TPO –October 2011 In October, the world stopped spinning for Thais. One issue was on top of all preoccupations: the massive floods heading from the North towards the sea and through Bangkok, the most severe experienced by Thailand in more than half a century. With 24-hour reports on the progress of the flood towards Bangkok, the country stopped breathing and so did Bangkok at the end of the month when Chaeng Wattana Road, home to many state agencies, flooded and became navigable only by boat or large truck. This forced many state agencies delivering public services to temporarily close, and then to arrange alternative locations for providing limited services. Starting on 27 October, the government announced a five-day public holiday. I.
Human rights - Universal Periodic Review The Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Situation in Thailand was held on Wednesday 5 October 2011, from 2:30 pm - 5:30 pm at the Human Rights Council Office in Geneva. The Universal Periodic Review is a new mechanism of human rights monitoring that emerged as a result of the 2005 United Nations reform process. UPR periodically examines the human rights performance of all 193 UN Member States. Each country is to be reviewed every four years. Issues raised by other countries included, by order of frequency: 1- Freedom of expression Representatives of a dozen countries including France, Germany, the UK and Australia have recommended that the Thai government amend the lese majeste law to bring the country's level of freedom of expression in line with international standards. ―Thailand has been subject of intense criticism for blocking access to websites and putting up limitations on freedom expression when related to the monarchy and other related sensitive issues. Media are said to exercise strict self-censorship. The government has admitted on several occasions that lèse majesté legislation has been abused to control opinions. When and how is a reform of the relevant legislation in the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act taking place? Will this reform provide clear, precise and reasonable criteria in determining the offense of lèse majesté?‖ (Netherlands)
Does the Royal Thai Government foresee to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression? Does the Royal Thai Government consider reviewing the lèse-majesté law? (Switzerland)
As reported in the Nation, the Swiss and Netherlands views were shared by representatives from the United Kingdom, France and Slovenia but also Hungary and Finland and Norway also a kingdom - made the most concrete suggestion, pointing out that although Norway has a lese majeste law, a charge can only be brought with the personal approval of the king in order to "avoid abuses".
2- Torture and conditions of detention
―Although the Constitution of Thailand prohibits the act of torture, there is no law that specifically prohibits it, and it is not punishable as an offense under criminal law. Is Government of Thailand willing to enact an appropriate legislation? (Czesh Republic)
3- Refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants
―Which plans does the Government have in order to continuously safeguard the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and do such plans include signing the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees? ― (Denmark)
4- Reconciliation, Access to justice, Independence of the judiciary,
―A National Human Rights Commission is an essential body for independent and impartial investigation into human rights abuses. Thailand’s NHRC was appointed exclusively by representatives of the judiciary. The investigation carried out by the NHRC on the April/May 2010 riots has still not been made public. Does the review include ways to ensure that future nominations of commissioners are conducted in a transparent, participatory and consultative manner to fully ensure the Commission’s independence, impartiality and competence?‖ (Netherlands) What steps is the Royal Thai Government taking in order to strengthen the independent and impartial role of the judiciary? (Switzerland) We would be grateful for an update on how you have responded to the reports and recommendations made so far by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission– which recommendations you have implemented and how much legal assistance and financial support has been given?(United Kingdom) Sweden would like to ask the Royal Thai Government to share its plans and activities in order to combat impunity. (Sweden)
5- Death penalty
The Czech Republic welcomes that Thailand has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Is the Government of Thailand considering ratification of the Second Optional Protocol, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty? We would be grateful to know what progress you have made to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, in line with aims in the 2009 – 2013 National Human Rights Action Plan, and whether it has plans to ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol to ICCPR (Death Penalty)? (united Kingdom)
6- Southernmost provinces
Please could you inform us whether you are considering lifting the special security laws in Southern Thailand, including the Emergency Decree? And if so, would it be possible to give an indication of a timeline? (United Kingdom)
On the international stage, the use of the lèse majesté law is attracting a lot of attention: Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, issued a statement at the beginning of the month, urging Thailand to ―hold broad-based public consultations to amend section 112 of the penal code and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act so that they are in conformity with the country's international human rights obligations." "The recent spike in lese-majeste cases pursued by the police and the courts shows the urgency to amend them," La Rue added. The UN official said that the Computer Crimes Act has also been used as a de facto lese majeste law. It can carry a sentence of up to five years' imprisonment for any views expressed via the Internet in relation to the monarchy deemed to be a threat to national security, he said. "The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression," La Rue said. "This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public."
