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the initial and second periodic report of Thailand on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Wanchai Roujanavong, Director-General of the International Affairs Department, Office of the Attorney General of Thailand, said that the 2014 Interim Constitution guaranteed all human rights and dignity as the previous Constitution. The independent National Human Rights Commission had been set up in 2001 and the Third National Human Rights Plan 2014-2018 reiterated the importance attached to economic, social and cultural rights. Significant investment in people through human capital development initiatives had led to the early achievement of several Millennium Development Goals, including on poverty, education, gender equality, health and reduction of under-five mortality rate. Poverty rates had been halved and the Government was committed to a further reduction and to wealth redistribution through various tax and social welfare measures to address existing income disparities in the country. The current Government had passed or upgraded a number of human rights-related laws, including the Gender Equality Act, the Public Assembly Act, and the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act and it expected that the new draft Constitution would be approved by the end of 2015, followed by general elections next year.
During the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts took note of the recent profound political changes in Thailand and inquired how it had affected the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the country. The lack of protection for illegal migrants was made clear by the recent grave events in the Bay of Bengal and in the Andaman Sea involving Rohingya and other migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar, who would continue to flee persecution, discrimination and extreme poverty in search of security and life in dignity, thus imposing huge responsibilities on Thailand. Experts expressed concern about disproportionate poverty and economic marginalization of hill tribes and ethnic minorities in north and north-eastern provinces. They noted that 90 per cent of the land was in the hands of some 50 private or legal persons and asked about the plans to move to a more equitable distribution of land as a measure to address rural poverty. Experts were worried about the negative impact of the Orders of the National Council for Peace and Order on forest conservation on rural communities, including through forced evictions and destruction of food crops, and called upon Thailand to pay due and critical attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and the principle of prior consultation. Committee Members asked about the fight against corruption, the issue of forced labour in the fisheries, and measures to reduce prison overcrowding, including through the use of non-custodial measures.
In response, the delegation explained that Thailand maintained a dualistic approach which required that international law be transposed in the national law, and that it had entered interpretative declarations on both International Covenants as it believed that the right to self-determination should not lead to any impingement on the State’s territory or secession. Non-discrimination was a basic principle in the 2007 Constitution, while the draft 2015 Constitution added new grounds for the prohibition of discrimination based on gender expression, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex dimensions. The sweeping powers given to the military by Section 44 of the Interim Constitution aimed to allow the National Council for Peace and Order to restore peace and security and end violence in the country. Amendments to the 1999 Act on Anti-Corruption extended the mandate of the independent Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Thai officials for alleged corruption abroad as well as foreign officials committing corruption in Thailand and introduced liability of legal persons for bribery and corruption. The new Child Pornography Law provided a broad definition of prohibited child pornography, defined the age of protection under 18, and prohibited possession of child pornography. To address the growing needs for protection of irregular migrants, Thailand had in place a policy to screen migrants for victims of trafficking and people smuggling as well as a strategy on preventing smuggling of migrants and human trafficking.
Maria-Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said in her closing remarks that Thailand needed to look into recognition of indigenous peoples, ensure that access to justice was adequately addressed in the new Constitution, review the Immigration Act and strengthen the protection for illegal immigrants, and review and closely monitor Orders by the National Council for Peace and Order which had an adverse impact on the people and communities.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Roujanavong said that the dialogue had been constructive and very fruitful and Thailand would work hard to understand how to improve economic, social and cultural rights given the Committee’s comments and recommendations.
Waleed Sadi, Committee Chairperson, said in closing remarks that this dialogue was even more significant in the light of the ongoing work on the new Constitution and hoped that the Committee’s concluding observations would be taken into consideration.
The delegation of Thailand consisted of representatives of the Office of the Attorney General, Chulalongkorn University, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Thai Police, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Public Health, Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Thailand towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 19 June 2015.
The Committee will meet again in public on Monday, 8 June 2015, at 10 a.m., to hold a meeting with representatives of national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Ireland, Chile and Uganda, whose reports will be considered by the Committee next week.
