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The Thai government's pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council to respect human rights and restore democratic rule have been mostly meaningless, Human Rights Watch said today. Thailand appeared before the council for its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on May 11, 2016. The UPR is a UN examination of the human rights situation in each country.
On February 12, the Thai government submitted a report to the Human Rights Council, saying that it "attaches utmost importance to the promotion and protection of human rights of all groups of people." However, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta has severely repressed fundamental rights with impunity, tightened military control, and blatantly disregarded its international human rights obligations.
"The Thai government's responses to the UN review fail to show any real commitment to reversing its abusive rights practices or protecting fundamental freedoms," said John Fisher, Geneva director. "While numerous countries raised concerns about the human rights situation in Thailand, the Thai delegation said nothing that would dispel their fears of a continuing crisis."
The NCPO junta, led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, has engaged in increasingly repressive policies and practices since taking power in a May 2014 coup. Central to its rule is section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, which provides the junta unlimited administrative, legislative, and judiciary powers, and explicitly prevents any oversight or legal accountability of junta actions.
Instead of paving the way for a return to democratic civilian rule as promised in its so-called "road map," the junta has imposed a political structure that seems designed to prolong the military's grip on power. A draft constitution, written by a junta-appointed committee, endorses unaccountable military involvement in governance even after a new government takes office.
The government has enforced media censorship, placed surveillance on the Internet and online communications, and aggressively restricted free expression. It has also increased repression against anyone openly critical of the junta's policies or practices. For example, in April, military authorities detained Watana Muangsook, a former minister, for four days for posting Facebook comments opposing the draft constitution, for which a referendum is scheduled for August 7.
Since the military takeover, the government continues to prosecute those it accuses of being involved in anti-coup activities or supporting the deposed elected government. At least 46 people have been charged with sedition for criticizing military rule and violating the junta's ban on public assembly. On April 28, eight people were arrested and charged with sedition and computer crimes for creating and posting satirical comments and memes mocking General Prayut on a Facebook parody page.
The government has made frequent use of Thailand's draconian law against "insulting the monarchy." The authorities have brought at least 59 lese majeste cases since the May 2014 coup, mostly for online commentary. On December 14, 2015, the junta brought lese majeste charges in military court against a man for spreading sarcastic Facebook images and comments that were deemed to be mocking the king's pet dog. Military courts have imposed harsh sentences: in August 2015, Pongsak Sriboonpeng received 60 years in prison for his alleged lese majeste Facebook postings (later reduced to 30 years when he pleaded guilty), the longest recorded sentence for lese majeste in Thailand's history.
Since the coup, the junta has summoned at least 1,340 activists, party supporters and human rights defenders for questioning and "adjusting" their political attitude. Failure to abide by an NCPO summons is a criminal offense subject to trial in military courts. Under junta orders, the military can secretly detain people without charge or trial and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment. The government has summarily dismissed allegations that the military has tortured and ill-treated detainees but has provided no evidence to rebut these claims.
The government has increased its use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians - mostly targeting political dissidents and alleged lese majeste offenders. Since May 2014, at least 1,629 cases have been brought to military courts across Thailand.
Thailand's security forces continue to commit serious human rights violations with impunity. No policy makers, commanders, or soldiers have been punished for unlawful killings or other wrongful use of force during the 2010 political confrontations, which left at least 90 dead and more than 2,000 injured. Nor have any security personnel been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses related to counterinsurgency operations in the southern Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala provinces, where separatist insurgents have also committed numerous abuses. The government has shown no interest in investigating more than 2,000 extrajudicial killings related to then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's "war on drugs" in 2003.
Thai authorities as well as private companies continue to use defamation lawsuits to retaliate against those who report human rights violations. The authorities have also brought trumped-up criminal charges against human rights lawyers to harass and retaliate against them. For example, on February 9, Bangkok police brought two charges against human rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri connected to her representation of pro-democracy activists in June 2015. There has been no progress in attempts to bring to justice perpetrators in the killing of land rights activist Chai Bunthonglek in February 2015, and three other activists affiliated with the Southern Peasants' Federation of Thailand, who were shot dead in 2010 and 2012.