The reshuffle of people and allocation of political positions that traditionally follow any government change unfolded this month with the allocation of House committee seats (1) and the reshuffle at various security agencies (2). Appointments (1) House committees The list of members of the 35 House committees was finally released at the end of September, leaving the Pheu Thai Party with 19 chairs, followed by the Democrats (11 chairs) and Bhum Jai (2 chairs). Three junior coalition parties, Chart Thai Pattana, Chart Pattana and Palang Chon, each fill a committee chair. Rak Santi Party leader and sole MP Purachai Piumsombun leads the House committee on children, youths, women and the elderly. - Pheua Thai: 1. Law, Justice and Human Rights 2. Children, women, youth and the elderly 3. National debt reduction 4. Parliamentary Affairs 5. State security 6. Consumer protection 7. Finance and financial institutions 8. Foreign relations 9. Military affairs 10. Tourism and sports 11. Local administration 12. Money laundering and narcotics suppression 13. Natural disaster and public hazards prevention and reduction 14. Corruption prevention and suppression
15. Intellectual property 16. Labour 17. Science and Technology 18. Social Welfare 19. Information and communication - Democrat Party: 1. Border Affairs 2. Constitutional bodies, State enterprises, public organizations and funds 3. Communication 4. Police affairs 5. Monitoring of budget 6. Land, natural resources and the environment 7. Energy 8. Politics, public media, and public participation support 9. Economic development 10. Education 11. Agricultural products prices support - Chart Thai Pattana: 1.Agriculture and co-operatives, - Bhumjaithai 1. Public Administration 2. Public health - Palang Chon 1. Religion, art and culture - Chart Pattana 1. Industry In total, only three women are committee chairs. Two are from the Pheua Thai party (Children, women, youth and the elderly and Social Welfare) and one from the Democrat Party (Politics, public media, and public participation support). Army and security agencies reshuffle At the beginning of the month, about 200 red shirts gathered at Democracy Monument to protest against the military reshuffle, which reportedly saw at least three senior Army officers involved in the crackdown being promoted. They questioned the government on their handling of the aftermath of the crackdown, and called for perpetrators to be brought to justice. After a month of discussions, the Cabinet finally approved on October 3 the transfer of national police chief General Wichean Potephosree to the post of secretary-general of the National Security Council. Meanwhile, in the three southernmost provinces, the Justice Ministry's deputy permanent secretary Thawee Sodsong will replace Phanu Uthairat as chief of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) . As for Tharit Phengdit, the Secretary General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and a defence witness in the Democrat Party dissolution case, he was maintained in his post.
Court cases: Constitutional Court The high-profile case of Constitutional Court clips was dropped by the Crime Suppression Division on grounds of lack of evidence. The key suspect in the case was Pasit Sakdanarong. Court cases: red-shirts Red-shirt leader Darunee Kritboonyalai surrendered to police on October 4 to face charges of violating the emergency decree in relation to last year's unrest and riots. It was reported that about 100 red-shirts gathered at the police station to offer their moral support. She had been summoned to report to the police since April 2010. She was reportedly interrogated for about an hour and later released. Red-shirt villages joined a confederation. Police Second Lieutenant Kamolsilp Singhasuriya, chairman of Udon Thani red-shirt villages, was elected as chairman of the Red-Shirts Village for Democracy Federation. The event to launch the confederation was held in Udon Thani and attended by about 200 representatives of about 4,000 villages. Lèse majesté The statement issued last month by the Thammasat law lecturers Nittirat (1. held the coupmakers accountable for their actions 2. amend the lese majeste law 3. Compensate and give justice to victims of the coup 4. Cancel the 2007 Constitution and draft a new one) was criticized in October by fellow Thammasat law lecturers as being pro-Thaksin and possibly stirring unrest in the country. Arguments between pro-coup and anti-coups law Thammasat lecturers were heatedly exchanged in the press and the broadcast media. Students and exstudents also sided with or against Nittirat. For instance, on October the 5th, a group of 100 Thammasat University alumni gathered against two past and present rectors for siding with the 2006 (Surapol Nittikraipot and his successor Somkit Lertpaithoon) and call for the removal of Somkit. Meanwhile, the trial of prachatai.com online newspaper director Chiranuch, charged under the Computer Crimes Act for not removing alleged lese majeste contents posted by others from its webboard quickly enough, was postponed to February due to the floods. Reconciliation Meanwhile, a reconciliation programme making use of the Village Scouts, organizations very active in the 1950s in the fight against communism. Yingluck Shinawatra set up a 21-member committee chaired by Kowit Wattana, the deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, to oversee the Bt600 million programme. The panel would hold functions to promote loyalty to the monarchy, among other activities aimed at bringing about unity and reconciliation. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said (The Nation, 07/10/11) Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, was permitted to enter the country on October 10.
Economic and Social Policy
Policy implementation The implementation of the tax refund for first-home buyers was discussed amid suspicion that the scheme would work in favor of SC Asset Corporation where Yingluck was a top executive before entering politics. The case rests with the office of the ombudsmen.