The combined initial and second periodic report of Thailand can be read here: (E/C.12/THA/1-2).
Presentation of the Report
WANCHAI ROUJANAVONG, Director-General of the International Affairs Department, Office of the Attorney General of Thailand, said that like many other countries, Thailand faced a challenge in collecting disaggregated data for comprehensive systematic assessment, and welcomed the submission by civil society organizations of their shadow reports on Thailand, which was a reflection of civil society space and a useful mechanism in identifying gaps. The 2014 Interim Constitution guaranteed all human rights and dignity as the previous Constitution, while the draft new Constitution stipulated human rights as one of the key areas under the section on Rights and Liberty. Thailand had a dualist legal system, in which international treaties were not applied directly, but the human rights principles of the Covenant were upheld and taken into consideration by the domestic law, law enforcement, arbitrators and courts. The past two National Human Rights Plans and the recently-launched third plan (2014-2018) reiterated the importance attached to economic, social and cultural rights. The National Human Right Commission had been set up in 2001 as an independent organization with a specific mandate to promote and protect the rights of all people as set out in the Constitution and in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations. Today, the budget provided to the Commission was $ 6.6 million, more than four times the amount given in 2001.
Significant investment in people had been made through human capital development initiatives, such as the Life Cycle Development Strategy, which filled policy gaps and took care of target groups at each stage of life. This had led to early achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on the eradication of poverty and hunger, and on education, gender equality and health. The poverty rate had been halved and the Government was committed to reducing it to below four per cent, and to continue working on wealth redistribution through various tax and social welfare measures to address existing income disparities in the country. Important investments had been made in education, which would receive 20 per cent of the 2015 public budget. Ending gender disparity in primary and secondary education had been achieved in 2005 and free basic education up to Grade 12 was provided to each child. As a result of the Universal Health Care Scheme, the goal on the reduction of the under-five mortality rate had been achieved and maternal mortality had declined. Thailand was pursuing more ambitiously the Millennium Development Goals Plus in several areas such as reducing malaria incidence and increasing the share of renewable energy. In terms of the impact of the current political development on economic, social and cultural rights, Mr. Roujanavong reassured the Committee that the current Government had been steadfast in introducing social reform by reviewing laws, rules and regulations to promote economic, social and cultural rights and the well-being of the people. A number of human rights-related laws had been passed or upgraded, including the Gender Equality Act, the Public Assembly Act, and the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act. Thailand was in the process of implementing the roadmap towards sustainable democracy that respected human rights, upheld the rule of law, promoted good governance, and ensured national reconciliation, and it was expected that the new draft Constitution would be approved by the end of 2015 with the possibility for holding a referendum, followed by general elections next year.
Questions from Experts
MARIA-VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, took note of the indication by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions that the National Human Rights Commission might be downgraded to B status due to institutional shortcomings and lack of independence, and asked the delegation to update the Committee on this situation and the proposed merging of this institution with the Office of the Ombudsperson. The right to land and natural resources had led to disputes between the State and investors, and the population. Local communities had limited or no access to information and participation in environmental and developmental policies, and priority was given to economic growth and industrial development, without the necessary free, prior and informed consent of those directly affected. The Country Rapporteur raised concerns about the activities of Thai companies that violated economic, social and cultural rights abroad, as was the case with the construction of the Xayaburi Dam in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and asked the delegation how it considered cases of cross border human rights violations in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. There were documented rights violations of human rights defenders, in particular community based defenders working on land and environment issues. The current Immigration Act did not distinguish between refugees and asylum-seekers on one hand and “illegal immigrants” on the other. The extreme importance of adequate protection for those groups had been made clear by the recent grave events in the Bay of Bengal and in the Andaman Sea involving Rohingya and other migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar. Irrespective of the fact that they might die at sea, individuals and families, men, women and children would continue to flee persecution, discrimination and extreme poverty in search of security and life in dignity. They considered Thailand to be one of those countries that provided security and life indignity and this imposed huge responsibilities on the country.