In November 2015, an international accrediting body recommended downgrading the status of Thailand's National Human Rights Commission based on concerns about its ineffectiveness, lack of independence, and flawed processes for selecting commissioners.
Thailand signed the Convention against Enforced Disappearance in January 2012 but has not ratified the treaty. The penal code still does not recognize enforced disappearance as a criminal offense. Thai authorities have yet to satisfactorily resolve any of the 64 enforced disappearance cases reported by Human Rights Watch, including the disappearances of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in March 2004 and ethnic Karen activist Por Cha Lee Rakchongcharoen, known as "Billy," in April 2014.
Although Thailand is a party to the Convention against Torture, the government's failure to enact an enabling law defining torture has been a serious impediment for enforcement of the convention. There is still no specific law in Thailand that provides for compensation in cases of torture.
Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Thai authorities treat asylum seekers as illegal migrants subject to arrest and deportation without a fair process to make their claim. The Thai government has forcibly returned refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution, in violation of international law and over protests from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and several foreign governments. These include the deportation of two Chinese activists to China in November 2015 and 109 ethnic Uighurs to China in July 2015.
Thai authorities have regularly prevented boats carrying ethnic Rohingya from Burma from landing, providing rudimentary assistance and supplies and returning them to dangerous seas. In May 2015, raids on a string of camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border found Rohingya had been held in pens and cages, abused, and in some cases killed by traffickers operating with the complicity of local and national officials. Thailand hosted an international meeting to address the thousands of Rohingya stranded at sea. However, unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, Thailand refuses to work with UNHCR to conduct refugee status determination screenings for the Rohingya, and instead holds many in indefinite immigration detention.
The Thai government has stepped up anti-human trafficking measures. However, migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos remain vulnerable to abuses by traffickers facilitating travel into Thailand, and employers who seize workers documents and hold workers in debt bondage. New temporary ID cards issued by the Thai government to migrants severely restrict their right to movement, making them vulnerable to police extortion. Trafficking of migrants into sex work, bonded labor, or onto Thai fishing boats for months or years remains a pressing concern.
"No one should be fooled by the Thai government's empty human rights promises," Fisher said. "UN member countries should firmly press Thailand to accept their recommendations to end the dangerous downward spiral on rights by ending repression, respecting fundamental freedoms, and returning the country to democratic civilian rule."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"The recent catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the crash of two Boeing 737 Max jets demonstrate the real-world consequences of inadequate or capriciously enforced safety regulation and oversight. We can't add radiological releases from U.S. nuclear plants to this list."
In the wake of another nerve-wracking outage at a Russian-held Ukrainian nuclear energy facility this week, 90 groups and dozens of individuals wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden expressing "grave concerns regarding security at U.S. nuclear power plants."
"We commend and wholeheartedly support your administration's much-needed efforts to make nuclear plants in the Ukraine war zone more secure in the face of daunting political and military challenges," states the letter, spearheaded by Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) and sent to the White House Wednesday. "This work protects not only Ukraine but the entire planet."
"Our concern is that the security of U.S. nuclear power plants does not seem to be receiving a commensurate amount of attention, neither from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), nor the administration," the coalition explained. "Worse, your administration is also seeking to expand the nuclear industry in dangerous ways that compound nuclear plant security threats."
"Attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here."
While the letter argues that given the associated security threats, "federal funding should prioritize scaling up renewables, storage, efficiency, and transmission upgrades, so as to phase out nuclear power as quickly as possible," it also calls for immediate action.
"Nuclear plant security MUST begin at home," the groups declared, urging the U.S. government to "learn the lesson" from Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) since Russian forces invaded Ukraine early last year—that "attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here."
"The recent catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the crash of two Boeing 737 Max jets demonstrate the real-world consequences of inadequate or capriciously enforced safety regulation and oversight," the organizations asserted. "We can't add radiological releases from U.S. nuclear plants to this list."
