U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Thailand

Thailand is a democratically governed constitutional monarchy that until 1992 had a history of military coups and powerful bureaucratic and military influences on political life. Since 1992 there have been four national multiparty elections, which transferred power to successor governments through peaceful, democratic processes. The King continues to exert strong informal influence, but has never used his constitutionally mandated power to veto legislation or dissolve the elected House of Representatives. The country adopted a new Constitution in October 1997. There is a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. A coalition Government, led by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai's Democrat Party, was formed in November 1997, following the resignation of prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. The judiciary is independent, but is subject to corruption. The security forces have wide-ranging legal powers, derived primarily from past militarily controlled administrations. Since 1992 the armed forces have become increasingly professional and increasingly subject to civilian control. Their influence in politics has been diminishing. The Royal Thai Police have primary responsibility for internal security and law enforcement. Elements of both the armed forces and the police have a reputation for corruption. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Thailand is a newly industrializing country with a strong tradition of private enterprise. However, state enterprises continue to play a significant role in bureaucratic and economic culture. A severe financial crisis led to devaluation of the currency in July 1997. Economic growth during the year was negative, and annual per capita income, which peaked at $3,000 in 1996, has fallen by one-third. Although industrial and service sectors contribute more than half the Gross National Product, approximately 60 percent of the population is rural and agrarian. The economic downturn led to high urban unemployment. Government regulations generally provide protection for individual economic interests, including property rights. However, lack of transparency in bureaucratic decisionmaking and a gap between regulation and enforcement sometimes leads to uneven commercial treatment for favored firms and institutions. Some areas of the Government are subject to corruption. Government efforts to close the gap between urban and rural living standards largely have been ineffective, and groups of farmers occasionally expressed their grievances in large demonstrations in Bangkok. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, some significant problems remain in several areas. Police officers killed a number of criminal suspects while attempting to apprehend them and killed prisoners in custody during escape attempts. The Government investigated some members of the security forces who were accused of extrajudicial killings, but remained reluctant to prosecute vigorously those who committed such abuses. Police occasionally beat suspects, at times to coerce confessions. An ingrained culture of corruption persists in many parts of the civilian bureaucracy and the security forces. Routine demands for bribes undermine the rule of law and permit a climate of impunity for various illegal activities, such as income tax evasion, gambling, trafficking, goods smuggling, and prostitution. Enforcement of a broad range of laws and regulations by police continues to be noticeably lax. Conditions in immigration detention facilities are poor, and lengthy pretrial detention and the prolonged detention of aliens remain problems. The judiciary suffers from corruption, and at time security forces infringed on citizensâ privacy rights. The media practiced some self-censorship, and there were some restrictions on freedom of movement. Although the new Constitution led to new laws that increased legal protections for women and the disabled, some legal discrimination remains. Societal discrimination against women, violence against women, trafficking in women and children, forced prostitution, and societal discrimination against ethnic minorities persist. Illegal and forced child labor also remain problems. The new Constitution provides for the establishment of a permanent National Commission on Human Rights; however, at times the Government hindered the activity of human rights groups.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings by government agents. However, legal organizations, reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOâs), and the press continued to provide credible reports that some police officers used lethal force in apprehending criminal suspects. In the climate of increasingly prolific and violent narcotics trafficking, police officers continued to use deadly force during some arrest attempts. At least 81 criminal suspects were killed during arrest attempts between January and November. Police also killed seven prisoners during attempts to escape from custody. In January prison guards shot and killed four inmates attempting to escape from the Bangkok remand prison. The Corrections Act allows prison guards to fire on a group of three or more prisoners who are armed, harm officials, or refuse to surrender. However, local legal associations claimed that the guards responded with excessive force. Police investigated the incident and subsequently charged four guards with homicide; they were released on bail. The Government investigated some cases of extrajudicial killing. However, it prosecuted few police or military officers accused of such abuses. Through November, 38 cases in which government officials had been accused of extrajudicial killing were brought to court; no officials had been convicted by yearâs end. Routine exoneration of police officers contributes to the climate of impunity that is a significant factor in preventing any major change in police behavior. This also discourages relatives of the deceased from pressing for prosecution. Families rarely take advantage of a provision in the law that allows personal law suits against police officers for criminal action during arrest. During the initial police inquiry, most police investigations routinely determine that police took no wrongful action; judges generally follow the prosecutor's recommendations. If pursued by the family, the case is handled by the same office--in some instances by the same prosecutor--who already has ruled that no criminal action occurred. There is no information available to determine how many cases are settled out of court. However, in cases in which suits are filed, the official charged often compensates the family of the deceased, and the law suit is waived. Some law suits filed during the year remained under consideration at yearâs end. In September the police department revived an investigation into the 1996 case of the killing of six suspected drug dealers in police custody in Suphan Buri. Pretrial hearings to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to try the police officers involved were ongoing at yearâs end. The case of the 1996 killing of environmental protester Thong-in Kaew-wattha is still under consideration by the courts, and there were no developments in the unsolved 1995 death of conservation activist Winai Chantamanao. However, the Chaiyaphum provincial court ruled that the 1996 killing of farmer activist Joon Bhoonkhuntod during police arrest was unjustified. The court is considering whether to pursue criminal charges against the police officer involved in the killing. The officer remained in active service. In January Muslim separatist organizations in the south carried out bomb attacks that resulted in several deaths. On January 1, a grenade attack on a New Year party in Yala killed three persons; there were no arrests. On January 2, assailants ambushed a police car in Pattani, killing two policemen and a girl who was hit by stray gunfire. Four Muslim separatists surrendered, and police are pursuing further suspects. In March Burmese troops entered Thailand to destroy a displaced personsâ camp; they killed two persons before retreating into Burma (see Section 2.d.). Thai forces did not engage the Burmese troops.