Another Expert noted the recent profound political changes in Thailand and asked how it affected the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Thailand was one of the 150 countries that had voted for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, and yet indigenous peoples had hardly been mentioned in the report.
A Committee Expert asked the delegation to interpret Article 4 of the Interim Constitution in reference to human rights, explain the impact of the Interim Constitution on the status of international treaties, and inform on the scope of the section on Rights and Liberty in the new draft Constitution. Could the delegation inform the Committee on the provisions of the new draft Constitution concerning the prohibition of discrimination: what was included as discrimination grounds, and was that list open-ended? Turning to the issue of corruption, the Expert asked about the independence of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the compatibility of its status with Article 6 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and what measures were being taken to fight corruption, particularly in relation to environmental and natural resources.
The Interim Constitution gave military personnel sweeping powers over the civilian population and many complaints had been filed with the National Human Rights Commission for cutting down of rubber trees, noted another Expert and asked what was being done to stop this human rights violation which threatened the livelihoods of people. Thailand did not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples; it should pay due and critical attention to indigenous peoples and prior consultation and information sharing in this sense was indispensable. The newly adopted Gender Equality Law still contained discriminatory provisions against women and allowed different treatment of women in cases of welfare and safety, for example, or matters of national security.
Concerning the application of the Covenant in the national legislation, a Committee Expert recognized the dualistic legal system in the country and recalled the experience of some South American countries which kept their dualistic approach but decided to incorporate international human rights law in the national law. What remedy was open to persons who deemed that their rights under the Convention had been violated? Article 44 of the Interim Constitution gave the National Council for Peace and Order the power for any order to address the current situation and granted immunity from criminal liability to officers, and the Expert wondered about remedies available to victims of human rights violations. The new draft Constitution stipulated that only persons of Thai nationality could enjoy economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed by the law, which was discriminatory and exclusive.
Response by the Delegation
In terms of the position of human rights in the constitutional system, a delegate explained that the 2007 Constitution had used the notion of “human dignity” as a synonym for human rights and was related to rights of every person; the notion of human dignity was still contained in the new draft 2015 Constitution, but it was split between the rights of every person and citizens’ rights. It was hoped that the new 2015 Constitution would include the concept of rights of every person. The notion of human dignity as a synonym for human rights was still contained in the 2014 Interim Constitution, which also recognized that Thailand should be respectful of its international obligations and standards.
Thailand maintained a dualistic approach which required that international law be transposed in the national law, and this was a very clear provision in the 2007 Constitution, the Interim 2014 Constitution and the new draft 2015 Constitution. An article from the 2007 Constitution required each international treaty to go through the Parliament for approval even before its international ratification; this article was repeated in article 193 of the new draft 2015 Constitution. This said, there were instances of direct application of international treaties in the domestic law, and it was hoped that direct application of international treaties would increase with more awareness and knowledge about them.
Thailand had entered interpretative declarations on both International Covenants, and the understanding was that the right to self-determination should not lead to any impingement on the territory of a State, in other words, there should be no secession. Concerning the situation of the National Human Rights Commission, the delegation explained the selection process of new Commissioners, which since 2007 had been less pluralistic than it should be. The draft 2015 Constitution suggested the merging of the Commission with the Office of the Ombudsmen; many in the Government and civil society advocated that they should be kept separate, for many reasons.
Non-discrimination was a basic principle in the 2007 Constitution, which was carried over to the Interim 2014 Constitution; the draft 2015 Constitution added new grounds for the prohibition of discrimination which was in relation to gender, which was understood as coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. The new Gender Equality Law used the term of “gender expression” to elaborate on word “gender” and included lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex dimensions. With regard to indigenous peoples, it was important to note that rights of indigenous peoples were very much linked to self-identification.
