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UN Envoy Praises Thai Human Rights, But Sees Decline in Some Areas - 2003-05-27

The United Nations special envoy on human rights organizations has praised Thailand for acting to protect individual freedoms but said human rights workers in the country are increasingly fearful. The official made the assessment at the end of a nine-day visit to the kingdom.

The U.N. envoy on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, Tuesday praised the Thai government for granting her wide access to human rights organizations and government officials during her visit.

However, Ms. Jilani said she saw signs that official tolerance for certain human rights activities and non-governmental organizations is declining. "I have sensed a level of insecurity amongst NGOs and human rights defenders, which ranges from a general unease to actual fear," she said.

Ms. Jilani noted that about 200 activists protesting the plight of Thai peasants and the poor are being prosecuted for disrupting traffic during demonstrations. And she said a dozen environmental activists are being prosecuted for protesting against the construction of a controversial dam.

The U.N. representative adds that civic groups working with Burmese refugees and migrant workers say their offices have been ordered closed and they are receiving threats. She says the government is trying to restrict foreign funding for some organizations.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who met with Ms. Jilani earlier this week, defended Thailand's human rights record. The prime minister tells reporters his government has the highest human rights standards in Southeast Asia and one of the highest on the continent.

Ms. Jilani praised Thailand for including individual rights guarantees in its five-year-old constitution and for creating courts to punish violators. But she said she has concerns. "I have been assured that there is no policy of the government to target human rights organizations. Nevertheless this assurance is in many ways mitigated by public statements that have been brought to my attention and which I have read," she explained.

Ms. Jilani, a respected Pakistani human rights lawyer, was appointed three years ago to press for greater observance of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The U.N. General Assembly adopted the declaration five years ago to protect human rights activists.