The coalition also sent the president a separate document detailing security concerns and recommendations for U.S. facilities, but the letter highlights the top takeaways:
The coalition is calling on the Biden administration to enforce "enhanced, mandatory security measures for existing nuclear facilities and spent nuclear fuel to make them less vulnerable to attack," at the cost of licensees, not U.S. taxpayers.
The groups' recommendations include changes to storage policies. The letter says that "instead of transporting it to proposed CISFs, most spent nuclear fuel should be stored at reactor sites using hardened onsite storage (HOSS)."
\u201cHoltec International, a private company that builds casks to store nuclear waste, was given a license to store the nation's entire high-level nuclear waste in NM. We spoke with Director of the Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club, Camilla Feibelman about it.\nhttps://t.co/vB4TEm4tAe\u201d— KRWG Public Media (@KRWG Public Media) 1684767759
In a statement, Kevin Kamps—a radioactive waste specialist with Beyond Nuclear, which signed the letter to Biden—took aim at Holtec International, a U.S.-based company that owns a proposed New Mexico CISF, has handled spent fuel in Ukraine, and recently signed a contract to deploy small modular nuclear reactors in the war-torn country.
"Holtec's performance in handling spent fuel has been abysmal in Ukraine and similarly abysmal in the United States," said Kamps. "That's one illustration among others that the problem is not limited to Ukraine, and that U.S. nuclear plants are subject to security threats we need to start addressing."
NEIS director Dave Kraft asked, "What sense does it make to send tens of millions of dollars to Ukraine to enhance security and safety, when our own 92 operating reactors and 90,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes are not secure?"
"What sense does it make to sprinkle the next-generation micro- and mini-nuke reactors around the nation and the world, boasting they can be mobile on flatbed trucks or housed in factories or Walmarts, when it is daily demonstrated that silent drones are capable of turning heavily armored tanks and military vehicles into shredded heaps of burning metal?" he added. "This is the real world nuclear power now exists in, and this administration is not prepared to provide the safety and security necessary for it to survive."
\u201cThe United Nations\u2019 nuclear watchdog is pushing for a last-minute agreement to secure Ukraine\u2019s huge atomic power plant in Zaporizhzhia ahead of a counteroffensive that could see\u00a0Kyiv\u2019s forces drive directly through the potentially hazardous facility.\nhttps://t.co/hcErCVkWZ8\u201d— Nukes of Hazard (@Nukes of Hazard) 1684872110
On Monday, for the seventh time since the Russians took control of ZNPP last year, Europe's largest nuclear facility was fully disconnected from Ukraine's electricity grid and had to rely on backup diesel generators. The outage lasted over five hours.
Reutersreported that a "Russia-installed local official said Ukraine had disconnected a power line and Ukrainian state nuclear energy company Energoatom said the problem was caused by Russian shelling."
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Monday's incident "demonstrates the highly vulnerable nuclear safety and security situation" at the facility and reiterated that "this simply can't go on."
"We're playing with fire. We must act now to avoid the very real danger of a nuclear accident in Europe, with its associated consequences for the public and the environment," he added. "I'm continuing to engage in intense negotiations with all the involved parties to secure the protection of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. I will not stop until this has been achieved."
"Every time disaster strikes, our healthcare workers show up for us—even when it means putting their own lives at risk. It's time we show up for them with pay and protection, not just bells and whistles."
In her first piece of House legislation, Democratic Pennyslvania Congresswoman Summer Lee on Thursday introduced a bill that would provide hazard pay, protective gear, and transportation for essential U.S. healthcare workers.
The Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act—co-sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), with a companion bill introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—would empower the Department of Health and Human Services to authorize hazard pay of up to $13 per hour or $25,000 annually per worker.
The bill would also implement additional safety measures, including the provision of personal protective equipment and alternative transportation, for essential healthcare professionals and supporting services during emergencies and natural disasters.
"We need bold action starting with the Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act to protect our healthcare workers, patients, and communities they care for."