The Act on Anti-Corruption of 1999 was still effective and the independence of the Anti-Corruption Commission was guaranteed in the Constitution. The Government attached great importance to the fight against corruption and had increased the number of staff in the Commission from 1,200 to 2,000 this year and had also expanded in another 26 provinces. An amendment to the organic Law on Anti-Corruption extended the mandate and the reach of the Commission, enabling it to investigate Thai officials for alleged corruption abroad as well as foreign officials committing corruption in Thailand, and introducing liability of legal persons for bribery and corruption, among others. During the period 2006-2015 the Commission had sent 1,080 cases to the Office of Attorney General for further action; of those, 964 had been prosecuted in court. Some of the high profile cases involved a former Minister of Health, who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison, and a former Prime Minister, who had received a two year prison sentence; another former Prime Minister and a former Minister of Commerce were under trial.
The protection of the social and economic rights of indigenous peoples was a huge challenge in the country. Thailand was a very culturally diverse country in which ethnic communities continued to live on and freely enjoy their cultural practices and expressions, but rapid development and rural to urban migration had directly affected ethnic communities and their rights. The disappearance of ethnic languages was of concern not only in Thailand but in the world.
The Administrative Court had suspended many industrial projects for the lack of environmental or health impact assessment, which were requirements in the 2007 Constitution. The Government had allocated more than $ 4 million to improve fundamental infrastructure in Map Ta Phut, a key industrial development zone. Map Ta Phut offered best practice in cooperation between private sector and civil society and the Government intended to turn the area into a development estate.
The Gender Equality Act prohibited both direct and indirect gender discrimination and specified preventive and protective measures in accordance with related human rights standards; the act covered women, men and persons with different sex expression.
The complex issue of land disputes had a long history and involved many stakeholders, from farmers and local communities, to businesses and corporations and the Government. Disputes were settled in line with current legislation and a main legal framework was in place which protected the rights of communities. Measures were put in place to prevent deforestation, but leniency policies applied to the poor and indigenous communities, which meant that more than two million people still lived in forests and used natural resources. Some disputes between companies and local populations remained, for example involving sea gypsies in the south of the country, of which the support from the Government was made available through the Justice Fund to cover expenses such as lawyer charges, court fees, and the gathering proofs and evidences. Some sea gypsy communities lived in harmony in the National Park and worked as staff of the Park with access to public services and welfare.
Questions from Experts
Thailand had ratified only 14 International Labour Organization conventions, out of more than 200, and the delegation was asked about the position on the 1998 Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work; about the situation of migrant workers, particularly with regard to human trafficking, and what intentions were there to close the gap in protection of migrants; the minimum wage and the revolving fund for low-interest loans to workers; the social security schemes for informal sector workers and the functioning of the social protection system in this regard; the voluntary package of social services available to informal sector workers; and access of illegal migrant workers to social security schemes.
The delegation was also asked about the establishment of special economic zones, which was an expanding phenomenon in the country, bringing in $ 230 million in income; daily migrant workers were allowed to work in those zones and Experts asked about labour inspection in the zones, trade union standards and workers’ rights. Experts inquired about forced labour in fisheries and the follow up on the inspection of vessels, employment quotas for persons with disabilities and the sanctions for non-compliance, and the employment rates.
Response by the Delegation
On sweeping powers given to the military by Section 44 of the Interim Constitution, the delegation said that it aimed to allow the National Council for Peace and Order to restore peace and security and end violence. Section 44 could only be used for strengthening of public unity and harmony, and for the prevention, disruption, or repression of any act against Thailand’s sovereignty and the monarchy. The Section had also been used in connection with human trafficking and anti-corruption cases involving high-ranking officials.
