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FOCUS June 2012 Volume Vol. 68

Human Rights Center for Thailand

Jefferson R. Plantilla

The Ministry of Justice of Thailand adopted a plan to establish a human rights center as part of the implementation of the second National Human Rights Plan of Thailand (2009-2013). The planned human rights center would have the following objectives: (1) To create a database (electronic version) on human rights information covering all types of relevant information and statistics; (2) To create “knowledge management space” (a place that provides human rights information in print, digital and other forms to people, and also a place for learning human rights) for those who are interested in human rights; (3) To conduct human rights training for relevant stakeholders; (4) To compile lessons learned from related agencies; and (5) To exchange information, knowledge and experiences among those working on human rights around the world.
In order to understand how existing human rights centers operate, the Ministry of Justice of Thailand organized a two-day international seminar on the subject on 22-23 March 2012 in Bangkok.1 Representatives of the following human rights centers attended the seminar: Africa - Legal & Human Rights Centre in Tanzania (LHRC), Gulf region - United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Center for South-West Asia and Arab Region (Doha Centre), Europe - Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), Southeast Asia - Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC), Thailand - Center for Human Rights and Social Development Studies (CHRSD), the Philippines - Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), Japan - Asia- Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA), and Australia - Castan Centre for Human Rights Law (Castan Centre).

Human Rights Center Experiences

The human rights centers represented in the seminar have varied experiences due to the different mandates, objectives and target groups. They fall under the following types of human rights centers:

a. University-based centers - NCHR, Castan Centre, CHRSD, and HRRC;
b. Non-governmental centers - LHRC and PhilRights
c. Government-supported centers
a. Local government, at least partially – HURIGHTS OSAKA
b. Intergovernmental (United Nations) – Doha Centre.

These human rights centers cover different target groups and provide a variety of services:

a. Target groups

1. marginalized sectors
2. non-governmental workers and organizations
3. national human rights institutions
4. subregional human rights bodies
5. academic community
6. governments, and
7. United Nations agencies, programs and funds.

b. Services

1. legal assistance
2. education (formal and non-formal)
3. research and documentation
4. information dissemination
5. law reform
6. consultancy service, and
7. international cooperation.

Among the university-based centers, two (NCHR, Castan Centre) are linked to faculty of law/law school, while the rest have broader mandate. HRRC is a regional structure (network of universities in Southeast Asia) and thus functions mainly to address subregional concerns. The same is true of NCHR, which was established as both university-based institution and a national human rights institution. However, NCHR will cease to function as a national human rights institution in view of stricter rules of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Among the non-governmental centers, one is a legal assistance/resource center that covers human rights issues (LHRC) and another is a research and training arm of a network of human rights organizations (PhilRights).
While having a special consultative status as a non-governmental organization with the United Nations’ Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC), HURIGHTS OSAKA works closely with the local governments in Osaka in view of the support they have provided in its establishment.
The Doha Center, on the other hand, is unique for being a subregional center of the United Nations (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) for the Arab region (covering part of Africa, whole of West Asia and part of South Asia).
It is notable that despite differences in mandates, structures, and target groups, these human rights centers are largely similar on two programs: human rights promotion (from education to policy development), and research. Many of them also operate at subregional, regional and international levels (NCHR, HRRC, CHRSD, and HURIGHTS OSAKA).

Seminar Discussions

During the seminar, the human rights center representatives raised a number of issues regarding the establishment of a human rights center in Thailand.
They stressed the need to define clearly the distinction between the planned government- supported human rights center and the existing National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), which would facilitate better cooperation between them. This issue has already been noted by the Ministry of Justice of Thailand in its 2011 report on the implementation of the national human rights action plans.2 The report cites cooperation between government institutions and other institutions including NHRCT as one of the challenges being faced. The NHRCT has also stressed in its Strategic Plan of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (2002-2007) the need for cooperation with relevant government agencies that are involved in human rights work (as mandated by the 2000 National Human Rights Policy Master Plan of Action).
The human rights center representatives also cited the need for the planned human rights center to have the capacity to do research and disseminate human rights information in an objective manner. This can fall under the “neutral” character of a human rights center, which means being focused solely on pursuing the protection, promotion and realization of human rights as defined by international human rights instruments.
This also implies that the planned human rights center should be guaranteed access to relevant information in government records, and authorized to use them in its work.
An overly broad policy of treating government data as confidential would restrict the capacity of the planned human rights center to assess the situation in an objective manner.
Necessarily, the planned human rights center should be able to criticize the government based on data analysis and international human rights standards.
Other issues raised by the human rights center representatives relate to the following:

a. Capacity of the planned human rights center to gather existing resources (information, materials, expertise, etc.) and to mobilize them in its activities;
b. Role of the planned human rights center in increasing the capacity of the judiciary, law enforcement officials, members of parliament and their staff, and other actors in applying human rights standards in their respective areas of work;
c. Need for a continuing emphasis on the international human rights commitments of the government and the stress on universality and other principles of human rights.

The Director General, Mr. Pithaya Jinawat, of the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection, the main agency tasked with the preparation for the establishment of the planned human rights center, presented a summary of the presentations and discussions in the seminar.
He noted that such a human rights center should have human rights database, be a knowledge-based resource center, be useful for human rights policy development and work, and protect the human rights of both Thais and non- Thais.
He noted the need to further consult stakeholders on the plan to establish a human rights center.
While there is still much to discuss regarding the nature, mandate, powers and functions of the planned human rights center, the plan itself constitutes a move in the right direction as far as human rights are concerned.

Jefferson R. Plantilla is the Chief Researcher of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.

Endnotes

1. International Seminar on Human Rights: “Human Rights Center: Possibility and Way Forward,” held at the Rama Gardens Hotel, Bangkok.
2. Department of Rights and Liberties Protection, Development of the National Human Rights Plans of Thailand (Bangkok, Ministry of Justice, undated), page 26.
3. The 2002-2007 Strategic Plan of the NHRCT discusses the relationship between this plan and the National Human Rights Plan (2001-2005), and the National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESD Plan) (2002-2006). See The Strategic Plan of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (2002-2007), page 39.


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