Archive for ‘Thailand’

July 11, 2015

Nationalism is Thailand’s true religion


Nationalism is Thailand’s true religion

3 Jun 2015 at 03:30.


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For the past month, Thai society has been in agreement that it’s only right to push the desperate Muslim Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people back out to sea and let fate take care of them.

On Monday, lighted candles and solemn prayers filled temples nationwide as devotees promised to follow the Buddha’s path to celebrate Visakha Bucha Day. The world is perplexed. How could a country which prides itself as the hub of Buddhism be so cruel?

Every time Thailand hits world headlines – be it because of forced or child prostitution, slave labour, human trafficking, or political violence – the world asks: how could a Buddhist country commit such crimes?

My first reaction is to label the question simplistic. Isn’t it too easy to link one’s professed faith with their actions? Besides, all religions, not only Buddhism, teach love and compassion. And look how people are killing each other in the name of religion.

It’s also a major misunderstanding to think religious people cannot commit violence. The truth is, the more righteous people are, the more likely they are to choose violence as a way to eliminate what they see as sinful. The more religious fervour, the more violence. Examples abound, both here and abroad.

How many Thai Buddhists react to this question is interesting. Here are some reactions:

Why call us inhumane? We’re already housing more than 100,000 displaced people fleeing wars from Myanmar. Now it’s time for you to show your humanity by taking in these boat people; Thailand has limited resources.

We are kind; that’s why we provide them with food and water to help them go where they really want to go because Thailand is not their destination. Isn’t that enough? We are kind, but we cannot shoulder the long-term social problems immigrants bring.

Kindness or the lack of it is not the issue. The boat people influx is not of our making. It’s the legacy of Western colonialism’s divide-and-rule policy. The West must take responsibility.

Why help people who can afford to pay human smugglers to make money overseas?

We are kind, but Muslims are aggressive and have too many kids. They are national security threats who will aggravate problems in the deep South.

We have compassion, but we cannot help everyone suffering in this world. When we cannot help, we must practise Buddhism by using the principle of ubekkha, or equanimity.

Of these responses which are mere efforts to legitimise one’s cold-heartedness, I find the last one the most exasperating.

Fear fuelled by prejudice often drives people to make cruel choices. Life is full of difficult dilemmas; we all know that. We may not agree with that choice, but we can understand it. But to say your inhumanity is backed by the Buddha so that you can still feel good about yourself is, for me, hypocrisy and cruelty in the extreme. It’s also an outright abuse of the Buddha’s teaching.

To the question of why a Buddhist country is full of vices prohibited in Buddhism, may I offer an answer? It’s because we are not really Buddhists. Our predominant creed is nationalism. Racist nationalism to be exact, since our “Thainess” is based on the myth of the pure Thai race. That’s why it’s so easy for many of us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of other ethnicities and races – be they migrant workers, boat people, or Malay Muslims in the restive South.

Another creed we extol is patriarchy and sexism. It’s why the sex industry prospers, polygamy is culturally endorsed, violence against is women widespread, and gender prejudice is unquestioned.

Thai Theravada Buddhism, meanwhile, is fully operating under Thai nationalism and patriarchy. That’s why the clergy is fiercely against female ordination and remains silent amid the boat people crisis.

Buddhism may appear to be the dominant faith here, but widespread temple corruption has severely eroded public faith. The monkhood has been reduced to a social ladder for rural lads. Monks operate mainly as postmen, sending merit to our deceased relatives. Tucked in the comfortable cocoon of luxury and privilege, the feudal clergy has lost touch with the modern world and is too weak to provide a moral compass. There’s no need to look up the Buddhist canon to see if we’re true to our faith. Look at how we treat those weaker than us; that is the true reflection of our hearts.

South. Another creed we extol is patriarchy and sexism. It’s why the sex industry prospers, polygamy is culturally endorsed, violence against is women widespread, and gender prejudice is unquestioned. Thai Theravada Buddhism, meanwhile, is fully operating under Thai nationalism and patriarchy. That’s why the clergy is fiercely against female ordination and remains silent amid the boat people crisis.

Buddhism may appear to be the dominant faith here, but widespread temple corruption has severely eroded public faith. The monkhood has been reduced to a social ladder for rural lads. Monks operate mainly as postmen, sending merit to our deceased relatives. Tucked in the comfortable cocoon of luxury and privilege, the feudal clergy has lost touch with the modern world and is too weak to provide a moral compass.