The Interim Constitution contained guarantees for human rights and human dignity and the principle of non-discrimination was reflected in the draft Constitution, which explicitly prohibited discrimination based on origin, race, language, gender, sex, disability, health, economic or social status, religious beliefs, and also prohibited incitement to discrimination. The Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Ministry of Justice was the focal point for the protection of human rights defenders. It was currently considering setting up a mechanism or guidelines for officers to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and that they could carry out their activities without any danger, harassment or intimidation in accordance with the legislation. The interim Government had approved in September 2014 the Third National Human Rights Plan and had adopted a number of laws to strengthen the protection of human rights, including on the protection of vulnerable persons, gender equality, rights of children born with medically assisted technologies, and child prostitution and child pornography. Child labour was prohibited for children under the age of 18.
Even though Thailand was not party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, it was hosting over 131,000 displaced persons from Myanmar, and was also hosting 8,000 persons of concern from Syria and other countries. Since 2013, Thailand had taken care of migrants from Rakhine State of Myanmar and from Bangladesh, who were mainly transiting through the country. The Government was fully aware of the growing needs for the protection of irregular migrants and had put in place a policy to screen migrants for victims of trafficking and people smuggling. Thailand had discussed with other countries in the region the situation of migrants in the Indian Ocean, including the immediate response to the 7,000 people stranded at sea, rescue missions at sea, preventing people smuggling and trafficking, and others.
The current Government had in place a strong policy and strategy on preventing smuggling of migrants and human trafficking, and had used, among other measures, community policing to collect data and evidence. Mass graves containing bodies of migrants had been discovered after an illegal migrant approached the local police in search for his missing relative in May 2013; the police investigation into this was ongoing, as was identification of body remains by the Institute of Forensics. There was a strong commitment to bring to justice the masterminds of people smuggling, who could get a life imprisonment for the crime of human trafficking.
Thailand had ratified 15 International Labour Organization Conventions, including five core ones on fundamental principles and rights at work, and was currently amending its legislation to make it compliant with Conventions 87 and 98 which it intended to ratify. Draft amendments to the Social Security Act would expand social protection to informal sector workers, who would enjoy equal rights as formal sector workers. The Labour Act protected workers from sexual harassment, but did not protect from harassment by a colleague or customer; therefore, amendments to the Penal Code had been adopted which prohibited sexual harassment by anyone and protected everyone in the society.
The social protection system in Thailand guaranteed free education until Grade 12, universal health insurance and social protection for formal and informal sectors.
Children and the poor were supported with supplementary income, and emergency aid was being raised for those in acute problems. Empowerment of persons with disabilities, including their participation in employment, was key in ensuring their adequate standard of living. Persons with disabilities were entitled to interest free loans to start up their businesses and non-governmental organizations received support for their job creation programmes for persons with disabilities.
The Universal Health Coverage Scheme would cover all Thai citizens and members of their families. A policy was in place for health insurance for 650,000 persons with citizenship problems, which provided the same coverage as the Universal Scheme. Documented migrants were covered under the Migrant Health Insurance Scheme by the Ministry of Labour, while undocumented migrants received health insurance through the Ministry of Public Health; 1.6 million documented migrants and 1,000 undocumented migrants enjoyed health insurance coverage provided by the Government.
In follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked the delegation for additional information concerning a voluntary social protection coverage package for informal workers, what constituted sexual harassment, which was now included in the Penal Act as a criminal offence and therefore needed to be clearly defined, and the actions taken to suppress human trafficking.
Responding, the delegation said that the definition of sexual harassment in the Penal Code was broader than the definition contained in the Labour Code and covered abuse in a sexual way, bullying, intimidation in a sexual manner or causing nuisance. Thailand worked hard to solve the problem of trafficking in persons and continuously stepped up efforts in this regard; human trafficking had been declared a national priority by the current Government. The 2014 United States Trafficking Report had downgraded Thailand, but Thailand would never stop addressing human trafficking and believed it would completely eradicate it from the country.
