Facts About Human Rights in Thailand
Thailand, a country in Southeast Asia with a population of approximately 68.8 million, is undergoing a human rights crisis. In May 2014, a military coup d`état occurred, signaling additional political instability and human rights violations within the nation. Here are top 10 facts about human rights in Thailand.

10 Facts About Human Rights in Thailand

  1. According to the Human Rights Watch, “The military junta under Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has banned political activity and public assembly, enforced media censorship, arbitrarily arrested dissidents, and detained citizens in military facilities.”
  2. One of the most recent violations among the top 10 facts about human rights in Thailand involves the treatment of fishing industry workers. In March 2018, the Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Hidden Chains Human Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry” to raise awareness and promote change at the governmental level. Many fishing industry workers initially join freely but are later held in forced labor and abusive working conditions. The Human Rights Watch urged Thailand’s government to implement legislation against forced labor and provided recommendations for more comprehensive inspections of fishing ships.
  3. As early as 2004, the laws of war were repeatedly violated by insurgents in Thailand. Also known as international humanitarian law, the laws of war prohibit attacks on civilians.
  4. In July 2018, the Human Rights Watch reported insurgents’ use of landmines. Victims included ethnic Thai Buddhists and Malay Muslims along the southern border. In response to insurgent attacks, the Thai government also violated laws of war.
  5. In July 2016, 14 Burmese migrant workers filed a complaint regarding poor working conditions and forced labor at the Thammakaset chicken farm. Following their complaint, the workers faced defamation charges. However, the magistrates’ court acquitted the workers, finding that “the workers had filed their complaint in good faith in order to protect their rights, as guaranteed by the Thai constitution and international conventions.”
  6. As of 2017, approximately 105 people were charged and arrested for lese majeste, in other words, “insulting the monarchy.” Much of the dialogue occurs online, resulting in arrests, convictions and imprisonments. For example, in June 2017, a man was sentenced to prison for 35 years based on ten Facebook posts.
  7. The Thai government reinstated the death penalty after a brief nine halt. On June 18, 2018, a 26-year-old man was executed. According to Brad Adams, the Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch, “Thailand’s resumed use of the death penalty marks a major setback for human rights.”
  8. The Thai government denied claims of torturing Muslims detained in southern Thailand; however, TIME identified the Reconciliation Promotion Centre as the primary camp for the Thai government’s detention and interrogation.
  9. In 2006, an estimated several hundred villagers were forced to leave their lands following the announcement of the creation of a 19,100-acre sugar plantation in Cambodia. The sugar plantation was supported by Thai sugar giant Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd. (KSL) and this land grabbing signaled possible human rights violations. A complaint was issued and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) confirmed the human rights violation.
  10. Thai companies run coal mines in countries such as Myanmar. Natalie Bugalski, the Legal Director of Inclusive Development International, explained, “Coal mines are known to be among the highest-risk projects in terms of human rights, environmental and social impacts…the companies have completely failed in their duty to consult with local communities and carry out human rights due diligence.” THE NHRCT received a complaint regarding this violation.

Thai Progress in Human Rights

The Thai government agreed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture. This agreement was recorded by the Universal Period Review. The agreement is a step in the right direction.

Although the top 10 facts about human rights in Thailand are of great concern, future improvements can be seen through Thailand’s acknowledgment of recommendations by the Universal Period Review. In addition, Thailand’s poverty headcount ratio has since declined from 42.3 percent in 2000 to 10.5 percent in 2014, a fact geared towards a more optimistic future.

– Christine Leung

Photo: Flickr

In 2016, the Global Slavery Index estimated that 425,500 people, equivalent to 0.63 percent of Thailand’s total population, currently live in conditions of modern slavery.

Three Main Forms of Modern Day Slavery in Thailand

Modern day slavery in Thailand manifests in predominately three forms:

  • Forced labor
  • Commercial sexual exploitation
  • Child soldiers

The most prevalent of these forms is forced labor, specifically within Thailand’s fishing industry. Human trafficking for forced labor in the Thai fishing industry enslaves not only men and women, but also children from the Greater Mekong Subregion. In the U.S., this $7 billion industry forces those enslaved to endure brutal treatment including severe and frequent physical abuse, threats of abuse, excessive and inhumane working hours, sleep and food deprivation, forced use of methamphetamines and lengthy, confined trips at sea.

Yellow Card

After media exposés in 2014 and 2015 that showed human trafficking and brutalizations of fishers on Thai fishing boats, the country received a “yellow card” warning from abroad; this means that the nation could face a ban on seafood export to the European Union. Following the EU’s actions, the United States placed Thailand on the Tier 2 Watch List in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons report, a ranking given to governments who do not fully meet the minimum standards for trafficking elimination.

In response, the Thai government removed antiquated fishing laws and issued a new ordinance to regulate the fishing industry. It further extended the application of the key provisions of labor law regulating wages and conditions of work to fishing vessels and established in law some International Labour Organization treaty provisions through the adoption of the 201 Ministerial Regulation concerning Labour Protection in Sea Fishery Work.

Thai Reforms & Pink Cards

These efforts led to the requirement of legal documentation and accounting on crew lists of migrant fishers as boats departed and returned to port, which aimed to help end some of the worst abuses. Thailand also created the system of “port-in, port-out” which demands that boats report for inspections as they depart and return to port. The system also established procedures for inspection of fishing vessels at sea.

Other reforms have been enacted in the industry in the wake of two reports by the International Labor Organization in 2013, and the Environmental Justice Foundation in 2014. These reports led to responses by the Thai government to introduce registration documents, also known as pink cards, for migrant workers on board. The government also instituted practices to inspect ships’ crews when leaving and returning to port. Along with vessel monitoring systems, other measures have led to important improvements for fishers, including limiting time at sea to 30 days.

Room for Improvement

However the report from Human Rights Watch, “Hidden Chains: Forced Labor and Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Fishing Industry,” shows how recent reforms addressing modern day slavery in Thailand’s fishing fleets haven’t totally rid the industry of coercive labor practices.

The report also asserts that even amongst Thai government’s pronouncements to rein in human rights abuses, the instances still remain widespread; as a result, joint efforts need to be made. Although the U.S. and EU have taken steps to punish the Thai government for abusive practices, “The EU and U.S. urgently need to increase pressure on Thailand to protect the rights, health and safety of fishers.”

Challenges still remain. Overfishing in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea has forced fishing vessels to operate at greater distances from shore, traveling at times along the coastlines of Indonesia and other neighboring countries. This has led monitoring difficulties both jurisdictionally and practically. This problem is only intensified by poor registration and licensing of fishing vessels — many operate under layers of false documentation. Furthermore, the government’s system of pink card ties the fishers’ “legal status to specific locations and employers whose permission they need to change jobs, creating an environment ripe for abuse.”

Making Progress

Despite these obstacles, progress has been made. Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended the country’s progress thus far by stating, “The Government has implemented various legal reforms, policies, and strengthened law enforcement on labour protection as well as engaged closely with the private sector, non-governmental organizations and neighboring countries. As a result, there has been significant improvement in the labour situation in the fishing industry in many areas.”

Progress thus far has shown that there is hope for reform and change in Thai’s fishing industry. Through the help of international players, modern day slavery in Thailand can be defeated.

– Ashley Quigley

Photo: Flickr