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. There were no developments in the 1994 disappearance of environmental activist Suchada Khamfubutra nor the 1991 disappearance of Labor Congress of Thailand president Thanong Po-an. There were no developments in investigations into the whereabouts of the remaining 38 prodemocracy protesters listed as missing following the military forcesâ suppression of demonstrations in May 1992. Most, if not all, are presumed by family members and NGOâs to be dead. In July the Supreme Court overturned two lower court rulings in a case brought against then-commanding General Suchinda and other members of the military and police forces. The Supreme Court ruled that the defendants are not protected in this case by a 1992 amnesty.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading

Treatment or Punishment The Criminal Code forbids cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, NGOâs and legal organizations continued to report that some police occasionally beat suspects in order to coerce confessions. Security forces in border areas at times beat persons. In January a lawyer's association petitioned the House Committee on Human Rights to conduct a hearing on a case in which three members of the New Pattani United Liberation Organization (New Pulo), a separatist movement, allegedly were beaten in detention by security agents. Neither the Committee nor other authorities moved to investigate the charges; the prisoners are in detention at a medium security prison at the Lard Yao prison complex in Bangkok. Local NGOâs and Members of Parliament assisted several female suspects to pursue legal action against police officers whom they accused of raping them in detention. In February authorities suspended a police sergeant from active duty and charged with rape after a medical examination confirmed that a 14-year-old female prisoner had been assaulted sexually while in custody. In July the media continued to call for government action in the 1997 case of four Lao women who were raped in the Rayong district police station; three of the officers involved in the incident were transferred to inactive posts. The police department investigated the actions of three additional senior officers allegedly involved and determined that two of the officers were not guilty. The third officer was found guilty of negligence of duty and received limited disciplinary action described as "confinement" at the police station for a period of 3 days. The police station chief, who had not been under investigation initially, also received 3 days' confinement. No monetary fines were imposed on the two officers found guilty of negligence of duty, nor were criminal charges brought following the results of the internal police department investigation. In January police used force against a disorderly protest staged on a highway in Bangkok by workers from an auto parts factory. Prisons are severely overcrowded; conditions are Spartan but in general they do not threaten the life or health of inmates. Sleeping accommodations and access to medical care remain areas of concern that require continued attention to meet minimum international standards. Medical care in prisons is inadequate. To care for a total prison population of 176,114 inmates, the Corrections Department employs only 13 full-time doctors and seven full-time dentists. Three of the 13 doctors are on educational leave. The Department of Corrections eliminated 11 part-time positions of medical doctor during the year. Diplomatic observers reported that prison guards resorted to physical abuse of both Thai and foreign prisoners in response to disciplinary problems. Prison authorities sometimes used solitary confinement to punish difficult prisoners. They also used heavy leg irons randomly and without apparent cause. Credible sources continued to report that prisoners caught in escape attempts were beaten severely, and in seven cases guards killed would-be escapees (see Section 1.a.). Conditions in Bangkok's Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center (IDC) were poor, as were immigration facilities throughout the country. Immigration detention facilities are not administered by the Department of Corrections and are not subject to many of the regulations that govern the regular prison system. Overcrowding and shortages of food and water were the principal problems; the IDC's population was 2,688 at yearâs end. Conditions in provincial detention centers were significantly worse, and many detainees transferred to Bangkok arrived in a debilitated state. The Government responded by constructing two new provincial facilities with a capacity of 300 to 500 each. Some IDC detainees who cannot afford repatriation have been held for several years. Access to prisons is not restricted, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors and the Thai International Red Cross.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

With few exceptions, including crimes in progress, the law requires that police officers making an arrest have warrants, and authorities respect this provision in practice. Under the new Constitution, persons must be informed of likely charges against them immediately after arrest and must be allowed to inform someone of their arrest. While detainees have a right to have a lawyer present during questioning, they often are not informed of this right. Foreign prisoners often are forced to sign confessions and stand trial without benefit of a translator. Police also are required to submit criminal cases to prosecutors for the filing of court charges within 48 hours of arrest. However, lawyers report that police rarely bring their cases to court within this period since the Criminal Procedure Code allows police an extension period of up to 3 days. In addition, current laws and regulations place any offense for which the maximum penalty is less than 3 years under the jurisdiction of the district courts, which have special procedures; in these cases, police are required to submit cases to public prosecutors within 72 hours of arrest. There is a functioning bail system. The only legal basis for detention by the police without specific charges for long periods (up to 480 days) remains the Anti-Communist Activities Act, which was not invoked during the year. However, since April officials from the Interior Ministry and opposition Members of Parliament have argued that this law is unconstitutional. Their proposed legislation would abrogate the act; at yearâs end, their proposals remain under debate. As of October, there were 176,114 prison inmates. Approximately 42,000 were charged with narcotics violations. Approximately 15 percent of the total prison population were pretrial detainees. Pretrial detainees usually are not segregated from the general prison population. At yearâs end, there were 49 asylum seekers of concern to the UNHCR who were incarcerated in the Immigration Detention Center, of whom 41 were Burmese. Another 24 Burmese activists, arrested for demonstrations in Bangkok in August, remained in the Police Special Detention Center (SDC) in Bang Khen, Bangkok. Seven other demonstrators arrested at the same time were subsequently released into the Burmese Center (formerly the Burmese Student Safe Area) in Ratchaburi province. None of the 31 demonstrators had been formally charged, although they were detained under provisions of the Immigration Act regarding illegal aliens. One Burmese detainee, held without charge since June 1997, was released. Exile is not used as a means of political control.