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Thai Human Rights Report Warns of Drift Toward Authoritarianism - 2004-08-04

A report on human rights in Thailand says the country is drifting towards authoritarianism under the rule of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra.

The National Human Rights Commission, in its first ever report, warned Wednesday of a growing culture of authoritarianism in Thailand, reversing a decade of democratic development.

The 11-member commission, set up by parliament in 2001, cited Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra'a anti-drug campaign last year as the "worst case" of deterioration in the country's human rights performance.

More than 2,500 people died during that campaign, some killed by the police and some by rival gangsters. Local and foreign human rights groups accused the government of encouraging extrajudicial killings in its effort to rid the country of illegal drugs.

Pasuk Pongpaichit, a political scientist and author from Chulalongkorn University, says the Thaksin government has resorted to violence in order to enforce its policies.

"We are seeing the returns of various forms of authoritarian measures, both subtle and not so subtle, such as the use of violence or giving the green light to the use of violence to suppress dissenting elements and the civil society movement," Mrs. Pasuk said.

Mrs. Pasuk has written a book about Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire who made a fortune in the satellite and communications sectors. The commission report said Mr. Thaksin's government favors business sectors that support its policies, while threatening those in the news media who criticize his government. Mrs. Pasuk agrees.

"In terms of social and political development [the government] is not so successful because in order to make the economy grow the business groups do not want democracy or human rights to get in the way," Mrs. Pasuk said.

However, a government spokesman dismissed the Commission's findings, saying the report lacked hard evidence and merely reflected the views of the commissioners.

And political analysts expressed doubt that the report would have much effect on Mr. Thaksin's popularity. The prime minister and his Thai Rak Thai Party are still doing well in national opinion polls.

The prime minister has to call general elections before March of next year, and at this point is favored to win another term.