The implementation of the minimum wage raise was again delayed, creating discontent in the workerâ€™s population. Some 1,000 workers marched to Government House to submit a petition asking Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to honour her promise to boost the minimum wage to 300 ThB a day nationwide. The promised policy was later revised to include only seven provinces around Bangkok and start on the 1st of January 2012. The 15,000 ThB per month entry-level salary for graduates with a bachelor's degree was also not implemented.
IV. Floods The worst floods in more than half a century hit Bangkok at the end of October. Throughout the month, the threat that Bangkok would be inundated grew. By the end of the month, the subject of the floods, especially in Bangkok, had eclipsed all other news reporting. A special meeting of the House of Representatives was called to discuss the flood situation on October 26 and 27 and declared a public holiday during which many people left the capital, some even leaving the country. An atmosphere of fear gradually enveloped Bangkok residents, as the massive runoffs waters from the north gradually penetrated Bangkok. People parked their cars first in elevated public parking lots, and when these were jammed full, on any available high ground, notably bridges and elevated highways, limiting traffic to one out of four lanes on most of them. By the end of the month, offices had closed in Bangkok, refugee centers were opened in Don Muang and other parts of the country, supermarkets were out of supplies including drinking water, and Bangkok residents lived in fear while people in most provinces in the north and northeast tried to cope with the aftermath of the floods. Why the floods ? Heavy monsoon rains started in July in many provinces in the North of the country. About 20 billion cubic metres fell this rainy season. I late June already, the tropical storm Haima hit Nanâ€™s province, leading a lot of water into the Sirikit dam on the Nana river and preventing the Bhumibol dam on the Ping River to release stored water. Another tropical storm followed, striking the north and the northeast at the end of July, so more water was taken in the Sirikit dam. Then in August there were southwestern monsoons bringing heavy rainfall. Then in September the tropical storm Haitang and typhoon Nesat hit Thailand, forcing the Sirikit and Bhumibol dams to release water downstream. According to the Royal irrigation Department, in mid-September the water overflows from the spillways of the Chao Phraya damn in Chai Nat province, which is the last line of defence in regulating water un the Chao Phraya. The Bang Chom Sri sluice gate breaks on September 13 along with others and water floods the river plains. By mid-October there is 15,000 million cubic metres of water in the plains, heading to Bangkok. By the end of October, about 20 million. The water is being released into the Gulf of Thailand at the rate of about 500 million cubic metres a day. According to Science and Technology Plodprasop Suraswadi, FROC operations centre head and also the Science Minister, there were three main reasons for the heavy floods. 1- The first mistake was the retention of too much water in Bhumiphol and Sirikit dams. The water level in both dams this year was higher than usual, yet the Irrigation Department decided in June not to release much water, allegedly to keep water for second-crop rice cultivation and to prevent drought in the summer. When too much rain started flowing in, they had to release large amounts of water.
2- The second factor was the rainy season came one and a normal. 3- The third factor was this year's rainy season has lasted a practically every day, filling up reservoirs, dams, and fields time. The amount of rainfall this year is about 30-45% average.
half month earlier than long time. It has rained more or less at the same greater than the annual
Floods and political conflict
This picture made the cover of most newspapers. It shows the attempt of cooperation between the prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Pheua Thai and her predecessor, Democrat Abhisit Vejjajiya. However, cooperation proved to be more and more difficult when difficulties grew harsher. Indeed, between the Pheua Thai government, its Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) and the Democrat-headed Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, lack of coordination and even open conflict were displayed on television on a daily basis. MR Sukhumband Paribatra, Bangkok Governor from the Democrat Party, was criticized as refusing to open sluice gates to inundate his city because of the upcoming governorâ€™s election next year in which he intends to seek reelection. It was reported that some agencies were ordered by the government to open all floodgates for full water drainage but later checks found they did not comply. Yingluck Shinawatra refused to invoke the emergency decree, amid suspicion that she feared giving emergency powers to the army, and instead decided to invoke an Interior Ministry disaster regulation that toughened her legal leverage against the semi-independent BMA, the disaster prevention law. Section 31 of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act (2007) gives the prime minister full control over officials around the country, including in Bangkok. Under the law, all officials must report directly to the prime minister as the director of the relief operation. Those who refuse to follow orders can be prosecuted for malfeasance or serious dereliction of duty. Following the invocation of the law, the premier ordered the BMA to open all sluice gates in Bangkok to allow the overflow from the North to pass through the city and on to the sea.