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, while the judiciary generally is regarded as independent, it has a reputation for venality. The civilian judicial system has three levels of courts: Courts of first instance; courts of appeal; and the Supreme Court. A separate military court hears criminal and civil cases pertaining to military personnel as well as those brought during periods of martial law. There is no right to appeal military court decisions. The newly established Constitution Court began operating in May. It is charged with interpreting the new Constitution, and provides a mechanism to implement the Charter fully. Islamic (Shari'a) courts provide due process and hear only civil cases concerning members of the Muslim minority. The Constitution provides for the presumption of innocence. Access to courts or administrative bodies to seek redress is provided for and practiced. There is no trial by jury. Trials for misdemeanors are decided by a sole judge, and more serious cases require two or more judges. While most trials are public, the court may order a trial closed. This is done most often in cases touching on national security or the royal family. Career civil service judges preside over the courts. Judicial appointments and structures are not subject to parliamentary review. Defendants tried in ordinary criminal courts enjoy a broad range of legal rights, including access to a lawyer of their choosing. A government program provides free legal advice to the poor, but indigent defendants are not provided with counsel at public expense automatically. Most free legal aid comes from private groups, including the Thai Lawyer's Association and the Thai Women Lawyersâ Association. There are no known political prisoners aside from one Muslim mullah, Sorayut Sakunnanasantisat, who is serving an unusually lengthy criminal sentence of 12 years' imprisonment for leading a 1990 political protest in Pattani. He was convicted in 1994 of offenses against the monarchy and violating national security.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or

Correspondence With few exceptions, including crimes in progress, the law requires police to obtain a warrant prior to conducting a search. Under the new Constitution, warrants must be issued by a court, rather than by the police. However, the procedures for issuing warrants are not standardized, primarily because various laws such as the Criminal Procedure Code and internal government regulations, including those that apply to the police department, have not been amended to comply with the new Constitution. Lawyersâ associations reported that police at times endorsed blank search warrants or used legitimate warrants to conduct intrusive searches outside the stated evidentiary domain. Credible sources again reported that they were subjected to a warrantless search of their premises or person by low-level police officials. The Anti-Communist Activities Act allows officials engaged in "Communist suppression operations" to conduct searches without warrants, but these powers have been invoked rarely in recent years and were not invoked during the year (see Section 1.d.). Security services monitor persons who espouse extremist or highly controversial views, including foreign visitors. Several NGOâs concerned with the welfare of women reported that hospitals and district officials automatically change the titles of expectant unwed mothers from "Miss" to "Mrs.," although it is illegal to do so, and despite the fact that these women possess no marriage or divorce certificates. Lacking these documents, the women encounter severe difficulties in obtaining official documents needed for some business and government transactions. They also report that female government officials face disciplinary action for failing to register their marriages or for having children out of wedlock.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for, and citizens generally enjoy, a large measure of freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. However, the Government may restrict these rights to preserve national security, maintain public order, preserve the rights of others, and protect public morals. In practice this rarely has been done. Laws prohibiting criticism of the royal family (lésé majeste), threats to national security, or speech likely to incite disturbances or insult Buddhism remain in place under the 1997 Constitution. The new Constitution makes it unlawful for the Government to censor, ban, license, or restrict print or broadcast media, except by specific legislation in times of crisis. There were no reported attempts to intimidate journalists who reported adverse economic news. While newspapers and periodicals practice some self-censorship, especially with regard to the monarchy and national security problems, media criticism of political parties, public figures and the Government is common and vigorous. Journalists generally are free to comment on governmental activities without fear of official reprisal. There were no reports of violence or physical retaliation against journalists for their reporting. Local media focused attention on the ingrained culture of corruption within the police forces. The Government and police department have made some effort to implement internal reforms. Under the Printing and Advertisement Act of 1941, the Royal Thai Police Special Branch issues warnings to publications for various violations such as disturbing the peace, interfering with public safety, or offending public morals. It issued 58 warnings in 1997 and 3 warnings through September. The 1941 Act permits police closure of newspapers or printing presses in times of war or national emergency, but only with a court order. No such closures occurred during the year. Domestic publications continued to present a wide range of political and social commentary. Unless critical of the royal family or the monarchy, foreign and domestic books normally are not censored and circulate freely. Police have the authority to ban the importation of publications but generally do not exercise it. Revolutionary Order Number 43, which has been in effect for many years, prohibits the public from possessing publications deemed detrimental to national security, including books written by Communists. The Legislature attempted to delete this order in many sessions during the year; the motion is still under active consideration. Radio and television stations are licensed by the Government, but regulations that are consistent with the new Constitution remain to be drafted. Most stations are operated under the direct or indirect oversight of the Government or armed forces. They enjoy the same constitutional protections of freedom of expression and speech that the print media does. Radio stations must renew their licenses every year, and their signals are broadcast via government transmitters. They are required by law to broadcast government-produced newscasts twice daily, 30 minutes each in the morning and evening. Following a merger during the year, there are two cable television networks. They enjoy almost complete autonomy under the indirect oversight of the Mass Communications Authority