Thailand Northeastern Sub-regional Workshop: turning learning and experience into concrete action for the UPR implementation phase

Khon Kaen, Thailand, 1-5 November 2016. UPR Info Asia, the Thai CSOs Coalition for the UPR and the Rights and Liberties Promotion Department of the Ministry of Justice, with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s financial support, co-hosted the first of four sub-regional workshops in early November titled ‘The Importance of Building Credible Evidence for Effective Human Rights Documentation Throughout Thailand’s 2nd UPR Cycle’ for the Northeastern ‘Isaan’ region. Human rights defenders and advocates across Thailand will come together throughout the workshops to support the implementation of UPR recommendations, and continue to monitor the human rights situation on the ground. The goal is to provide human rights defenders and community-based defenders with the tools and knowledge to build credible evidence while holding the government to account on its international human rights commitments.

      The workshop was centred on three key outcomes:

      • the role of local communities to engage in all UN human rights mechanisms to bring the realities of the ground to the international level;
      • the need to submit complaint to the national human rights commission to document human rights violations, by building evidence and launching an investigation, whilst also accessing support from the Ministry of Justice; and
      • the importance of community-based human rights investigation for evidence-based human rights documentation. 

      Emilie Pradichit, Asia Regional Director, UPR Info Asia, and Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, Coordinator, Thai CSOs Coalition for the UPR, and Tessa Cerisier, Programmes Coordinator, UPR Info Asia, provided training on human rights principles, UN Special Procedures, UN treaty bodies, and the UPR. It was important for UPR Info Asia to explain how all UN mechanisms are complementary and to encourage communities to engage not just in the UPR, but in all mechanisms to support their human rights cause and build credible evidence.
       
      One treaty body in particular was examined: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was used to show the importance of submissions from human rights defenders. Progress on Thailand’s ICCPR obligations will be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee in March 2017, and it was important to train communities so that they can submit their NGO reports on time and inform the process. Indeed, for a true and accurate realisation of the human rights situation on the ground to be achieved, it is imperative for independents and CSOs to also submit their own reports.

      Therefore, prior to the review, it was critical for Sadhana Kanarat, Director of the Rights & Liberties Promotion Division, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to update participants on Thailand’s State Report, and for Daisuke Shirane, Asia-Pacific Coordinator from the Centre for Civil & Political Rights (CCPR) to stress on the importance of NGO submissions to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. With multiple sources the Human Rights Committee is better positioned to make community-informed and accurate recommendations (concluding observations) to the Royal Thai government. These recommendations are complementary to those made throughout the UPR, giving more weight to recommendations featured in both human rights mechanisms.

      The second key outcome featured access to national mechanisms. Mana Ngamnet, Director of the Human Rights Protection Department, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), outlined the role of national human rights institutions in supporting civil society. Upon receiving a complaint from the public, the NHRCT has the ability to investigate claims of human rights violations. Based on the findings of the investigation, recommendations are made to the Royal Thai government with an associated timeframe for action. Whilst the government is not legally obliged to implement the recommendations from NHRCT, the report provides an official means of reporting a violation to then be used as evidence.Aimon  Siangyai, Director of Rights and Liberties Protection Division of the Ministry of Justice, outlined the role of MoJ in supporting citizens at the sub-regional level. She stated funding is available to support individuals throughout civil court cases, from the first instance, to the appeal court and Supreme Court. In all cases, it became clear that a report to any human rights mechanism needed to be supported by credible evidence.

      International human rights lawyer, Matthew Bugher, spent the fourth day providing training on how to gather credible evidence through effective human rights investigation. He used case studies from his experience working in Myanmar to show the participants how to: corroborate evidence; seek-out evidence using all types of sources; perform evidence based research; and how to ensure safety when gathering evidence.

      The Northeastern region prominent human rights issues: throughout the 5-day workshop, participants shared their experiences and raised awareness on the context in the Isaan region. Most of the human rights defenders participating are environmental human rights defenders who have been fighting to protect their lands, livelihoods, community rights and the environment in the face of development projects, dam megaprojects, mining and petroleum along the Mekong River. Many have shared the systematic threats and intimidations they have been experiencing for protesting to uphold their rights and the fear they live in. Many denounced the irresponsible governance of tenure of land by the government and the negative impact of investments and businesses as the root causes of their human rights violations. The most challenging human rights issues in Isaan also included breaches to freedom of expression and assembly, discrimination and violence against women living with HIV, stateless children, and migrant workers from the Mekong region.

      A fourth and unexpected outcome achieved was the creation of the ‘Isaan UPR Network’. All participants felt that they are the main local actors to drive change and have the responsibility to bring their local voices to inform human rights monitoring mechanisms. As a result, an “Isaan UPR Network” network was created, comprising local representatives from diverse human rights issues. The network is currently organising itself to monitor the human rights situation throughout the Isaan region and send information to international and national human rights mechanisms.