Rumours that the governmentâ€™s orders to open sluice gates were not followed by the BMA unfolded. Images of Yingluck crying and begging residents to accept the governmentâ€™s orders to open the sluice gates circulated. Flood management Replacing the Emergency Operation Center for Flood, Storm and Landslide established in August 2011, a Flood Relief Operations Command under the direct command of the Prime Minister was set up at Don Muang Airport to coordinate the delivery of aid. The Pheua Thai government first used the Bang Rakam Model (basically setting up one-stop flood relief centers) for tackling the floods, which failed to work. When the situation worsened, it established the Flood Relief Operations Command (FROC) to coordinate relief. The FROC has two parts - the operations centre, headed by Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee, and the joint-command centre, headed by Transport Minister Sukampol Suwannathat.At the top of the chain of command, the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who assigned Justice Minister Pracha Promnok to act on her behalf.
The Organigram of the FROC (picture taken at the FROC center, Don Muang airport) shows that the Prime Minister is at the top of the chain of command (in red). Don Muang Airport, where the FROC was headquartered, flooded in late October. FROC operations apparently had little time to evacuate, and video soon emerged (broadcast on television and widely circulated on social network websites) apparently showing large stocks of abandoned supplies including drinking water, boats, bamboo rafts (built and donated by people around Thailand) and portable toilets (donated by Japan) left behind in the rising
waters. Critics pointed to the video as clear evidence of government incompetence and disregard for the people. Publicly-available information about the flood threat was poor in quality, and during the final weeks of October, Bangkok residents had difficulty gauging the threat they faced, in some cases until literally only hours before waters inundated their neighborhoods. Officials repeatedly asserted before the media that the worst threat was at some upcoming milestone (for example, high tide, or an upcoming date) only to see that milestone pass and the danger or severity of flooding continue to increase. Thus, the government was criticized for giving mixed and contradictory information, one day affirming that Bangkok would be flooded, the next day, that it wonâ€™t be affected at all. The move by Yingluck Shinawatra to place hundreds of boats on the Chao Phraya river to accelerate the flow of water into the sea was much used by cartoonists as a show of incompetency. Flood politics Other controversies included the use flood relief as a Public Relations tools for political aims or reported unequal treatment of flood victims with regards to donations based on political grounds. To flood the provinces to preserve Bangkok? Discontent about the government policy not to inundate inner Bangkok, a natural evacuation route for water into the sea, at the expense of poorer Bangkok neighborhoods and other provinces was criticized by some residents as unfair. Striking is the case of Ayutthaya, which remained under two to three meters of water for almost a month in October. The Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO World heritage Site, was flooded and the legendary Buddha head in the trunk of a Bodhi tree was immersed into water.
â€œReady to be sacrificed for Bangkokâ€? Some provinces wonder why inner Bangkok remains dry while outer Bangkok is flooded. A striking example of this is around the Khlong Prapa (drinking water) canal in the north of Bangkok near the Mongkut Wattana Hospitla. On one side, the Bangkok side, it is perfectly dry, and home to modern condominiums. On the other side, the suburban one, home to slums and mainly migrant communities, about 1.15 metres of water stagnated there for weeks. Residents have to cross the canal to go to the toilets in the dry area. However, when interviewed, most people said that it was a good thing not to inundate Bangkok because otherwise they would not get the relief aid they needed. With the lasting floods came severe sanitation concerns. Even from early in the inundation of Bangkok, there were reports of residents of flooded areas taking matters into their own hands and trying to dismantle dykes or open/destroy floodgates that the saw as keeping floodwater in their areas. Police and soldiers were deployed to guard flood barriers.
The military took the opportunity of the flood to stage a public relations blitz, with commercials and television specials about how soldiers were helping the people. The military was prominent in distributing flood relief supplies and helping people evacuate from and move about in (by large truck or small boat) flooded areas. Politicians who tried to do similar PRâ€”for instance, by putting their names or the names of their parties on relief supplies and vehiclesâ€”quickly took savage criticism in the press.
At the end of October, a total of 28 provinces were affected in northern, northeastern, central and eastern Thailand, leaving more than 350 people dead. The 28 provinces are Sukhothai, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Nakhon Sawan, Uthai Thani, Kamphaeng Phet, Tak, Chai Nat, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Ayutthaya, Lop Buri, Saraburi, Suphan Buri, Nakhon Pathom, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Sakhon, Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Si Sa Ket, Surin, Roi-et, Maha Sarakham, Kalasin, Chachoengsao, Nakhon Nayok and Prachin Buri. Affected areas in Bangkok included the northern and eastern constituencies (Sai Mai, Don Muang, Laksi, Bang Khen, Lat Krabang, Khlong Sam Wa).
Thai people mobilized quickly and massively to organize help centers, to volunteer to deliver relief, to donate money and survival goods to those in need. All sectors of society participated in the national effort.