Lee's bill is endorsed by groups including SEIU Health Care Pennsylvania, American Federation of Teachers, American College of Nurse Midwives, and the National Hispanic Medical Association.
"I've been fighting for fair wages and safe conditions for our hospital workers from my time as an organizer and state legislator all the way to Congress," Lee said in a statement. "Every time disaster strikes, our healthcare workers show up for us—even when it means putting their own lives at risk. It's time we show up for them with pay and protection, not just bells and whistles."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8Today, I'm introducing my first bill!\ud83d\udea8\n\nEvery day, #HealthCareHeroes show up for us, even when it means putting their own lives at risk. \n\nI'm introducing the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act alongside @SenMarkey to ensure critical funding for hazard pay & safety!\u201d— Congresswoman Summer Lee (@Congresswoman Summer Lee) 1685028224
During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, masks and other protective equipment for healthcare workers was often in short supply.
In addition to an elevated risk of contracting Covid-19, healthcare workers often endured grueling work schedules,
post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and other physical and mental health challenges.
"With public health and environmental crises from pandemics and train derailments to climate-driven disasters becoming more frequent and more dangerous, we need bold action starting with the Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act to protect our healthcare workers, patients, and communities they care for by providing the hazard pay and safety tools they need to continue to keep our loved ones safe during emergencies," Lee said.
"Healthcare workers are on the frontlines of our nation's dual public health and climate crises."
Markey said that "healthcare workers are on the frontlines of our nation's dual public health and climate crises, treating and tending to communities hit hardest by extreme weather and environmental disasters."
"These heroes deserve more than our gratitude—they deserve better pay and stronger protections," he added. "I am proud to join Rep. Lee in introducing the Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act to ensure healthcare workers who are responding to these emergencies are provided hazard pay and given the safety tools necessary to protect patients and themselves."
"Every option on the table from the MAGA House majority leaves millions of vulnerable seniors worse off—either extreme cuts against seniors' health and food security, or a manufactured default crisis that delays Social Security checks."
As the U.S. edges closer to a self-inflicted economic disaster whose most immediate cause is House Republicans' refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless President Joe Biden agrees to slash social programs and give the fossil fuel industry more handouts, the earliest potential victims of the GOP's hostage situation—which could provoke the nation's first-ever default as early as June 1—are coming into view.
"Seniors nationwide are on the frontlines of the fight to raise the debt ceiling, because if the federal government can't make a June 2 payment slated for Social Security recipients, the oldest beneficiaries—those over 88—and people with disabilities will be the first to suffer," The Washington Postreported Wednesday amid ongoing negotiations. "Roughly $98 billion worth of benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid, and military and civil retirement payments, are scheduled to go out in the first two days of June, according to an analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center."
"Social Security benefits are distributed four times a month, but the earliest round of payments go to retirees older than 88 years, as well as people with disabilities and seniors with especially low incomes—and less than $2,000 in assets—who are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)," the Post noted. "Even a weeklong holdup, economists say, could be devastating for the roughly 27 million Americans who rely on Social Security for most of their income. Food insecurity and poverty rates will almost certainly rise, and people will probably forgo medical treatments, as families struggle to make do without necessities."
"There's no fallback if these checks are late," Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the newspaper. "These are people who are literally not allowed to have emergency savings."
Progressives have long accused House Republicans, who know full well that failing to increase the federal government's arbitrary and arguably unconstitutional borrowing limit prior to the quickly approaching default "X-date" would unleash devastating impacts domestically and globally, of weaponizing the nation's credit rating to advance their reactionary agenda. With a five-seat House majority and the ability of any party member to introduce a motion to remove the speaker—a rule the far-right Freedom Caucus secured in exchange for electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to the role—the GOP has significant leverage over the fate of the U.S. and world economy.
Earlier this week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) admitted that his party, led by the House Freedom Caucus to which he belongs, is exploiting the ongoing standoff in a bid to gut the nation's already meager welfare state and weaken its embryonic climate policies.