There’s no need to look up the Buddhist canon to see if we’re true to our faith. Look at how we treat those weaker than us; that is the true reflection of our hearts.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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  1. Khun Sanitsuda, I am considered very privileged to be able to read and understand fully what you have written. Do you have any plan to spread this message across our country in Thai? I feel that every Thai in this country also need to read and understand what is happening.
  2. Khun Sanitsuda, since most of us westerners already know this (wonderfully written piece by the way) THIS should be printed in ‘Thai’ newspapers! It’s your own people who needs this wake up call. I’d hate to see this great article go to waste for us, when we already know this. Send it off to all the nationalists of whom you mention. THEY are the ones who need to read this. But then again, Thais are infamous for never being able to accept the truth, so sadly, it’ll fall on deaf ears, I’m sure.
  3. The Dalai Lama has tried for over 12 years to get Theravada Buddhism removed from the World Buddhist Council because it promotes personality cult and the pursuit of personal wealth instead of following the true Buddhist creed. This would mean Thailand, Taiwan and Sri Lanka going it alone; seems the Council do not want to lose so many members (so much for them then).

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June 27, 2015

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 – Thailand

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 – Thailand


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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014
United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The king serves as head of state and has traditionally exerted strong influence. On May 22, in a bloodless coup, military and police leaders, taking the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by General Prayut Chan-Ocha, overthrew the interim government led by the Puea Thai political party. Puea Thai, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, had governed since 2011 following National Assembly lower house elections that were generally viewed as free and fair. The military-led NCPO maintained effective control over the security forces.

The coup leaders repealed the constitution (except for provisions related to the monarchy), suspended parliament, continued martial law imposed two days earlier on May 20, and issued numerous decrees severely limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. The NCPO summoned and detained, without charge, more than 900 political leaders, academics, journalists, and others, holding many for up to seven days. The NCPO promulgated an interim constitution on July 22 and appointed individuals to a National Legislative Assembly on July 31, the members of which unanimously selected coup leader and head of the army, General Prayut, as prime minister on August 21.

In addition to limitations on human rights occasioned by the coup and implemented by the NCPO, the most persistent human rights problems consisted of abuses by government security forces and local defense volunteers in the context of the continuing Malay-Muslim insurgency in the three southernmost provinces, and occasional excessive use of force by security forces, including police killing, torturing, and otherwise abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners. After the May 22 coup, citizens no longer had the ability to change the government through the right to vote in free and fair elections.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded, and unsanitary prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable populations, including refugees; violence and discrimination against women; sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hill tribe members, and foreign migrant workers; child labor; and some limitations on worker rights.

Authorities occasionally dismissed, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted security force members who committed abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a serious problem, especially in provinces where the 2005 Emergency Decree and the 2008 Internal Security Act (ISA) remained in effect. The military’s invocation of martial law nationwide on May 20 magnified this problem. Article 48 of the NCPO-imposed interim constitution grants immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any pre- or postcoup actions ordered by the NCPO, regardless of the legality of the action.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces continued to commit human rights abuses, including attacks on civilian targets.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:Share

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were continued reports that security forces at times used excessive and lethal force against criminal suspects and committed or were connected to extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, from August 2013 to June 2014 security forces–including police, military, and other agencies–killed 45 suspects during the arrest process. The police department with jurisdiction over the location of the killings investigated each case, although no details were available.

While there were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings during the year, there were at least 28 deaths linked to attacks during large antigovernment demonstrations in Bangkok and elsewhere from late 2013 to May 2014. Unknown assailants shot and killed Suthin Thararin, a protest leader of the anti-Puea Thai government People’s Democratic Reform Committee, as he led demonstrators who blocked and closed a voting station in Bangkok on January 26 during national legislative elections. The shooting also injured nine others.

Armed individuals on January 22 shot and seriously injured Khwanchai Phraiphana Sarakham, a leader of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (Red-Shirts)–allied with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra–at his community radio station and residence compound in Udon Thani Province. Authorities charged six individuals involved in the attack: Maduenang Masae, a Territorial Defense Volunteer with the Narathiwat Provincial Authority; Master Sergeant Mawin Yangbua; Sergeant Wirot Phimsing; Sub-Lieutenant Pratya Chanrotphai; Sergeant Chanon Thapthimthong; and Sergeant Banchong Kanthathon, all of whom, except Maduenang, were assigned to the 19th Cavalry Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division in Kanchanaburi province. All individuals except Maduenang were free on bail as of August 1.

