The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) began this week and will last until the 31st of August. This is where independent experts meet to monitor the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and issue “concluding observations” to the State party by the session’s end. Much more specific than the Human Rights Council, the sole focus is on issues of discrimination and how to remedy them.

At the informal meeting that took place this morning, we heard from Thai NGO representatives on the main issues of discrimination in their country. Thailand is home to 62.83 million people comprised of some 62 different ethnic groups. It is imperative to hear from the grassroots and to understand the NGO perspective, which was the purpose of the informal meeting that we attended today.

Three different NGOs were represented from various parts of Thailand and the main issues that they brought to the forefront were statelessness, the rights of migrants and indigenous people, and the use of martial law in some areas of the country. This correlated closely with Thailand’s official country report, which classified four main groups to be focused closely upon:

(a) Ethnic groups – consisting of The Highlands people, The “Chao Lay” or “Sea Gypsies”, the Malayu-descended Thais, and other ethnic groups;

(b) Displaced Thais;

(c) Persons overlooked by surveys (“Unsurveyed Persons”), Persons with Identification Status Problem, and Rootless Persons;

(d) Alien Population – consisting of Displaced Persons of various ethnicities, Migrant Workers, and people who flee from fighting in neighbouring countries.

NGO reports

To complement the country’s report, the NGOs issue shadow reports which help to convey a deeper understanding of the issues that marginalized Thais, or those that reside there, face. The goal of the findings is to generate recommendations that will ideally lead to fuller implementation of the laws that protect from discrimination.

The problem of statelessness must be implemented from the top levels and this is something that the Thai government has attempted to address. Yet the number of stateless people has remained steady over the past ten years. It stands at around 540,000 people. Without citizenship, these people do not have access to basic services such as healthcare. This issue affects countless numbers of immigrants and displaced persons. The large numbers of migrant workers who have come from nearby countries such as Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, for example, have limited rights and have been exploited in terms of labor.

An NGO from Southern Thailand expressed concern that the Muslim population that resides there is being targeted through a system of martial law that seemingly applies only to them. Administrative detention, racial profiling, and arbitrary arrests were mentioned as issues plaguing this population.

Furthermore, many of these people living in the south are actually refugees, but since Thailand is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR), Thailand continuously refers to them as “displaced persons”.

Women in Thailand

Regarding women, it was mentioned that there are severe limitations on their ability, in some regions, to access justice mechanisms. Oftentimes, redress is not sought due to the fear of deportation or arrest for those who are undocumented. Documented migrant workers often stay in abusive situations because their legal status depends on staying within a certain area and leaving the area could result in deportation.

Gender/sexual violence, sex trafficking and prostitution remain major issues that mainly affect women and children—oftentimes those from a lower socioeconomic class or marginalized ethnic groups are the most vulnerable. It was noted that many cannot return home after being trafficked and some end up disappearing altogether. The country report remarks that this may occur due to the issue of dislocation from original localities, and the discrimination and violation of rights that stem from this. This places migrants and displaced persons at a high risk.

We appreciated a remark made today by the International Commission of Jurists’ representative regarding women in Thailand. They affirmed that the women’s issues mentioned must be addressed in arenas such as CERD, and not reserved only for CEDAW. Issues affecting women are not only “women’s issues”—they are discrimination issues as well, such as in this case, and should be addressed under this pretext. The rights of women must be protected under all treaty bodies.

Lastly, there is some controversy over jurisdiction in displacement camps where “camp committees” deal with internal issues. There is uncertainty over whether certain offenses go through the Thai legal system or through the camps’ jurisdiction particularly on issues of rape and gender-based violence. Islamic law is respected in some camps, yet this can have negative effects for women in terms of divorce, marriage, and inheritance issues.

For more information

The aforementioned issues only cover a small portion of what was discussed. If you want to know more about Thailand in terms of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, please check out the country report.