of Thailand. In addition a wholly independent ultra-high frequency television station managed by a private consortium including the outspoken Nation Multimedia Group began operating in 1996. Programmers are generally free to determine the content and nature of television broadcasts. However, as with the print media, self-censorship exists. Stations occasionally edit or "black out" portions of programming deemed politically sensitive or pornographic. A governmental internal censorship board exists in the Prime Minister's office, but it rarely takes action to restrict television or radio broadcasts. An antipornography law allows police to restrict or confiscate printed publications and other materials deemed obscene; the interpretation generally covers hard-core pornographic materials. Under the Film Act of 1930, theater owners and broadcasters must submit films that they plan to show to the film censorship board for review. The board can require that portions of the film be removed, or it can decide to ban the film. Reasons for censoring films include violating moral and cultural norms and disturbing the public order and national security. Theater owners and broadcasters frequently censor films themselves before submitting them to the board. The film censorship board reports that it bans 3 to 4 films out of an average of 300 films submitted yearly. Through September the board had banned two films, one for insulting Buddhism and one for containing pornographic material. Activity on the Internet remains unregulated. The new Constitution provides for the right to engage in academic pursuits, and academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The legal system recognizes the right of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. Permits are not required for private meetings or gatherings unless held on public property; these are granted routinely. The Constitution provides for freedom of association. Private associations must register with the Government; such registration is approved routinely.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is protected by law, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. In effect the state religion is Therevada Buddhism, but other religions are not restricted.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,

Emigration, and Repatriation The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their residence or workplace, and authorities respect this right in practice. Long-standing restrictions on the travel and domicile of certain Vietnamese aliens who immigrated to Thailand in 1945 and 1946 and Chinese who immigrated between 1953 and 1961 remain in place. In addition some long-term noncitizen residents, including several hundred thousand tribal persons, are required to seek permission from local authorities or the army for foreign or domestic travel. In practice authorities rarely enforce these restrictive measures, and registered resident aliens are able to move freely within the country. In 1996 the Government issued a regulation allowing illegal alien workers already in the country to register and obtain work permits for manual labor employment in 43 of the 76 provinces. From September 1996 until May 1997, over 323,000 of an estimated 700,000 to 1 million aliens registered, and over 313,000 were issued work permits. Aliens taking advantage of this regulation are allowed to work and move freely for a 2-year period, after which the Government reserves the right to deport them formally. During 1997 and 1998, in response to the economic crisis, the Government rescinded these regulations in most industries, with the exception of some sectors such as fisheries and rice milling. Additional allowances for employment of migrant labor were made in border areas. The Government deported approximately 300,000 migrant workers to Burma. Thailand continued to provide asylum to small numbers of Vietnamese and Lao asylum seekers pending their resettlement in third countries, as well as to persons unable to meet the refugee definition pending arrangements to return them to their countries of origin. There were no reports of new refugees arriving from either Laos or Vietnam and no reports that officials had turned back persons seeking asylum from those countries. Along the border with Burma, the Government generally followed its policy of providing first asylum to new arrivals, but continued to condition entry on "flight from fighting," rather than on broader grounds of persecution on the basis of race, religion, ethnic group, social class, or political opinion. Consequently, there were several thousand asylum seekers, mostly of the Karen ethnic group, who resided in Thailand but were not officially acknowledged as refugees, and were not permitted to receive assistance and protection in designated refugee camps. In addition, in March security forces failed to provide adequate protection to refugees in three camps in Tak province against intruding forces from Burma. However, there were no reports that security forces forcibly repatriated any asylum seekers to Burma. The Government continued to provide first asylum to 35,000 citizens of Cambodia who had crossed into Surin, Sa Kaew, and Trat provinces since 1997 to escape factional fighting in Cambodia. There were no reports that any persons were forcibly returned to a country where they feared persecution. There is no legislation regarding the treatment of refugees. However, the Government continued to permit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to exercise its mandate with regard to small numbers of Vietnamese and Lao asylum seekers who were mostly screened out and awaiting return to their countries of origin, as well as more that 30,000 Cambodians. For the first time, the Government officially agreed to a formal role for the UNHCR in monitoring and providing protection to about 112,000 refugees from Burma, mostly ethnic minorities, in more than one dozen sites near the border with Burma. This action was a significant expansion of the UNHCR's previous mandate, which had been limited to a few hundred ethnic Burman students at the Burmese Center, formerly known as the Burmese Student Safe Area, located in Ratchaburi province. The Government continued to restrict access to the Center to those persons from Burma to whom the UNHCR had accorded refugee status prior to mid-1996. In September the Government admitted 190 Burmese whose family members were already resident in the Center, and agreed in principle to admit several hundred other persons recognized under the UNHCR's mandate who had been awaiting entry, some for more than 2 years. However, by year's end, none of the latter group had been allowed to enter the Center. The Government also continued to allow NGO's to provide food, medical services, housing, and other services to Burmese refugees near the border. While government officials periodically arrested Burmese outside designed camps as illegal aliens, the Government did no deport any Burmese person recognized by the UNHCR as a "person of concern." In one incident, a group of Burmese dissidents, including some recognized as refugees by the UNHCR, were arrested, taken to the border and ordered to return to Burma. The group had declined UNHCR assistance and requested deportation in the belief that they would be released inside Thailand. At year's end, 45 persons of concern, including 6 Burmese dissidents, remained in immigration detention centers in the central provinces. At the Special Detention Center, 30 persons of concern remained, including 24 of the 31 Burmese citizens who had been arrested for demonstrating at the Burmese Embassy in August (see Section 1.d.).