On April 23, unknown assailants shot and killed poet Kamol Duangphasuk, a vocal critic of the country’s lese majeste laws (see section 2.a.) and Red Shirt activist. The investigation of the killing continued as of November with no arrests.

There were reports of killings during the year in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

On August 28, the Criminal Court dismissed murder charges against former prime minister and current Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for their roles in the 2010 clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters in Bangkok and the Northeast. The court ruled it lacked jurisdiction because both individuals were public office holders at the time of the killings and had acted under an emergency decree. The court stated that only the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had the authority to consider the allegations. Cases brought on behalf of individual victims against Abhisit and Suthep remained with the Department of Special Investigations (DSI), the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), and other government entities. As in previous cases, the DSI did not file charges against the soldiers who killed individuals as part of the government’s response to protests, since it found they acted in accordance with executive orders.

Thai security forces clashed with loggers engaged in illegal cross-border logging, mostly Cambodian citizens, throughout the year. On April 6, Thai security forces killed one Cambodian allegedly involved in illegal logging. In a clash at the border with Laos on June 6, one Thai officer was injured.

b. Disappearance

On April 17, a prominent ethnic Karen activist, Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (known as “Billy”), disappeared in southwest Thailand. Billy had led a legal fight against government authorities, including the superintendent of Kaengkrachan National Park in Petchaburi Province, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, whom community members alleged had ordered the destruction in 2011 of more than 100 houses and rice stocks belonging to more than 20 Karen households for their alleged encroachment into the park. At the time of his disappearance, Billy was reportedly traveling to meet with ethnic Karen villagers and activists to prepare for a court hearing. On April 18, Chaiwat stated that park authorities detained Billy on April 17 but released him after questioning. In an April 20 statement, Human Rights Watch urged, “Thai authorities should not stay silent about Billy’s case but explain what happened to him.” At year’s end police officials neither identified any suspects nor made any arrests.

After the coup security forces detained hundreds of activists and in some instances withheld information about their safety for brief periods before announcing their whereabouts. For instance, on September 5, plainclothes soldiers arrested Kittisak Soomsri at a teacher-training center in Bangkok. Military officials refused to acknowledge his detention for six days. On September 11, authorities charged Kittisak as one of the “men in black,” who allegedly initiated violent acts during the 2010 protests.

As of August the government had not taken action on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances’ June 2011 request for a country visit.

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June 6, 2015

The war in southern Thailand is long-running and threatens to spread

The war in southern Thailand is long-running and threatens to spread

Lindsay Murdoch
Published: June 6, 2015 – 8:45AM

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Thailand’s forgotten war video (05:44)

The war in Thailand

Rarely reported religious wars in Thailand’s southern provinces have killed more than 6000 people. Video production and narration by Craig Skehan. Reporting by Lindsay Murdoch.

Buddhist Monks are guarded by Thai soldiers on their morning rounds collecting alms in Pattani.

Buddhist Monks are guarded by Thai soldiers on their morning rounds collecting alms in Pattani. Photo: Jason South

On May 16 this year, a  bomber walked unnoticed into a toy store in the main street of Yala, a town in southern Thailand only a few hours’ drive from the country’s main tourist beaches, and left a shopping bag packed with explosives.

Minutes later, a mobile telephone in the bag detonated the bomb that ripped through the store, one of  three dozen blasts over three days in May that injured 22 people and terrified the town’s population of 65,000.

Thung Yang Daeng:  Separatist forces have killed at least 171 teachers and torched or detonated bombs at more than 300 schools.

Thung Yang Daeng: Separatist forces have killed at least 171 teachers and torched or detonated bombs at more than 300 schools. Photo: Jason South

As soldiers, police and firemen rushed to the scene, three year-old Fadia sat trembling on the concrete floor of her family’s agriculture products shop 50 metres away.

“She cannot speak … she is afraid and always goes quiet when the bombs go off,” said her auntie Pensi Wangmetikul, 42. “We are all very afraid. What can we do?”

Beheadings, bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations, extra-judicial killings and vicious assaults have left more than 6300 people dead and at least 11,500 injured since 2004 in south-east Asia’s longest-running war in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces.

