Thailand Institutional Protection Mechanisms for HRDs

Brief compilation of the main mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders in Thailand.

a.         National Human Rights Commission of Thailand

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) was accredited as B status in 2014 from the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI-SCAIn 2020, GANHRI-SCA conducted another accreditation process of the NHRCT. Protection International, in collaboration with a number of other groups, opposed upgrading NHRCT’s status to A because of the institution’s continued failure to effectively protect rights, its continually poor performance, and its politically compromised independence, all of which fall substantially short of the minimum international standards mandated in the Paris Principles. In March 2021, GANHRI-SCA decided to defer the consideration of the NHRCT’s application for re-accreditation for 18 months. The NHRCT has provided negligible interventions in cases of violations of human rights defenders rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, such as the arbitrary arrest and intimidation of P-Move, as well as the dozens of cases of judicial harassment by the Thammakaset farm. NHRCT’s approach is to selectively intervene on some high-profile W/HRD cases, when in reality it should be acting on all cases. For example, in the high-profile case of Mr Lertsak Kumkongsak, the environmental human rights defender who received death threats, and Dam Onmuang, the land rights defender of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand who suffered an attempted murder, the NHRCT acted inadequately. By simply reporting these incidents to government agencies, like the Ministry of Justice, the NHRCT is not fulfilling its role to protect HRDs at high risk.[1]

b.         Ministry of Justice’s Justice Fund

In 2015, the Government of Thailand codified the Justice Fund, a government program that provides financial support or expenses for legal aid, litigation, prosecution, legal execution and provides protection to persons who are deprived of their rights and liberty. However, the process for accessing the Justice Fund remains complex and appears arbitrary, leading to the majority of eligible candidates not receiving assistance. From 2006-2014, the Justice Fund granted assistance to just 43% of those who applied. Only 26 of the 440 applications from community WHRDs to the Justice Fund were approved. The Justice Fund and other remedies remain largely unknown to the general population, and we do not know of any legal literacy education provided for women yet. Furthermore, women are reluctant to report gender-based violence, and women from marginalized communities, such as women with disabilities, women from the Southern Border region, and women sex workers, face additional hurdles in accessing justice and remedies.[2]

c.         Royal Thai Police 

In some cases where Protection International engaged the Royal Thai Police to protect the rights of HRDs, they partially complied or temporarily acted. In general, they still lack an understanding of their obligation as duty bearers to protect HRDs. For example, in the case of Mr Dam Onmuang, the land rights defender from the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand, PI and the community HRDs repeatedly requested the provincial and local police to provide security and protection to Mr Onmuang while the trial of the gunman was ongoing. However, they failed to meet our minimal requests to set up a police security checkpoint, claiming a lack of police resources.

d.         National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights

The Action Plan for Human Rights Defenders is one of four key areas of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP), yet there have not been any concrete steps taken to effectively protect or recognize the work of HRDs. The NAP and subsequent articles regarding judicial protections do not have the status of law. They are merely resolutions by the executive branch of the Thai government and are considered a “by-law” pursuant to Section 3 of the Act on Establishment of Administrative Courts and Administrative Court Procedure B.E. 2542 (1999). They carry no judicial weight or enforcement capacity. 

f.          Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) and Judicial Protection Mechanisms

Since 2017, more than 200 WHRDs have been charged with crimes. Most of the complaints have been lodged against urban poor women facing eviction. The second largest group of victims has been women defending land and natural resources of their communities.  These cases have been filed by, amongst others, mining corporations, palm oil companies and some state-run agencies.  Frequently, instead of supporting and protecting WHRDs, the Thai government enables companies to engage in judicial harassment and other forms of intimidation.

In 2019, Articles 161/1 and 165/2 of the Criminal Procedure Code were also introduced to try and address such SLAPP lawsuits and other similar forms of judicial harassment. These amendments allow a court to dismiss and forbid the refiling of a complaint by a private individual if the complaint is filed “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts in order to harass or take advantage of a defendant.” However, these new articles have not been effective. Terms such as “bad faith” are not defined in the law, and it is left to each court’s discretion. All applications by HRDs to invoke Article 161/1 to date have been denied.

Under Section 21 of the 2010 Public Prosecutor Organ and Public Prosecutors Act, public prosecutors have the authority to not prosecute complaints brought with the intent to harass, intimidate, or retaliate against human rights defenders or others. However, this is a lengthy procedure and not only up to the public prosecutors alone. It is not clear whether adequate resources and support have been provided to the Attorney-General’s Office to exercise their powers effectively and efficiently.

There is also no clear procedure or provision for fining or otherwise penalizing businesses who have been found guilty of trying to resort to judicial harassment of HRDs. We urge the State to prevent all threats and harassment. Those responsible for attacks on defenders including judicial harassment must be held accountable. Those found to fail to uphold their duty of care to support and protect HRDs must face political, financial and judicial consequences.


[1] [Joint Statement] Thailand: Strengthen National Human Right Commission before Accreditation Upgrade, 16 December 2020, https://www.forum-asia.org/?p=33462

[2] Protection International, 2020 CEDAW Progress Report Card, p. 27. https://www.protectioninternational.org/en/policy-maker-tools/2020-cedaw-progress-report-card