Women cham­pi­oning hu­man rights warn of threats and in­tim­i­da­tion


AT LEAST 60 hu­man- rights de­fend­ers, most of whom are women, are fac­ing ju­di­cial harassment cases in Thai­land – a wor­ry­ing fact high­lighted on the oc­ca­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day.

Thai­land joins the rest of the world celebrating the day on March 8.

“At least two women de­fend­ers have lost their lives since 2014,” said Ka­tia Ch­i­rizzi, deputy rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the United Na­tions Of­fice of the High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights ( UNOHCHR) South­east Asia Re­gional Of­fice, yes­ter­day at an event held to mark the day.

Or­gan­ised by the Thai­land’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion ( NHRC), the event in­cluded awards for six prom­i­nent hu­man- rights de­fend­ers and ad­dressed chal­lenges in their fields.

NHRC com­mis­sioner Angkhana Nee­la­pai­jit said strate­gic law­suits against pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion ( SLAPP) had hin­dered hu­man­rights de­fend­ers’ ef­forts.

“Used by both pri­vate firms and gov­ern­ment agen­cies, th­ese law­suits cause con­cerns and fear. They have also posed a bur­den as the ac­cused have to find money to fight their cases,” she said.

Angkhana said if SLAPP suits were not stopped, ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency in the coun­try would suf­fer.

“We have to push for an an­tiSLAPP law,” she said.

Many of yes­ter­day’s award win­ners had faced some form of in­tim­i­da­tion and harassment as a re­sult of their hu­man- rights work, Ch­i­rizzi said.

The NHRC has com­mended six women and women-re­lated or­gan­i­sa­tions for their prom­i­nent work: BUKU Foot­ball Club – Pat­tani Cam­pus, which was es­tab­lished by the Stu­dent Union of Prince of Songkla Univer­sity; Four Re­gion Slum Net­work pres­i­dent Nutcha­nart Than­thong; ENLAW Foun­da­tion man­ager Su­pa­porn Malailoy; Dararat Suthes, di­rec­tor of the state- run Phang Nga Child and Fam­ily Shel­ter; Thai PBS Tele­vi­sion se­nior reporter Hathairat Pha­holtap; and the Em­power Foun­da­tion.

In her re­marks re­gard­ing per­se­cu­tion of hu­man-rights de­fend­ers, Dararat re­ferred to how she had helped a Ro­hingya vic­tim sue a man who had lured her from a state-run shel­ter and sex­u­ally at­tacked her.

“But that agent had ties with a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial. In the end, the vic­tim was pres­sured not to go to court. My team ended up fac­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion for al­leged traf­fick­ing of Ro­hingya,” she said. “But be­cause my fi­nan­cial records are clean, I was cleared. Such pres­sure has dis­cour­aged sev­eral of­fi­cials from fight­ing for what is right when fac­ing chal­lenges or ob­sta­cles.”

Hathairat said she had once faced men wield­ing guns while cov­er­ing news in Songkhla prov­ince.

“Af­ter my re­port on op­po­si­tion against a plan to set up a power plant there went on air, I re­ceived threat­en­ing calls,” she said.

Nucha­nart said she had been sum­moned to an “at­ti­tude ad­just­ment” camp be­cause of her role in help­ing peo­ple who had been evicted.

“No mat­ter where we are, we are so­cially and po­lit­i­cally in­volved. My goal is to fight so­cial in­jus­tice,” she said.

Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a forced evic­tion at the age of 22, Nucha­nart has since worked for hous­ing and land rights of the poor.

Em­power Foun­da­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mai Chanta said her foun­da­tion had fought for the pro­tec­tion of sex work­ers’ rights.

“We do not de­mand any spe­cial treat­ment. We just de­mand what a hu­man de­serves,” she said. The award from the NHRC was proof that sex work­ers had hu­man rights and dig­nity at a time when their liveli­hoods were still seen as il­le­gal, she said.

For her part, Su­pa­porn said she had hardly faced any le­gal threats, prob­a­bly be­cause she was a le­gal ex­pert.

“But I am wor­ried about lo­cal peo­ple. Dur­ing the past three years, af­ter I have come back from trips to ed­u­cate peo­ple about the law, I have re­ceived re­ports that of­fi­cials have started mon­i­tor­ing the par­tic­i­pants in my ac­tiv­i­ties.”

BUKU Foot­ball Club – Pat­tani Cam­pus may seem like an un­ex­pected win­ner at first glance.

But on a closer look, the foot­ball team stands out from oth­ers be­cause it pro­motes gen­der equal­ity, wel­com­ing fe­male foot­ball play­ers to the de­light of many girls and women.

“I en­joy play­ing foot­ball. I am glad that I have a field to en­joy my favourite sport. Else­where, boys take all the fields. I hope I will be able to be­come a foot­ball coach one day,” club mem­ber Nu­ra­hay­a­tee Yu­soh said.

Hu­man-rights de­fend­ers re­ceive their awards yes­ter­day at an event held to mark In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, which is cel­e­brated world­wide today.

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