Nearly six years ago when the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to create a new human rights body, Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General at the time, welcomed what he called an “historic resolution … that gives the United Nations a much-needed chance to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world”. It is indeed a blessing that the Human Rights Council has begun to prove itself quite capable of living up to its mandate, for example, through its enhanced capacity to respond to human rights crises in places like Libya, Syria and Côte d’Ivoire. The ongoing 19th Session of the Council which runs from 27 February to 23 March 2012 will allow further discussion and debate on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria which is of highest concern for a number of countries. Also significant is the fact that the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which has been hailed as the “crown jewel” of the Human Rights Council, would be completed during this current session.
The contributions of individual member states have been crucial in moving the Council forward and, as a member of the Council since 2010, Thailand itself has tried to be a responsible member by taking a progressive and constructive approach in its engagement with the human rights body. In fact, when Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul met with Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the sidelines of the High Level Segment of the Council’s 19th Session, the latter congratulated Foreign Minister Surapong on Thailand’s achievements in promoting and protecting human rights. During Thailand’s Presidency of the Human Rights Council, it encouraged the Council to work closely with all stakeholders and led the crucial exercise of reviewing the Council’s work. The country not only strengthened the rights of vulnerable groups -- through the support of the first resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity and bringing to the HRC’s attention the situation of women in prisons -- but also initiated a resolution to build common ground on the value of technical cooperation in enhancing human rights at the national level.
The development of the Council’s more assertive and effective approach to dealing with human rights crises took place almost in parallel to the Arab Spring – the wave of pro-democracy demonstrations that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly spread throughout the Arab world. The convening of the Council’s Special Session to consider the human rights situation in Libya under the Thai presidency was a testimony of the continued relevance of the Council to deal with urgent human rights crises. Thailand’s responsibility in addressing serious human rights situations across the globe has been consistent and reaffirmed again at this 19th Session. In his statement delivered at the High Level Segment of the Council’s 19th Session, Foreign Minister Surapong underscored the need for the Council to take decisive action when faced with pressing and urgent situations. He therefore urged the Council to act with unity of purpose to prevent a further deterioration of the on-going humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Foreign Minister Surapong also emphasized the need for the Council, in general, to work on the basis of consensus while being guided by a spirit of dialogue and engagement. Experience has shown that the Council’s work was most effective in cases of cross regional initiatives where states worked together across regions to come up with initiatives aimed at advancing human rights. This allowed the Council to focus on solutions and avoid polarization. Therefore, Thailand encourages the Council to pursue further efforts to enhance a cooperative approach, particularly on country situations. In this regard, Thailand, as a moderate voice within the Council, is well positioned to act as a bridge builder amongst different regional groups. The issue of Myanmar is a case in point, on which Thailand is working closely with both EU and ASEAN countries to promote discussions towards a constructive resolution which acknowledges the significant progress made in a fellow ASEAN country, while calling on the international community to enhance its encouragement to Myanmar in areas of economic and social development. Thailand believes that fair recognition of the positive efforts made by the Myanmar Government is important to nurture the domestic reform process and create a favourable environment for genuine cooperation. It is also important for the international community to help ensure that the democratization process in Myanmar is irreversible. However, this should not be done only through political statements but also through concrete and supportive actions as well.
The Council’s 19th Session will also mark the official end of the first cycle of the UPR mechanism, which has seen all 192 UN member states in the first cycle undergo a peer review of their human rights record. Thailand has engaged in the review process with the firm conviction that the UPR can contribute to real change on the ground. The review has given Thailand the opportunity for soul searching and redressing some of its human rights issues in an inclusive manner. Thailand has accepted most of its recommendations and taken home some of them for serious consideration. As a testament to Thailand’s commitment on human rights pledges made, Thailand has withdrawn its reservation to Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is in the process of withdrawing interpretative declarations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as a reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Thailand has also recently become a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Preparations for the visits of the UN Special Procedures are underway after standing invitations have been issued to all mandate holders.
The achievements of the Council have shown that it is the collective effort of states from all regions that will make a difference to the lives of those suffering from human rights violations. While no regional group or state alone can define the direction that the Council will take, the Council’s collective response will nevertheless be shaped by the individual actions of its members. On its part, Thailand is fully committed to contribute in moving the Council forward to more effectively promote and protect human rights, and it is with this genuine conviction that Thailand will stand for election to the Council once again for the term 2015 – 2017.