Armed and organised ethnic Malays – almost all of whom are Muslims – are pitted against the predominantly Buddhist Thai state in a cycle of violence that is rarely reported outside of Thailand.

Monks, teachers, schools, government officials – people seen as symbols of the Thai state – have been targets of insurgents operating in secret cells while Thai security forces, which operate with impunity, are accused by human rights groups of abuses including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings that cause more reprisals.

Militants plant indiscriminate bombs in public places, often changing tactics to keep security forces off-guard. Hundreds of civilians – Buddhists and Muslims – have been killed or wounded while simply going about their daily activities.

And fears are growing that insurgents, who have shunned attempts to align themselves with Islamist terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, are looking to expand their sphere of influence and could be ripe for recruitment by transnational militant groups such as Islamic State.

About 15 men from the village have been killed in the decade long conflict.

About 15 men from the village have been killed in the decade long conflict. Photo: Jason South

Anusart Suwanmongkol, a member of Thailand’s military-installed national assembly and a businessman in Pattani, a town in the centre of the violence, says the conflict has entered a new and even more dangerous phase because of the increasing globalisation of Islam through Facebook and other social media.

“Nobody has time to filter the messages and propaganda to our youth,” Anusart says. “We are not there yet, but remote recruitment for causes like Islamic State is of great concern.”

“When things happen, untrue information is quickly spread through social media. We are in a new age,” he said.

Don Pathan, an independent security consultant based in southern Thailand, says the bombings were a humiliating episode for Thailand’s security apparatus still reeling from a car bomb that exploded in the underground car park of a shopping centre on the resort island of Samui on April 10, injuring 10 people.

Soldiers patrol a roadblock in southern Thailand looking for weapons or suspected insurgents.

Soldiers patrol a roadblock in southern Thailand looking for weapons or suspected insurgents. Photo: Jason South

Evidence links the Samui bomb to the southern violence, a seemingly important escalation of the conflict. Insurgents have in the past rarely ventured out of the Malay-dominated provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani and the four southern districts of Songkhla province.

Zachary Abuza, head of South-East Asian Analytics and author of multiple books on the conflict, says insurgents have tended to feel that out-of-area attacks are counter-productive, violate their sense of “defensive jihad” and would unleash Thai security forces on them, with broad public backing.

But striking at the heart of a tourist island appears to be an attempt to sabotage an area of economic significance, which is known to be one of the militants’ strategies.

No-one claims responsibility for attacks or articulates the insurgents’ aims and the identities of its leaders remain largely unknown, even to many of those in clandestine village and town cells.

Ethnic Malay militants have not accepted Thailand’s assimilation policies dating back to the country’s conquest of the sultanate of Patani in the early 20th century. Their immediate aim appears to make the region known as the “Deep South” ungovernable.

Each morning Buddhist monks wrap themselves in saffron-coloured robes and stroll silently collecting alms while a phalanx of troops armed with assault rifles walk alongside, protecting them from assassins.

In a wheelchair for life. Buddhist Monk Pra Suchart, 40, one of two monks injured in a drive-by shooting four years ago. A third monk was killed in the same attack. Pra Suchart says he does not feel anger towards those who shot him. Attacks on such random targets can follow claims by insurgents of extra-judicial killings by the security forces.

The forgotten war in Southern Thailand

Cambodia Photo: Jason South

At state-run schools, soldiers guard teachers and students in crisp white uniforms.

But Thai authorities suspect some of the region’s Islamic schools are used to indoctrinate and recruit insurgents.

In January, soldiers stormed the Yuwa Muslim school in Pattani province, killing three suspects holed up in a dormitory.

Muhayat Charoenchon was just eight  and about to eat  lunch with 100 other students at her school in Bacho district of Narathiwat province when four men walked up to her father, Chonlati Charoenchon, 51, a physical education teacher, who was directing students to their tables.

One pulled out a pistol and fired four shots into his head from point blank range.

Muhayat was dragged screaming from her father’s body and was the only witness prepared to come forward to identify the killer.

The Charoenchon family are Muslims and Muhayat’s mother Fansiah, 49, says she doesn’t know why her husband was assassinated.

“At first I wanted to take a gun and kill them. Now I just want peace,” she says.

Soldiers on alert at the burnt out bombed remains of a traditional timber shop.