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to choose or change their government peacefully through free and fair elections based on universal suffrage. Citizens exercised this right in 1996, in an election that was generally viewed as free but marred by widespread vote-buying, a recurrent problem in elections. The Constitution prohibits monks and nuns from voting or seeking public office. It includes provisions to place supervision of elections under an independent Election Commission. The Senate completed selection of the five-member Commission in November 1997. Under the new Constitution, voting is compulsory. Eligible voters who fail to exercise their voting responsibilities may forfeit certain rights, yet to be determined by the Election Commission. The Constitution and the 1998 Election Law allow eligible voters who are living outside their home districts to register to vote at their temporary residences, provided that they have resided there for more than 90 days. Voters who have lived in their temporary abodes less than 90 days, or those who fail to register there, must return to their home districts at election time to vote. The Constitution and the Election Law also allow citizens living overseas to vote by absentee ballot. While there are no legal restrictions on their political participation, women generally are underrepresented in national politics, especially at senior levels. There was essentially no change in the number of women assigned or elected to positions of leadership. Women make up less than 10 percent of the Senate, Parliament, and civil service. There are 22 women in the 386-member Parliament, and 8 in the 256-member Senate. There are two women in the Cabinet. No laws prohibit the participation of ethnic minorities, but few hold positions of authority in national politics. Members of ethnic minorities in the north often lack documentation of citizenship, effectively barring their participation in the political process (see Section 5). Muslims from the south hold significant elected posts in the Government, although they continue to be underrepresented in local and provincial government positions, which are appointed by the central Government. Muslims make up 4.4 percent of Parliament. There are 8 Muslim Members of the Senate, and 17 Muslim Members of Parliament, including House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of local human rights organizations operate without government restriction. The Government generally did not penalize or hinder human rights observers. However, at times the Government hindered the activity of human rights groups. For example, there are credible reports that the Government occasionally directs police units to enforce laws in monitoring the activities of human rights activists selectively. In March police forces at a debate concerning East Timor, Indonesia, required work permits for foreign guest speakers who had been invited to participate as panelists before they were allowed to speak; the panelists eventually were allowed to participate, but the debate had to be postponed. International human rights NGOâs also generally work freely on controversial problems, investigating and publishing their findings without official hindrance. The new Constitution created a provision for the establishment of a permanent 11-member National Commission on Human Rights. The Commission would be a government, rather than an independent, body, with a mandate to prepare an annual evaluation of the human rights situation for the National Assembly, propose policies and recommendations for amending laws to the National Assembly, promote measures to educate citizens on human rights, and investigate cases of human rights abuse. To carry out this mandate, the Government drafted legislation that has been discussed in several hearings in locations around the country. Local NGOâs, human rights organizations, and the local news media lobbied to increase the membership for nongovernmental organizations and to strengthen the Commission's independence and investigative powers. However, the establishment of this Commission is still pending passage of a National Human Rights Commission Law by the National Assembly. NGOâs have lobbied vigorously for the inclusion of private individuals on the selection committee and for the Committee to hold investigative power into allegations of human rights abuses. The Government responded, in part, by appointing a large number of private citizens to its 42-member National Human Rights Master Plan Drafting Committee, which was charged with developing government policies for promoting and protecting human and civil rights.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law without respect to race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. In practice some discrimination exists, and government enforcement of equal protection statutes is uneven.


Domestic abuse continues to be a serious problem affecting the welfare of many women; reliable reports indicate that domestic abuse crosses all social classes. Under the Criminal Code, spousal abuse and child abuse are covered by assault provisions, but rules of evidence often make prosecuting such cases difficult. Police do not enforce laws against such violence vigorously, and domestic violence often goes unreported. Under the Criminal Code, rape is illegal. However, a husband cannot be prosecuted for spousal rape. Male rape is considered sexual harassment under the law and carries a much lighter punishment than heterosexual rape. During the year, the Government proposed changes to the Criminal Code that would redefine the term rape to include male rape and rape within marriage. According to credible sources, another reason that rape and sexual assault are underreported is a widespread belief that law enforcement agencies are not capable of bringing the perpetrators to justice. Since 1994 a pilot project operating in three Bangkok police stations has provided female teams totaling 13 investigators to handle and encourage reporting of rape and abuses. However, one factor that may limit expansion of this program is that police and military academies still do not accept female students. Prostitution, although illegal, flourishes, is deeply ingrained, and is often protected by local officials with a commercial interest in its continuation. Thailand is a source, transit, and destination for trafficking in women and children. Government and NGO estimates of the number of women and children engaged in prostitution vary widely because of the often temporary and migratory nature of prostitution. Many NGOâs and government departments use a figure of approximately 200,000 persons, which is considered credible. These figures include estimates of children. Some women are forced into prostitution, although the number of such cases is difficult to determine. Coerced prostitution often involves primarily women from hill tribes and neighboring countries. Because foreign women frequently cannot speak Thai and are considered illegal immigrants, these women are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse, confinement, and exploitation. Some women are lured with promises of jobs as waitresses or domestic helpers, but then forced to work as prostitutes. Those women who are illegal immigrants have no rights to legal counsel or health care if arrested (see Section 2.d.). Nor do the amnesty provisions under UNHCR auspices apply. The number of Burmese and Cambodian women and children trafficked, and in some cases abducted for prostitution, reportedly increased again during the year. Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russian citizens also reportedly were trafficked to Thailand. Their illegal entry reportedly was accomplished with the complicity of local officials. According to a local NGO, girls between the ages of 12 and 18 increasingly are trafficked from southern China, Burma, and Laos to work in the commercial sex industry. The majority of prostitutes are not kept under physical constraint, but a large number labor in debt bondage. Brothel procurers often advance parents a substantial sum against their daughter's future earnings, often without the consent of the young woman involved. The women are then obligated to work in a brothel to repay the loan. The Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act of 1996 makes prostitution illegal and further states that customers who patronize child prostitutes are punishable by law. Parents who allow a child to enter the trade also are punishable. The Government and NGOâs have established vocational training and education programs to combat the lure of prostitution. However, despite occasional highly publicized raids on brothels, the Government has not enforced laws against prostitution effectively, and in many cases, brothels operate with the protection of local government officials and police. During the year, there were numerous reports of the involvement of local officials. The 1997 Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Women and Children Act increased the penalties for trafficking in women and children for the purposes of prostitution or slave labor, and provided for wide powers of search and assistance to victims. The authorities utilized these powers during the year. Shelter, rehabilitation, and reintegration programs for children involved in the sex industry are provided by NGOâs and government agencies. However, there continue to be credible reports of involvement by some corrupt police, soldiers, and government officials in trafficking schemes. The new Constitution has six gender-related articles that provide women with equal rights and protections, but inequalities remain. A man may sue for divorce on the grounds that his wife committed adultery, but a woman faces the additional legal burden of proving that her husband has acknowledged publicly another woman as his wife. Women represent 47 percent of the economically active population and hold an increasing share of professional positions. Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work regardless of gender. However, there is a significant gap between average salaries earned by men and women because women are concentrated in lower paying jobs. In practice, women also generally receive lower pay for equal work in virtually all sectors of the economy. Despite improvements in the Government's performance regarding women's rights, many NGOâs remain skeptical about women's prospects to enjoy equal opportunities or positions. In the new labor law, the term sexual harassment is vague and a coalition of NGOâs has noted that this ambiguity may make it difficult for women to pursue cases through the legal system. The term covers only women, and only those women working in the formal business sector. Women generally have access to higher education; more than half the university graduates each year are women. The Ministry of University Affairs removed the quota that favored male students who sought to enter state universities and vocational schools. The Government also acted to remove seldom-enforced regulations restricting the appointment of certain positions, including deputy district chief, district chief, deputy provincial governor, provincial governor, and the rank of general in the armed forces, to men. The Women and Constitution Network, a league of 35 women's organizations, played an important role in securing the inclusion of gender equality clauses in the new Constitution, including an article that provides that at least one-third of a House of Representatives committee drafting laws concerning women be representatives of local women's groups.


The Government took steps to promote the rights and welfare of children, and the new Constitution provided for the right of access to free public education through grade 12. However, child labor and the relatively small compulsory education requirements of 6 years remain areas of concern. The Government's 1997 Social Welfare Plan for Underprivileged People doubled the budget for children's programs for 1997-2001, compared with the previous 5-year plan. However, NGOâs and the news media reported an increase in the number of children leaving school due to the severe economic downturn. Child prostitution, including forced prostitution and trafficking of children, is a serious problem (see Section 6.c.). The Government and NGOâs estimate that there are 20,000 to 40,000 prostitutes under the age of 18. In 1996 the Government enacted a stronger law against trafficking in, patronizing, or profiting from child prostitutes. Since the promulgation of the 1996 act, government sources confirm that 352 individuals have been arrested for violating this law. As of August, 14 of these persons had been convicted and sentenced. NGOâs reported that there was a small decline in the trade in children for commercial sex; however, it is uncertain whether this decline is due to the new laws. The Criminal Code provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment provide for harsher penalties when the victim is a child. However, as with domestic abuse, police often are reluctant to investigate abuse cases, and rules of evidence make prosecution of child abuse cases difficult. In an action that elicited strong public debate, the Government proposed draft Criminal Code legislation in February that is designed to allow children to give evidence on videotape and in private surroundings in the presence of a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other social worker.

People With Disabilities

The law requires that firms hire one disabled person for every 200 other workers, but this provision has not been enforced. Employers may be exempted by contributing to a fund that benefits persons with disabilities. Nationwide, there are 7 government-operated and 10 NGO-operated training centers for the disabled. The new Constitution provides for access to public facilities by disabled persons, but laws implementing the provisions have not yet been enacted. Religious MinoritiesMuslims represent approximately 10 percent of the country's population but constitute the majority in the four southernmost provinces, which border Malaysia. Although the Government has attempted to integrate Muslim communities into society through developmental efforts and expanded educational opportunities, societal discrimination remains widespread.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Progress in integrating ethnic minorities into society is limited. Only half the estimated 500,000 to 600,000 members of hill tribes reportedly possess documentation that either identifies them as citizens or certifies their eligibility for future citizenship. The remainder lack documentation, and thus access to adequate education and health care. As noncitizens they are also barred from participating in the political process. Undocumented hill tribe persons cannot own land and are not protected by labor laws, including minimum wage requirements. Approximately 45,000 Vietnamese immigrants live in five northeastern provinces, and 50,000 Chinese, former Chinese soldiers, and dependents of a Kuomintang army that fled China after the Communist takeover, reside in the north. Both groups live under a set of laws and regulations that restrict their movement, residence, education, and occupation (see Section 2.d.). The Sino-Thai population is well integrated and do not face discrimination. Despite a strong desire for Thai citizenship, fewer than 100 Vietnamese and 3,000 to 4,000 Chinese have been able to naturalize in the last 33 years. Children who were born in Thailand of these legal permanent resident immigrants may request citizenship through district offices. These requests are granted routinely. Approximately 10,000 Vietnamese children born in Thailand have acquired citizenship in this manner, as have 8,000 Chinese children born in the country. Authorities attempted to establish the origins of about 13,000 members of the Hmong ethnic group at Wat Tham Krabok in Suraburi province.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1975 Labor Relations Act grants freedom of association to private sector workers. Workers have the right to form and join unions of their choosing without prior authorization; to decide on the constitutions and rules of these associations and unions; to express their views without government or employer interference; to confederate with other unions; to receive protection from discrimination, dissolution, suspension, or termination by any outside authority because of union activities; and to have employee representation in direct negotiations with employers. However, no law explicitly protects workers from discrimination due to their participation in organizing new unions that have not been officially registered. Union leaders report that employers often discriminate against workers seeking to organize unions. Workers in the public sector do not have the right to form unions. In state enterprises, the law allows workers in each state enterprise to form a single "association" after at least 30 percent of the enterprise's employees submit a petition to the Ministry of Labor to register such an association. These associations submit employee grievances to management and propose changes in benefits and working conditions but may not negotiate wages. Associations do not have the right to confederate or to join private sector federations. Unofficial contacts between public and private sector unions continue, however, and the Government has not interfered with these relationships. The law denies all state enterprise workers the right to strike. In the private sector, to be considered legal, a proposed strike must be approved by a majority of the union members in a secret ballot and be registered beforehand with the Ministry of Labor. In 1991 the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized labor law amendments adopted by the military-appointed legislature in March 1991 that dissolved state enterprise unions, transferred their assets, limited the number of associations that may be formed in each state enterprise, set relatively high minimum membership requirements for associations, denied associations the right to affiliate with private sector unions, and completely forbade strikes in state enterprises. The Government did not enforce the laws restrictions vigorously and sought to pass a new version of the law that would restore most rights enjoyed by state enterprise workers prior to the 1991 changes. In October the House of Representatives passed the State Enterprise Labor Relations Act (SELRA) that if enacted would have restored worker rights to state enterprise workers. In November the Constitution Court ruled the act unconstitutional on a drafting technicality. The Government stated that it would again seek to enact reform legislation in 1999. In late November, in a new session, the Government reintroduced legislation intended for enaction in March 1999. The Government has the authority to restrict private sector strikes that would "affect national security or cause severe negative repercussions for the population at large." The Government seldom invokes this provision and did not do so during the year. Labor law also forbids strikes in "essential services," defined much more broadly than the ILO criteria for such services. No strikes were disapproved during the year. The number of legal strikes has averaged fewer than 10 annually for the past 10 years. More than half the work force is employed in the unorganized agricultural sector. Less than 2 percent of the total work force, although nearly 11 percent of industrial workers, is unionized. Cultural traditions, unfamiliarity with the concept of industrial relations, and efforts by the Government to diminish union cohesiveness are often cited as the reasons for low rates of labor organization. While violence against labor leaders is rare, the 1991 disappearance of outspoken labor leader Thanong Po-an remains unsolved (see Section 1.b.). There is a legacy of corrupt public sector union leaders who were exploited by the military forces, politicians, or employers for their own purposes, but private unions generally operate independently of the Government and other organizations. Unions are free to associate internationally with other trade organizations, and they maintain a wide variety of such affiliations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The 1975 Labor Relations Act recognizes the right of private sector workers to organize and bargain collectively and defines the mechanisms for such negotiations and for government-assisted conciliation and arbitration in cases under dispute. In practice genuine collective bargaining occurs only in a small fraction of workplaces and in most instances continues to be characterized by a lack of sophistication on the part of employee groups and autocratic attitudes on the part of employers. Wage increases for most workers come as a result of increases in the minimum wage, rather than as a result of collective bargaining. The Government sets wages for both civil servants and state enterprise employees. A system of labor courts created in 1980 exercises judicial review over most aspects of labor law for the private sector. Workers may also seek redress for their grievances through the Tripartite Labor Relations Committee. Redress of grievances for state enterprise workers is handled by the State Enterprise Labor Relations Committee. Labor leaders generally did not indicate dissatisfaction with the treatment that their concerns received in these forums, although they complained that union leaders dismissed unjustly usually are awarded only monetary compensation. No separate labor legislation applies in export processing zones, where wages and working conditions are often better than national norms because of the preponderance of Western and Japan-based multinational firms.