Thailand encouraged respectful investment abroad by its companies and ensured that it did not violate the human rights of people and the environment in the country of business operations. After the complaints about the Xayaboury Dam had been received, the business plan had been adjusted to minimize the negative impact on the communities and on the fish. Anyone had the right to file a complaint with the Administrative Court for human rights violations which covered disputes between citizens and the State. The Administrative Court had established in 2011 its Environmental Division which dealt with complaints of environmental damage by companies; up to now, over 5,000 complaints had been received of which 70 per cent had been resolved.
Questions from Experts
In a further series of questions and comments, Committee Experts recognized the progress made in halving the poverty rates and the commitment of Thailand to continue to reduce poverty in the country, but expressed concern about disproportionate poverty and economic marginalization of hill tribes and ethnic minorities who lived in north and north-eastern provinces. Which specific poverty reduction measures had been undertaken to target those marginalized groups and how effective had they been? The delegation was asked about remedial measures for overcrowding in communities in Bangkok and in immigration centres, and about causes and extent of homelessness, about measures undertaken to prevent forced evictions of communities resulting from Orders issued by the National Council for Peace and Order on deforestation, and whether a moratorium on forced evictions would be established until the end of investigation into the issue by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A Committee Expert welcomed the announced legislation on enforced disappearances which was an issue that needed to be taken seriously in Thailand. Turning to land concentration, the Expert noted that 90 per cent of the land was in the hands of some 50 individuals or legal persons and asked about the plans to move to a more equitable distribution of land as a measure to address rural poverty. Orders by the National Council for Peace and Order led to forced evictions of communities and destruction of food crops, while alternative accommodation had not been provided, said the Expert and asked about measures in place to ensure that livelihoods of rural communities were not negatively affected by forest conservation policies. What legal applications were applicable on Thai companies abroad, and more details were requested about due diligence requirements on monitoring activities of their subsidiaries and remedies before Thai jurisdiction for victims of human rights violations by Thai companies abroad? Some of the projects fell under the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through enhanced forest management: what safeguards were in place to ensure that such projects did not violate the rights of communities and persons?
With 300,000 prisoners, Thailand had one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, including of women, which led to prison overcrowding and the inability to provide an adequate standard of living for prisoners. It was ironic that Thailand sustained the Bangkok Principles on Non-Custodial Measures, particularly for women. The high percentage of prisoners was due to offences of drug laws, including drug consumption.
Other issues raised in the discussion included early marriages, a drop in school enrolment of children aged 13 to 17, the implementation of laws related to child labour and monitoring of that implementation, whether the definition of family included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, support to fathers wishing to raise a family, and addressing domestic violence in accordance with the recommendations of the Working Group of the Human Rights Council.
MARIA-VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, asked about the effectiveness of efforts to address child sex tourism and recognized the progress made in the universal health coverage but also noted that challenges remained.
Response by the Delegation
The poor in Thailand were concentrated in north-eastern region, where 44 per cent or 3.2 million of the poor were concentrated, and it was obvious that more needed to be done to ensure that the benefits of economic growth were distributed more equally. Thailand had applied targeted approach in poverty reduction policies, through guaranteed minimum wage, free access to education, social protection via monthly allowances for persons with disabilities, elderly and children, and it also had in place measures to reduce inequality in access to land and natural resources.
Contrary to the figures that some civil society organizations cited and were raised by the Committee, the delegation pointed out that statistics collected by the Department of Lands on land concentration and ownership indicated that the top tenth decile of persons and entities that owned the largest area of land, which accounted for 1.59 million people, owned 61.48 per cent of land titles in the country.
The delegation further elaborated that many cases of land disputes involved conflicts among various interest groups including local influential groups and speculators. Evictions had been carried out according to court rulings, most of which were decided even before the NCPO Orders. The Government had put in place a process to ensure that notices and warnings to affected local communities were provided with sufficient time prior to the eviction. Those with limited means would be accorded with assistances such as housing and utility services, and could also prove their cases against the Government’s claims with technical support such as data collection and mapping system available. The Government also supported accommodative models such as the Community Forest Project, which proved to be successful in over 9,000 locations by encouraging community members to participate in the utilization of forest resources in a sustainable manner. As part of the Government’s endeavour, the Committee on the National Land Policy which had been set up and chaired by the Prime Minister started its first phase of land allocation for communities under the concept of cooperatives, not individual land titles, in four provinces in a total of 21,230 acres for 8,514 families with the plan to expand the campaign to cover all provinces of the country with a total allocation target of 4.25 million acres.
