Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2009

Losing Ground: Human Rights Defenders and Counterterrorism in Thailand

Eric Biel, Neil Hicks, Michael McClintock

January 2006

Human Rights First


Thailand emerged as a leader in democracy and human rights in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. But respect for human rights has lost considerable ground over the last five years. Reverting to authoritarianism and a growing disregard for human rights, the government has allowed human rights defenders to become increasingly subject to violence and harassment. Defenders under threat include grassroots activists targeted by local elites for pursuing economic and social justice, as well as those persecuted for their criticism of abuses by the state, especially in the conflict-ridden southern provinces. In the south, where a violent insurgency and the government response to it has claimed more than a thousand lives, human rights defenders play an important role in addressing detentions, torture, disappearances, and other human rights violations.

Over the last five years, Southeast Asian governments contended with a genuine threat from terrorists and insurgents in ways that often exacerbated existing conflicts and undermined respect for human rights and the rule of law. A global emphasis on security, often with insufficient regard to human rights, as well as the goodwill gained by the Thai authorities from cooperation on counterterrorism, largely insulated Thailand from criticism for its human rights violations and has encouraged authoritarian trends.