It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. - Aung San Suu KyiAndrew Walker of New Mandala has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on human rights in Thailand. The article focuses on the lese majeste case of Harry Nicolaides and the Thai military's treatment of Rohingya refugees. These are just two of the issues that have been in the news in the past few weeks but there are also more lese majeste cases and Amnesty International's recent report on torture in the Deep South.
Giles Ungpakorn's case is important and will bring even more international attention to the issue of lese majeste. He has shown a brave and principled response to the charges so far. He is very articulate in both English and Thai so he can communicate his arguments to both domestic and international audiences. He is sure to have much support from academics around the world.
Giles writes why we must oppose lese majeste:
The lese majeste law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. The practical impact is that we do not have a fully developed democracy or internationally accepted academic standards in our universities.I think lese majeste must be treated as a human rights and freedom of speech issue. There is no need for diplomatic niceties. You can still speak out about this issue while maintaining respect for the king. I am no longer living in Thailand so that gives me the freedom to write on this blog without fear. And although I don't know exactly what Thai people think about this issue I am sure many of them are talking about it and although they may not express their views publicly, they would be discussing them in private.
I think the most important thing to recognise is that these problems are not a product of the Thaksin regime or the military coup. They are deeply ingrained within Thai institutions and exacerbated by a weak rule of law and a culture that suppresses honest criticism. The military in particular should be singled out for scrutiny. It acts with a culture of impunity. It has never faced justice for the 2006 coup or the Tak Bai massacre. In the recent incident involving Rohingya refugees it merely obfuscated rather than taking concrete action to address the problem.
There is no simple solution to these problems. Effecting institutional and cultural change will take decades. However, in the short term there are two important things that can be done. The first is having more international observers present in Thailand. Their presence will help in clearly documenting the problems and also perhaps moderating the behaviour of those that might abuse human rights.
The second is for foreign governments to be far more frank in their dealings with the Thais. If they are prepared to call a spade a spade in neighbouring Burma, then why not do the same in Thailand? Thai society has a degree of democracy and openness that Burma does not so such statements can have much greater influence. The time to speak out is now for failure to speak out against injustice is to condone it. There is no excuse for silence.