In terms of sexual exploitation of children, the delegation said that with the recognition of relevant human rights treaties, Thailand had in place the protective response, which was strengthened with domestic laws. The new Child Pornography Law, which was an amendment to the Criminal Law, had been recently adopted and complemented the existing laws but it also gave a broad definition of prohibited child pornography and defined the age of protection under 18. The Law also covered the gap in previous law and prohibited possession of child pornography. There was a holistic strategy which addressed the root causes, protection and reintegration, and cooperation, including with the private sector. One of the best ways to prevent children from sexual exploitation was to have them in school and to provide livelihood opportunities for families.
Thailand was working on introducing sanctions for those involved in early marriages and to raise the age of consent for marriage from 15 to 18 years. Bangkok Rules aimed to raise awareness about conditions in female prisons and to reduce the number of female inmates, and Thailand used a number of non-custodial measures for female offenders. More than 200,000 prisoners were drug dealers; drug users and drug addicts were not prosecuted. The Government recognized the challenges in access and ownership of the land and the more equal distribution of wealth; to remedy the situation, it had introduced tax on land and inheritance tax. Abortion was illegal except when the health and life of the mother were endangered, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest; it had to be performed by a medical professional. All children born in Thailand, regardless of their nationality, were entitled to birth registration and enjoyed all the rights of children stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Questions from Experts
Experts asked the delegation to provide examples of cultural policy in practice, about measures to guarantee the enjoyment of the right to education, particularly in the southern provinces, and about action to address challenges that children with disabilities faced and what was being done for those not in education.
Experience and research showed that recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples to land and natural resources led to a significant decrease in deforestation and destruction of the habitat. Was Thailand considering the recognition of this right instead of considering indigenous communities as legal encroachers?
Response by the Delegation
Concerning killing of human rights defenders, a delegate disputed the figure of 33 defenders killed since 2003 and said that the Government took those killings seriously with progress on investigation, arrests and prosecution in some of the cases. The rate of compulsory education was 97 per cent; the continuation rate from primary six to lower secondary in 2013 stood at 99 per cent; the challenge was in ensuring high rates of continuation to upper secondary, as many parents and often children preferred non-formal education which could contribute to the family income. Thailand wished to think about culture as something about the future and wanted to promote creativity among the youth all over the country. There were several ongoing cases on lèse majesté, based on invocation of Article 11.1 and the Computer Act. Pertinent issues in this regard were who should invoke Article 11.1, who should impose sentence and the screening of potential allegations.
MARIA-VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which helped the Committee to understand the situation on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and on the successes and challenges. The recognition of certain groups as indigenous was also recognition of marginalization and historic realities, in which the process of self-identification was crucial. The Committee would watch closely to see how the new draft Constitution would ensure access to justice. There was a need to review the current Immigration Act and strengthen the protection for illegal immigrants, and to review and closely monitor Orders by the National Council for Peace and Order which had an adverse impact on the people and communities, and despite the legal safeguards there were still reports of human rights violations which needed to be redressed.
WANCHAI ROUJANAVONG, Director-General of the International Affairs Department, Office of the Attorney General, said that the dialogue had been constructive and very fruitful and Thailand would work hard to understand how to improve economic, social and cultural rights given the Committee’s comments and recommendations. More time was needed to answer the Committee’s questions and the time constraint was not really helping in providing clear answers.
WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, said that this dialogue was even more significant in the light of the ongoing work on the new Constitution and it was hoped that the Committee’s concluding observations would be taken into consideration. Issues raised by the Experts were those which needed more follow up and more efforts to address.
For use of the information media; not an official record