Soldiers on alert at the burnt out bombed remains of a traditional timber shop. Photo: Jason South

Suspicion of collaborating with the government is enough for militants to list anyone, including Muslims, for execution.

The southern provinces are well developed, the government having poured billions of dollars into infrastructure and other services over decades, but they look like an occupied territory, with 60,000 heavily armed security personnel and militia deployed in fortified posts – the equivalent of one soldier or police officer for every seven households.

Travellers are asked to show their ID and have their vehicles inspected at checkpoints every few kilometres.

In Yala town, blast plinths line both sides of a main street to minimise the impact of car bombs.

Armoured vehicles patrol roads and military units go deep into the countryside and remote areas conducting “hearts and minds” campaigns – and to hunt insurgents.

The government has provided thousands of weapons to local militias and “village guards”, prompting concerns that more arms, especially in the hands of people not in any real chain of command, will exacerbate the problem.

Analysts say that while Malay-Muslim nationalism and identity lies at the heart of the insurgents’ cause, their struggle is often couched in religious language and practices.

The government does not allow Malay to be used as a main language of instruction and does not commonly allow it for official purposes.

The area is also home to a large population of ethnic Chinese Buddhists, whose comparative wealth makes them stand out sharply from Muslim farmers and fishermen. The Chinese are often targets of attacks.

Thanakorn Sae-Koh, 59, whose ancestors are Chinese, says he doesn’t know why insurgents have twice bombed his furniture stores in Yala town in six months, destroying both.

“I was born here and have no intention of living anywhere else – they won’t push us away,” he says.

Azman Jantravadi, 27, has been chained by one leg in a corner of his families barren wooden house in the village of Duka in Bacho, for more than two years. He is not himself. He is a crazy person says his mother Jemah Jehni, 55, a mother of six sons, adding he becomes violent when released. Azman’s elder brother Marosoh was killed while leading an insurgent raid on a military base in 2013. Photo: JasonSouth

Anusart says nothing is “black and white” in the provinces. “There are no simple answers to what is happening. This is not just a pure insurgency. There are many other factors,” he says.

Crime networks and rival local politicians add to the violence in a confusing mix of allegiances and loyalties.

Some analysts estimate the proportion of total killings resulting from private and political issues ranges from 20 to 50 per cent.

Also driving  the conflict is  the Thai state’s highly centralised political system, where Bangkok dispatches unelected life bureaucrats to run its far-flung provinces, while, according to critics, making few concessions to the distinct history and character of the region.

Figures behind the insurgency are believed to be both from an older guard of separatists and a new generation who are at the front line of the conflict. They lead ordinary lives as local residents while preparing terrorist attacks.

Don Pathan, the independent consultant who lives in Yala town and has been following the conflict for 20 years, says he has been told a council of about a dozen Muslim clerics presides over the insurgency.

The clandestine cell structure appears to be deliberately set up in such a way that members may not be personally acquainted with others under the overall command and operate on a  need-to-know basis. The insurgents have no political wing, leaving them with no forum to publicly air their goals, unlike other underground movements like the Irish Republican Army, the IRA.

Militants have recruited children as young as 14, according to Child Soldiers International.

For years the insurgents outwitted Thai security forces, constantly changing strategies and targets, although an increasing number of insurgent arrests indicate the military has improved their intelligence-gathering techniques.

A cycle of revenge killings has wracked the provinces. When the 179th teacher was killed late last year, militants left a handwritten note near the body saying “if you detain indiscriminately we will kill indiscriminately”.

And when a 10-year-old Muslim girl was shot dead by a Thai marine when the vehicle she was travelling in failed to stop at a checkpoint, militants hit back a few days later, attacking a group of Buddhist men, killing three and wounding four.

“Sorry for the unintentional killings – just like when you shot at the Malay people,” a note left at the scene read.

Thailand’s military, which seized power in a coup in May 2014, seems intent on pursuing historic peace talks with six insurgent groups, including the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).

Prakarn Cholayut, the Thai Army Region 4 commander, told Fairfax Media the security forces have the support of a majority of people in the region, including Muslims. “There is only a hardcore causing all the problems.” he said.

Don Pathan says it is not clear what the future holds for the peace talks, which began this year.

Eighty-three year-old Buddhist Klean Sangam-pai says for decades Buddhists and Muslims lived happily side by side in her village in Pattani. But in 2004 militants shot  her son dead and three years later beheaded her husband and torched his body and their family house.

