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Pornpen Khongkachonkiet

CRCF in www.lepettijournal.com on Human Rights Day


On the occasion of the International Day of Human Rights (10 December 2014), Ghislain Fishmonger met for Lepetitjournal.com Pornpen Khongkachonkiet (Noi), director of the Thai Association Cross Cultural Foundation. This Thai strives daily to promote and protect human rights in the Kingdom and is concerned about the current situation

Thai born in Bangkok, I am 43 years old, single, no children. I am currently executive director of the association crosss Cultural Foundation. I work in the Thai association based in Bangkok since 2005. I have worked in the field of human rights, law and development for almost 15 years and have collaborated with Forum Asia. I hold a degree in social sciences from the University of Silapakorn and an MA in History from Thammasat University.

This is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is Thai for the protection, promotion and evaluation of human rights in Thailand. While we work in partnership with other NGOs such as the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation, the Center of Muslim Lawyers, the Association for the Prevention of Torture, the International Federation of Human Rights, Amnesty International Thailand, the Union for Civil Liberty, and with institutional bodies such as the Committee on human Rights of ASEAN, that of Thailand, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Commission of Jurists.

But we are independent. The association was founded in 2002, including Somchai Homlaor , a leading student movement against repression in 1973 and 1976, became one of the most active advocates human rights of the kingdom during the 80s and 90s. He is a lawyer and now a member of the Committee on law reform.

What are the ways of your association?
They are modest. Our team consists of 5 people at headquarters in Bangkok (one director, two administrative and two lawyers) and we have correspondents in the field, or small local associations or local volunteers that we pay on time. Our annual budget is about 10 million baht. The funds come from the Thai institutions (Ministry of Justice, Commission on Human Rights Committee of the Law Reform) or foreign partners (embassies, UN, international programs, Open Society).

Our actions aimed at fighting against violations of fundamental rights of citizens, particularly in the Muslim south affected by armed conflict, but not only. We want to improve access to justice for citizens and there is still great flexibility in this area in the kingdom.
For example, minorities who do not speak the Thai language or speak little (mountain, tribes, southern Muslims, farmers, refugees, migrant workers, undocumented or stateless persons) are systematically discriminated against, particularly in cases of land dispute, agricultural, real estate, on the rights of their community or their social rights. These populations are present mainly in rural and border areas, but not only. Take the example of Cambodian or Burmese workers in the fishing industry: their rights are violated; they have no right to social protection or labor law; their bosses are very rarely prosecuted both civil and criminal. These populations are also vulnerable in criminal cases, particularly when the perpetrators are members of government forces. Cross Cultural Foundation is striving to provide legal aid and assistance to these populations. Note role can be decisive because the Thai judicial system is very slow (serious facts dating from 2004 and 2005 have still not been tried today) and difficult to prosecute public officials. So, the victims are discouraged and no longer want to take legal action.

Sometimes we get from amicable arrangements during the proceedings that allow at least victims to obtain financial compensation (illegal employment, abuse, non- payment of wages, damages for unlawful occupation or destruction of illegal house). A victim fund was effectively implemented by the government of Yingluck Shiwanatra .

Our association also encourages victims to defend themselves in court because the strong of Thai society (people with political, economic or military) do not hesitate to bring charges against the victims who accuse, claims for defamation or dissemination false information. Overall, this leads to discouragement, especially Muslim populations in the South of Thailand: armed incidents, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment or torture complaints of false accusations, slow pace of justice. All this leads to a great sense of impunity from the powerful and uselessness of justice.

It also organizes education, information and support to other associations: We offer legal training or support for victims, for lawyers, legal professionals, legal advisors and write textbooks (eg on women’s rights, children’s rights). Finally, we carry out advocacy work: for example, we pleaded with the authorities to a deep reform of the police, justice and administration, with better dissemination of standards of human rights. We occasionally got some improvements.

We also conducted a working mobilization and advocacy for the abolition or easing of martial law applied in the Muslim south since 2004 and the Emergency Decree, which has been implemented since 2005. Martial law authorizes the military to detain a person for 7 days without presentation to a judge. Under the emergency decree, the extension of military detention is possible for a period of 30 days. This makes a total of six weeks of holding without being brought before a judge without charge against you without access to a lawyer, your record, family or doctor. It was only after 6 weeks you are released or brought before a judge to hold a trial. This is a very dangerous law, in complete violation of international conventions ratified by the kingdom. We failed in our advocacy and we are seeing national consequences today.

That is to say? How do you connect the situation in the South and that prevailing in the country?
We fought for years for the end of the emergency legislation but people do not feel it is not affected by this action. We were told that the situation of armed conflict justified these breaches of the law, that the South had particular problems that required these exceptions. Geographical distance, the fact that the local population is Muslim and journalistic coverage sometimes caricatured fed indifference. We saw this report today. The emergency legislation that has been ” tested ” and ” refined ” is now used throughout the country to restrict the fundamental rights of all Thais. Martial law which allows detention for seven days is now implemented at national level by the same soldiers who often served in the South and were promoted to national positions since because of their service. This trend is worrying for the future of the kingdom.
In the south, the administrative detention period was used by the police and the military to get information. But this has often led to the collection of misinformation and so after military mistakes, police and even criminal. In total, more than 10,000 people were arrested in this context in the South since 2004. Of course, as in any system without control abuses take place during this period of detention. There is clear evidence of torture and ill-treatment. More than 300 have been documented by us and the Association of Muslim Lawyers. And it is only those documented. There was surely more. This does not mean that the use of torture is common in the Thai army. It is chronic, however, in certain specific units, especially some task force in charge of intelligence, or in paramilitary groups. They sometimes attack journalists, community leaders, miners, defenders of human rights. The army, as a whole, tolerates such practices, or at least does not punish.

How do they react to the military involved allegations of torture and ill-treatment?

The military suspected of committing such abuses do not just challenge the facts. They consider that it affects their reputation and, more generally, that of the army. Some are determined to act in retaliation. Defamation complaints were filed. Either we defend people, or our employees are directly threatened by these complaints. Cross Cultural Foundation and I are currently subject to a criminal defamation complaint filed in May 2014 by an officer of the paramilitary unit 4 deployed in the south unit that is mentioned in one of our reports to regularly committing abuses. I was heard by the police but no indictment at this stage. It is clear that beyond my personal case, it is to intimidate NGOs working in the field of human rights. If a trial is held, we risk up to two years imprisonment and a 200,000 baht fine.