Hopefully the Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, will change his position on a proposed visit to the country by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, Philip Alston. Last week, after the Special Rapporteur suggested coming in order to speak with those involved in recent events in the south, the Prime Minister said that he was uncomfortable with the proposed visit, and that it would not be appropriate. This response was in contrast to earlier indications given by the government that an international role in investigations of the mass killing in Narathiwat province of October 25 would be welcome.
The proposed visit is a great opportunity for the government and people of Thailand, and one that should not be lost. As a Special Rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Professor Alston carries with him the expertise and backing of the global human rights movement. As he himself has stated, his purpose in coming Thailand would not be to find political fault and lay blame on any one person or agency for the killings, but to produce positive recommendations for ongoing efforts towards peace and stability in the south. The role of the Special Rapporteur is to lend international support and knowledge to the people of Thailand in finding a lasting solution to persistent human rights problems, and to deepen understanding of what took place last October 25. If the government of Thailand sincerely wishes to do the same, surely it will welcome the offer. Presumably it would be aware that in doing so it could only but enhance its international standing.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the government of Thailand has committed itself under article 2 to ensure that effective remedies are available to persons whose rights are violated. The death of at least 85 persons in Narathiwat last month, at least 78 while in army custody, is a dramatic example of a violation where the remedies envisaged under article 2 have not yet been realised. Although a team especially appointed by the Prime Minister is investigating the incident, along with others from the Senate and the National Human Rights Commission, there is no evidence of any steps being taken to investigate and prosecute suspects. While the ongoing inquiries are welcome, they are in no way a substitute for the criminal prosecutions needed under both domestic and international law.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has already argued that the work of the public prosecutor should proceed without delay and without regard to extenuating circumstances. A visit by the Special Rapporteur would contribute enormously to motivating all concerned agencies to do their jobs, particularly the public prosecutor. Professor Alston would also be in a position to comment and make suggestions on existing laws, and propose reforms that may enhance the protection of all Thai citizens rights. His participation could have a lasting effect both on reducing the incidence of abuse, and ensuring that remedies exist for victims in accordance with international standards. Acceptance of his offer will cost Thailand nothing, and may benefit the country a great deal; refusal will signify a lost opportunity to protect the human rights of millions, not only those in the south.