“I don’t hate Muslims,” she says. “People are being used for political purposes … the gap between Buddhists and Muslims is very wide now, but it will be sad if some time in the future we all cannot change our thinking and perhaps learn to laugh a little while crying at the same time.”

6 Jun 2015.  Fairfax photographer Jason South travelled to Southern Thailand where Thai soldiers on alert. Beheadings, bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations, extra judicial killings and vicious assaults have left more than 6379 people dead and at least 11,548 injured since 2004 in South-East Asia’s longest running war in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces.

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June 6, 2015

Combating human trafficking

PM confident of TIP report boost

Prayut pledges to end trafficking in his term

  • Published: 6/06/2015 at 06:53 AM
  • Newspaper section: News

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Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha inaugurates June 5 as Anti-Human Trafficking Day in a ceremony at Government House on Friday. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

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Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is optimistic Thailand will be removed from Tier 3 of the United States’ Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report which is expected to be released at the end of this month, saying the country has done all it can to combat human trafficking.

The prime minister has also pledged to end the slave trade during his government’s tenure.

Gen Prayut said the country has done its best to deal with human trafficking and that he hoped its efforts would gain international recognition and its TIP report ranking would be upgraded.

The government submitted its anti-trafficking report on March 31 to Washington for assessment, providing details about progress in combating the scourge.

In June last year, the US released its TIP report which downgraded Thailand from Tier 2 to Tier 3 — the lowest level — due to its lack of progress in combating human trafficking.

Gen Prayut also said the government is stepping up efforts to crack down on so-called illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to avoid a European Union (EU) ban on Thailand’s seafood exports.

He said “a complete overhaul” is needed to better regulate fishing activities and crack down on IUU fishing, even though the measures will have an adverse impact on poor people working in the fishing industry.

The EU claimed Thailand has not done enough to tackle IUU fishing and gave Thailand a “yellow card” —  a final warning — on April 21.

The EU gave the country six months to address the problem or face a ban on Thai fishery exports to EU member states.

As part of the new regulations to ease IUU fishing concerns, a new fishing law was enforced from late April aimed at suppressing human trafficking and human rights violations in the fishery industry. In addition, all trawlers have been ordered to register to ensure their operations can be monitored.

During his speech to mark the 2015 National Anti-Human Trafficking Day at Government House on Friday, Gen Prayut said his government is duty-bound to eliminate all shady businesses including human trafficking.

“I am ready to tackle the problem without fear or favour,” the prime minister said.

He stressed that stricter law enforcement and cooperation with international organisations is key to ending human trafficking in Thailand during this government’s tenure.

Under this government, all state agencies must be serious about implementing existing laws, he said.

“All elements supporting human trafficking must be eliminated, be they government officials or any agencies. The government is sincere about solving the problem and is ready to cooperate with international organisations in this matter,” Gen Prayut said.

He said human trafficking had affected the rights and liberties of people and seriously infringed on the principle of human rights. It had also eroded confidence in the country, affecting trade, investment and security.

The prime minister said the root causes of human trafficking were poverty and disparities between people in society.

He said the problem of illegal migrants must be solved and the country’s labour force must be developed.

Trafficked victims must be taken care of and provided with occupational training to enable them to return to society, Gen Prayut said, adding that groups of people and government officials in “grey businesses” must be eliminated.

In doing so, the government needed to improve laws and regulations to ensure effective enforcement, he said.

Government officials found to be involved in human trafficking would face legal and disciplinary action, Gen Prayut

Meanwhile, anti-human trafficking activists and academics have urged the government to change its strategy for dealing with the problem, saying the government’s passive stance has made the human trafficking situation worse.

“If the government does not change the way it works and still engages in ‘passive’ moves to combat human trafficking, Thailand will remain in Tier 3. We deserve it,” said Supang Chantavanich, director of the Asian Research Centre for Migration at Chulalongkorn University.

Ms Supang said if high-ranking officials become involved in a case, justice will be delayed because corruption among officials is an issue in the US’s annual TIP report highlights.

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April 22, 2015

Thailand plays the Russia card

Thailand plays the Russia card

by Pavin Chachavalpongpun

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On April 7-8, Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian prime minister to visit Thailand in 25 years. The Russian leader’s visit to Bangkok was excessively publicized both to the benefit of Russia in expanding its presence in Southeast Asia, and to that of the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocho who took advantage of Medvedev’s high profile visit to legitimize his regime.

