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Eliminating Discrimination

7 August 2012

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.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

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In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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