WORLD: What are your qualifications to be UN Secretary-General, Deputy Prime Minister?

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has since 2004 studied your candidacy to become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations with interest. To be honest, we are a bit perplexed. Try as we might, we have failed to identify the qualifications upon which you could be elected to the job.

As a Harvard law postgraduate we would have thought that you would understand how important it is to maintain principles for the rule of law and human rights in Thailand, and how these are supported by the international system, specifically the United Nations. However, looking at the record of your government since you served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2001 to 2005 and after that as Deputy Prime Minister (with special responsibility for foreign affairs), it is hard to find any evidence of this.

Allow us to take a moment to go over just a few features of your record with specific reference to international law and UN treaties and mechanisms:

1. FAILED to ratify a key UN treaty against torture: The AHRC has been among other concerned groups and individuals who for some years have been saying that if Thailand’s human rights record is to improve it must join the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In fact, the ministry that you headed has the primary responsibility for this. But still, inexplicably, Thailand has not signed.

2. FAILED to implement any recommendations of a key UN body: The AHRC is not aware of any attempt to implement any of the key recommendations that the UN Human Rights Committee made to you in 2005 after your representatives in Geneva tried unsuccessfully to keep all kinds of gross abuses under the carpet. The UN recommendations which you appear to have ignored include to

a. Better support and review the work of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (an attempt on the life of one commissioner recently obtained no reaction from your government);

b. Investigate the “extraordinarily large” number of killings during the so-called war on drugs in 2003 (virtually none are known to have ever been investigated or have gone to court);

c. Investigate the mass killings in the south in 2004 (instead survivors of the killings are themselves being prosecuted while perpetrators in the police and military have been promoted);

d. Investigate the killings and abductions of human rights defenders and social activists (not one successful investigation or prosecution);

e. Consider establishing an independent civilian body to investigate complaints against police (no evidence that it is being considered);

f. Bring the Emergency Decree for the southern provinces into line with international law (the decree was recently renewed without modification, despite condemnation from the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions);

g. Change procedures to allow detainees prompt means to challenge their detention, and access to lawyers and doctors (not done; again no evidence that it is being considered);

h. Investigate alleged cases of torture, illegal detention and death in custody (no investigations or prosecutions); and,

i. End routine shackling of detainees (they are still in chains).

3. FAILED to cooperate with UN special procedures: We are not aware of a single case of alleged torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing or other gross abuse in Thailand before the UN working groups or special rapporteurs that your government has properly addressed. Furthermore, Thailand has deliberately snubbed the repeated requests of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to visit the country, and has also failed to extend standing invitations to UN experts interested to do the same, for no known reason.

4. FAILED to be elected to the new UN Human Rights Council: For all of the above reasons, and many others besides that we have not mentioned here in the interests of brevity.

On the other hand, the AHRC is aware that you have chastised journalists in Thailand for reporting on gross abuses and other deep problems there, lest their reports throw your candidacy into a bad light, and when a man was beaten to death in the tourist district of Bangkok for damaging a religious effigy you showed the extent of your commitment to human rights by paying commiserations to the effigy.

You would have to admit that for someone trying to become the Secretary-General of the United Nations this record of involvement with the UN and its agencies is not very good, is it? In fact, it is better characterised as persistent non-involvement and deliberate negligence.

In short, we cannot understand how you can contemplate becoming UN Secretary General from a position as Deputy Prime Minister in a government that refuses to join key UN international treaties, fails to consider or implement the sound recommendations of UN international treaty bodies and keeps UN experts at a distance.

We also cannot understand how you can contemplate becoming UN Secretary General from a position as Deputy Prime Minister in a government that pursues a policy of extrajudicial killings and disappearances against parts of its own population, tacitly endorses the use of torture by its police, has been recognised globally as an enemy of free speech, fails to protect even its own officially-appointed human rights commissioners–let alone the thousands of environmentalists, community leaders, journalists and others with lives at risk in Thailand–and has caused untold damage to the rule of law.

As you will understand, the role of the UN Secretary-General at this time in world history is of critical importance. We are concerned that the right person gets the job. Looking at your record, we are worried. It doesn’t seem like you are up to the task, considering that your government has managed to make such a thorough mess of countless lives and numerous institutions in Thailand. Imagine the damage you could cause globally. Being based in this region, the Asian Human Rights Commission would share some blame if an unqualified Asian candidate was somehow to get the job and make a misery of the lives of people in other countries around the world in addition to his own. It is for this reason that we are compelled to write.

We trust that when it comes time to vote, the international community will share these concerns, and common sense and recognition of the need to preserve the integrity of the UN will rule the day. Assuming that this is so, we expect that you will be looking for other work. Unless of course, you really can answer the question, what on earth are your qualifications to become Secretary-General?

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong 

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-034-2006
Countries : Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand,