Defending a region’s rights can be a balancing act
Bangkok Post, 14th October 2009
Sriprapha Petcharamesree has been endorsed as Thailand’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
The 53-year-old yesterday spoke to Achara Ashayagachat immediately after being given the three-year AICHR posting.
How will you live up to the different expectations of the civil society and the government?
Expectations vary from one country to another. Launching the commission is a state obligation and needs the involvement of more than one ministry, not just the Foreign Ministry alone. There are also other ministries and agencies that have a role to play in promoting human rights, including the National Human Rights Commission .
Regionally, the AICHR is expected to serve as a link between the state and the civil sector. It could even be asked to offer advice and technical assistance on how to organise fair and free elections in Burma next year.
Do you feel the agency has a limited scope of authority, and what are its shortcomings?
As a voice of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I think we should only defend Asean when we really need to in the international arena, but not if they are not taking good care of their people as the spirit of the Asean charter demands. Neither should member states expect the AICHR to act as their mouthpiece if things are not in line with our mandate.
If you ask me whether I feel heavy-hearted or am afraid of conflict, the answer is no.
This is because the Asean governments and the AICHR share the same goals in promoting and protecting Asean people’s rights.
But I need to make clear that I am not the representative of the Thai government but of the Thai civil sector, which was involved in the selection process.
For controversial terms of reference, we may have to borrow Dr Vitit Muntabhorn’s guidelines which state that things that are not prohibited (by the terms) are not forbidden.
I try to encourage myself to interpret our job description more creatively so that we will not be easily discouraged. After all, the promotion aspect remains important in the region.
We could gather information and commission certain bodies to prepare studies on such issues as child soldiers – now also a problem in southern Thailand – migrant workers, violence against women, human rights violations, and development projects.
How could the AICHR and the NHRC collaborate?
The NHRC has a larger mandate as it can receive petitions and undertake investigations, while we could not move on such things without the consent of the hosts. Yet, I believe there are issues that carry cross-border impacts which the NHRC cannot grapple alone. On issues like dam construction impacts, such problems are rather common in the region, and the AICHR is in a good position to handle them.
How will the AICHR get started?
After the Asean leaders meeting in Cha-am next week, Thailand as the chair of the meeting will propose the establishment of a human rights fund.
I realise that from NGOs’ point of view, Burma might be on top of the agenda. But there are also other more important issues to be addressed, and we need to make sure none of the member governments are offended.
What will happen if the AICHR’s consensus is not in line with the governments’ expectations?
Autonomy is important, but communications and consultation with Asean foreign ministers is also key.
Are you afraid of losing your identity as a strong and principle-oriented person?
I certainly do not like to compromise my principles but will offer my cooperation in working out the details and the procedures.
I don’t have the diplomatic skills to compromise if those skills mean I must offer blank promises without an honourable commitment. Certainly, it is not an easy job.