While in Thailand, Medvedev signed a number of bilateral agreements with his Thai counterpart, for example, to combat drug trafficking, boost investment and develop Thai energy sector. The two countries were ambitious in their goal to double annual bilateral trade next year to $10 billion.

As reported by the Russian media, around 0.9 percent of ASEAN exports are services to Russia and 2.8 percent of Russian exports are services to ASEAN. Thailand is the leading ASEAN nation trading with Russia at $2.3 billion, leaving far behind Vietnam with $609 million and Singapore at $364 million. Thailand hopes Russia will buy its over-produced rubber. On top of this, it expects to attract more Russian tourists. In 2014, Thailand drew 1.6 million Russian tourists. But so far, the total number is down 8.6 percent this year.

What is more important than the strengthening of diplomatic ties between Thailand and Russia is the fact that Medvedev’s trip to Bangkok came at the time when the Prayuth regime has been heavily criticized by certain Western governments and international organizations. They have condemned the Prayuth government for replacing martial law with sweeping security powers for the military, as an obstacle to the protection of the people’s rights.

Prayuth’s statement perfectly reflected the perception of Thailand vis-a-vis the game of international politics in which his country has been dealing with different great powers. Prayuth said, “Friends prove their worth when one is in trouble. Friends will help and understand,” purportedly to praise the Russian friendship at the expense of the United States, which has taken a harsher stance against his regime.

In response, Medvedev replied, “Thailand is a close friend in the Asia-Pacific region and we have long diplomatic relations. In two years we will mark our 120 years of relations.”

Preparation for Prayuth’s visit to Moscow, which could take place within months, is already underway. It is noteworthy that most Western nations have applied travel bans against top Thai military leaders. So Prayuth’s trip to Russia could be seen as a big slap in the face of these countries.

In Thailand, the exploitation of Medvedev’s visit to consolidate the position of the government has continued. A Thai government spokesperson has confirmed that Thailand will consider buying military weapons from Russia. This news is likely to irritate the U.S., which has long been an arms supplier for Thailand. In reality, however, Russia has always been an alternative source of military equipment for Thailand.

Ten year ago, when Thailand was under the Thaksin Shinawatra government, the country’s ties with Russia were strong. President Vladimir Putin became Russia’s major arms salesman and sought to expand arms sales with Thailand. His efforts was welcomed by Thaksin, who agreed to buy a dozen Sukhoi-30 fighter jets from Russia worth $500 million. In 2015, Russia has subtly engaged itself in Thailand’s political situation to regain its political foothold, a move that has chilled U.S.-Thai relations.

But the renewed friendly relations between Thailand and Russia must be analyzed in the context of the turbulence in the Thai domestic politics. Since the coup of May 2014, an army of Western nations, including the U.S, Australia, and EU states, has imposed soft sanctions against the military junta.

To lessen the impact of Western sanctions, the Thai military government has turned to its neighboring countries to seek their endorsement of its regime. Powerful dignitaries from Myanmar and Cambodia all paid visits to Thailand while offering their support for the military government. China, in particular, is playing the role of a legitimacy provider to the Thai junta, which to a great extent has permitted Thailand to withstand outside pressure.

Now Russia is following in the footsteps of China and some of Thailand’s friends in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But this will only further deepen the level of competition among foreign powers in regards to their relationships with Thailand. Already the U.S. has retaliated, stepped up its criticism of the shrinking of democratic space in Thailand and the continued abuses of human rights there.

In Washington’s latest move, President Barack Obama finally announced his nomination for U.S. ambassador to Thailand, after the post remained vacant for six months. But his choice of Glyn Townsend Davies, the former U.S. special representative for North Korea Policy, has raised many eyebrows.

The U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “A career diplomat, Davies is expected to put his knowledge of crisis diplomacy to good use in the context of Thailand’s uncertain political landscape. Expect Davies to continue calling on the Thai military and interim government to restore democracy and show support for the civil and political rights of the Thai people.” This will surely further put U.S.-Thai ties under strains.

Although the political drama in Thailand is far from over, Medvedev’s trip to Bangkok allowed a convenient break for the junta from the heat. Russia has helped raise the Thai military’s confidence in prolonging its rule of Thailand. But Moscow’s move, unfortunately, will not improve the Thai political situation either now or in the long run.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.


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