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor by all persons except in the case of national emergency, war, or martial law. These provisions generally are enforced; however, there are reports of sweatshops in the informal sector that physically restrain workers from leaving the premises. There are no estimates of how many such workshops exist, but the growing number of illegal aliens from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos increases the opportunities for such abuse. The Constitution does not specifically prohibit forced or bonded labor by children, and such practices occur. Although the law prohibits trafficking of women and children for purposes of prostitution, some women and children are forced into prostitution. Burmese, Cambodian, Lao, and Chinese women and children also are reportedly trafficked and, in some cases, abducted to Thailand for the purpose of prostitution. Although the Government passed strong antiprostitution legislation in 1996 increasing the criminal penalties for traffickers of women, owners of places of prostitution, and parents who sell their children into the sex industry, the authorities have not enforced this law effectively. There are credible reports that police, military personnel, and government officials are involved in trafficking schemes (see Section 5). For several years, the ILO has cited Thailand for violations of Convention 29 on forced labor. In 1995 it was the subject of a country "observation," but the ILO declined to make the country the subject of a special paragraph. The primary focus of ILO criticism is forced child labor, especially child prostitution. Since the ILO raised these concerns, the Government has cooperated in establishing important institutional links, particularly with the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, to address the problem.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for

Employment In August the Government raised the legal minimum age for employment from 13 to 15 years. Nearly 90 percent of children complete the six grades of compulsory education at age 12; only 60 percent of 13-year-olds are enrolled in seventh grade, although this percentage is increasing. The law permits the employment of children between the ages of 15 and 18 only in "light work", where the lifting of heavy loads and exposure to toxic materials or dangerous equipment or situations is restricted. The employment of children at night (from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.), or in places where alcohol is served, is prohibited by law. An analysis based on population and school enrollment data showed that from 850,000 to 1,480,000 children work, mostly on family farms. An estimated 240,000 to 410,000 (2 to 4 percent of children between the ages 6 and 14) work in urban employment at particular risk of labor abuse. Most children employed in urban settings work in the service sector, primarily at gasoline stations and restaurants. Child labor is not evident in larger foreign or Thai export oriented factories. NGOâs have found it difficult to gain access to the shop houses that employ children under harsh conditions to make goods for assembly in small and medium sized factories. Consequently, no comprehensive survey of child labor in this sector exists. The Ministry of Labor has increased the number of inspectors specifically responsible for child labor problems, although not all officers are engaged in full-time inspection work. Enforcement of child labor laws is not rigorous, and inspectors usually respond only to specific public complaints or exposés in newspapers. Their inclination when dealing with violators is to negotiate promises of better future behavior, rather than to seek prosecution and punishment. The Constitution does not specifically prohibit forced or bonded labor by children, and such practices occur (see Section 6.c.). The Government's attempt to address the problem of child labor by proposing to extend compulsory education from 6 to 9 years failed. Instead, the new Constitution contains provisions that provide all children with the right to free public education through the 12th grade.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite wage committee consisting of government, employer, and worker representatives agreed in 1997 to increase the daily legal minimum wage by 7.6 percent. The minimum wage ranges from $3.20 (128 baht) to $3.93 (157 baht) per day, depending upon the cost of living in various provinces. This wage is not adequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. With extended family members' financial contributions, the minimum wage provides the basis for a marginally adequate overall standard of living. Nationwide, however, more than half of workers receive less than the minimum wage, especially in rural provinces. Unskilled migrant workers, as well as illegal aliens, often work for wages significantly less than the minimum wage. The minimum wage does not apply to undocumented hill tribe members, who are likewise not protected by other labor laws. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for ensuring that employers adhere to minimum wage requirements. Despite encouragement of employees to report violations to labor inspectors, the enforcement of minimum wage laws is mixed. In August the Government mandated a uniform workweek of a maximum of 48 hours per week, with a limit on overtime of 35 hours per week. Employees engaged in "dangerous" work, such as in the chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 35 hours per week. The petrochemical industry has been excluded from these regulations. Working conditions vary widely. The rate of injury from industrial accidents has remained relatively constant over the last 10 years at 4.5 percent of the total work force. However, NGOâs claim that in the last 7 years, the average rate of work-related deaths was high at 25 per 1,000 workers. Occupational diseases rarely are diagnosed or compensated, and few doctors or clinics specializing in occupational diseases exist. In medium-sized and large factories, government health and safety standards are often applied, but enforcement of safety standards is lax. In the large informal sector, health and safety protections are substandard. There is no law affording job protection to employees who remove themselves from dangerous work situations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare promulgates health and safety regulations regarding conditions of work. Labor inspectors are responsible for enforcement of health and safety regulations; the strictest penalty is 6 monthsâ imprisonment. New provisions in the Labor Protection Law include the establishment of welfare committees, which include worker representatives, in factories employing over 50 persons. These committees are to set and review health and safety conditions in each factory. New provisions of the Labor Protection Act include expanded protection for pregnant workers with prohibitions on working night shifts, overtime, or holidays, as well as work with dangerous machinery or on boats. There were no new developments in the case of the May 1993 Kader Toy Factory fire near Bangkok.

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