Referring to the austerity-or-default bill House Republicans approved last month, Gaetz told reporters, "My conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don't feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."
\u201cMatt Gaetz says that Republicans "don\u2019t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."\n\nWho is that hostage?\n\nSocial Security \u2014 and everyone who relies on it.\u201d— Social Security Works (@Social Security Works) 1685026405
Soon after the passage of the Limit, Save, Grow Act, the White House abandoned Biden's earlier refusal to hold debt ceiling negotiations and began signaling its openness to certain GOP proposals, only for McCarthy to make even more extreme ransom demands and constantly move the goal posts.
As the Post reported: "Republicans in Congress have maintained that they don't want to cut Social Security benefits, though at least one recent budget blueprint calls for raising the eligibility age for full retirement from 67 to 70 to account for longer life expectancies. The GOP has also proposed a host of cuts and additional work requirements for other federal benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps, that experts say would have an outsize impact on the country's seniors."
In a Thursday statement, Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick said that "every option on the table from the MAGA House majority leaves millions of vulnerable seniors worse off—either extreme cuts against seniors' health and food security, or a manufactured default crisis that delays Social Security checks many can't live without."
Biden and House Republicans have yet to reach an agreement. According to Thursday reporting from The Associated Press on the contours of a possible deal, the GOP may abandon its demand to further boost military spending in favor of maintaining the already historically high levels proposed by Biden, while Biden may agree to roll back Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding if the GOP lets his administration funnel that money into the social safety net.
The fact that Capitol Hill's deficit hawks are eager to attack the poor but don't support reducing the ever-expanding Pentagon budget or hiking taxes on corporations and the rich to increase revenue exposes the "fraudulent" nature of their current crusade, journalist David Sirota tweeted.
Rescinding the recently enacted IRS funding boost would help wealthy households evade taxes, adding an estimated $114 billion to the federal deficit. Meanwhile, House Republicans are reportedly working on legislation that would make permanent certain provisions in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Trump-era law whose benefits have flowed overwhelmingly to the top 1% while adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.
On Thursday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) sounded the alarm about House Republicans leaving the Capitol with no debt limit agreement reached just days before the X-date.
\u201cWe are days away from Republicans hurtling our economy towards a devastating default on our debt for the first time in American history and @SpeakerMcCarthy just sent everyone home.\u201d— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1685036582
Tlaib, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), was echoing warnings made Wednesday by CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Deputy Chair Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), both of whom said that some Republicans are eager to create an economic crisis because they think it would help their electoral chances next year.
Notably, the latest episode of fiscal brinkmanship could have been avoided had Democrats listened to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressives who called on the party to raise the debt ceiling—or abolish it altogether—when it still controlled both chambers of Congress last year.
Corporate Democrats refused to act during the lame-duck session despite Warren's warning that GOP lawmakers desperate to win the White House in 2024 will "blow up the economy" and run ads blaming Biden for it.
A growing number of congressional lawmakers—including prominent progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have implored Biden to invoke his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a default, an option the president has thus far resisted.
On Thursday, Social Security Works and Indivisible led more than 30 progressive advocacy groups in urging Biden to take executive action to disarm the debt ceiling.
\u201cIf the GOP insists on catastrophic cuts or a disastrous default, President Biden should prepare to act using the 14th Amendment to protect working families. Read our letter w/ @SSworks \ud83d\udc47\ud83d\udc47\u201d— Indivisible Guide (@Indivisible Guide) 1685032177
"The choice facing the executive branch is clear: Act or default; act or increase the suffering of millions; act or go into economic tailspin," says the letter. "If Republicans in Congress prove unwilling or unable to produce the votes for a bill that avoids default without catastrophic cuts to critical programs, it will fall to you to protect working families from their economic sabotage."
"You have promised to prevent a default, without granting legitimacy to the legislative hostage-taking being undertaken by congressional Republicans," the letter concludes. "Fortunately, the 14th Amendment provides a clear route for you to deliver on that promise. We will stand with you should that route prove necessary."