10 Nov 2021
Opening Statement by
H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi,
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
at the Third Cycle of Universal Periodic Review of Thailand
during the 39th Session of the UPR Working Group
10 November 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Royal Thai Government, I wish to first of all underscore the importance we attach to the Third Cycle of Universal Periodic Review of Thailand and the opportunity to present our report to this Session of the UPR Working Group.
The Thai delegation today consists of representatives of various government agencies, namely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Office of the National Security Council, and the Royal Thai Police. Other agencies have been involved in the preparation of the National Report and are also following the discussion through the UN webcast.
The UPR’s importance lies not only in terms of content, but also in the aspects of process and dialogue. Therefore, in preparing our National Report, dialogues between and among different stakeholders have been carried out. The outbreak of COVID-19 has of course made this current cycle all the more challenging as we reached out and listened to the views of all affected groups to promote and protect human rights in the country.
To gather inputs, hearings in five different regions of the country were conducted throughout 2020 and 2021 to engage various stakeholders and members of civil society. Six focus group discussions were also held, engaging line agencies on a wide range of issues.
The National UPR Committee, comprising representatives of various government agencies and independent human rights experts, has met on a regular basis to review implementation of the UPR Action Plan, which is integrated within our National Human Rights Plan. The National Report and the framework for considering recommendations and the voluntary pledges that we will make have also received Cabinet approval.
Allow me to begin by reiterating one of the main guiding principles in our policy on human rights. Thailand sees “sustainable development” as closely linked and intertwined with human rights. The lens of sustainability integrates Thailand’s aspirations to achieve human security, raise standards, enhance status and advance valuable synergies for all people living in the country.
Thailand believes that sustainability can be possible when everyone and every sector is empowered and can participate meaningfully in society and governance.
Accordingly, Thailand takes a comprehensive perspective of human rights and prioritises concrete measures to assist those most vulnerable in society. During the spread of COVID-19, Thailand has enlarged social safety nets and created new schemes to support people in vulnerable situations. These include support in the form of grants and programmes to co-fund wages and help low to middle-income citizens affected by the pandemic. Social and legal services, including 24 hour counselling services, have also been made available during the lockdown for those who may seek, and are in need of, support.
COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups have underscored the importance of having a strong health system and access to, and affordability of, basic health care. Thailand has continued to invest in and make progress towards achieving the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Our Universal Health Coverage (UHC) currently covers 99.8 percent of the country’s population, including ten million workers. The Government has pledged to make basic healthcare accessible for foreigners living in Thailand regardless of their legal status. Health insurance is available at affordable prices for migrant workers and their children. Investment in UHC continues to contribute to the advancement of the SDGs, in particular SDG3, while helping to strengthen the country’s overall health resilience.
Thailand remains committed to further strengthening our health system and work in cooperation with various partners to enhance global pandemic preparedness and response.
On group rights, Thailand has made progress in protecting and promoting the rights and welfare of children through a multidisciplinary approach. Special attention has been paid to updating legislation, for instance: 1) the Act on Regulating the Promotion of Food for Infants and Young Children of 2017 which implements relevant World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines; and 2) amendment to existing laws to modernise the child protection system and prevent new forms of violence against children, including child labour and pornography.
The Government had also developed the Child Support Grant scheme in 2015 with monthly subsidies for children from poor and near-poor families and subsequently increased the amount and coverage so that it now includes children under six years old.
To promote the right to education and, in line with SDG 4, significant investments has been made in the education system which made access to basic education possible for all regardless of nationality in Thailand. Furthermore, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Government has worked with all stakeholders to ensure that children continue to have unimpeded access to education, including free internet access for schools and vocational schools.
Advancement of women’s rights is at the heart of our gender equality policy. This covers: 1) Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB) and moving towards more consideration of gender balance in political parties’ list of candidates; 2) additional measures to prevent and tackle sexual harassment in the workplace; and 3) the revision of law on the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution.
Thailand continues to move forward on women in business. According to Grant Thornton’s report in 2020, Thailand had women in the very highest position of power or CEO at 24 percent, which is greater than both the Asia Pacific region’s average and the global average.
Nevertheless, much remains to be done to increase political participation of women. The Government will continue to push for more women in political leadership, including at local administration levels.
To promote the rights of LGBTI+, the Committee on the Empowerment of Families has amended its definitions related to family to include same-sex couples. Significant developments in legislation also include on-going efforts to revise the law on gender equality and/or developing a specific law on civil partnership.
Managing an aging society has become a national agenda, with preparation of the 3rd National Plan on the Elderly focusing on realising active ageing goals. Thailand is reviving employment for the elderly by extending the retirement age of civil servants from 60 to 63 by year 2024 and focusing on economic empowerment through skill development.
Beyond economic empowerment, additional measures have been introduced to assist abused and exploited elderly persons, which includes physical and mental rehabilitation and reviewing laws and regulations.
On disabled persons, as pledged during the last UPR cycle, in 2019 Thailand became party to the Marrakech Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.
Thailand has also promoted the vision of “persons with disabilities enjoying full access and living independently in society, together and sustainably” in all aspects through the 5th National Plan on the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.
Thailand has made proactive efforts to protect the way of life and cultural rights of ethnic groups, address racial discrimination and at the same time, enhance understanding of cultural differences.
In particular, the ongoing development since 2017 of the first draft law on the protection and promotion of the way of life of ethnic groups aims to further advance principles and guidelines for the protection of ethnic groups and build a clear and effective system for their participation.
It is important to note that Thailand does not use the term “indigenous persons” as the context is not applicable to Thailand, but we accord full legal recognition and non-discriminatory treatment for all 62 ethnic groups in the country.
Thailand continues to manage various groups of migrants and displaced persons with due respect to their rights and our commitments to relevant international obligations and humanitarian principles.
Hosting around 2-3 million migrant workers from neighbouring countries, Thailand is broadening our cooperation with respective countries of origin through MoUs to protect their rights and prevent exploitation.
Thailand is recognised for its efforts to end statelessness in the country. The revision of guidelines issued by the Ministry of Interior in 2019 has helped pave the way for coordination with the Ministry of Education and education institutions to accelerate registration of all non-Thai students into the national civil registration system. Thailand is committed to continuing to promote the human rights of stateless persons, particularly in education, social protection, and access to birth registration.
On civil and political rights, we continue to respect freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly, while acknowledging that there remain some challenges in implementation. Be that as it may, freedom of expression must be exercised in a constructive and appropriate manner, which also applies in the context of COVID-19.
The Government has tried to accommodate all movements advocating for reforms and amendments of the Constitution or any other laws by providing space for candid exchanges of views and engaging a wide range of sectors in society. Like in many countries, we see the importance of the inclusion of young people’s voices in as many processes related to them or of interest for them as possible. We will work more on promoting inter-generational dialogues where people from different generations can learn from each other in order to create a constructive and conducive environment for national development.
Thailand has been working on a draft Act on the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, which will serve as the key mechanism for strengthening our implementation of the Convention against Torture (CAT) and promoting ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Since the submission of the National Report, further developments have taken place. The draft Act is now under the consideration by the Special Commission of the Parliament, with the participation of independent experts and members of civil society.
The visit of the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises to Thailand in 2018 led to the adoption of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Thailand was the first country in the Asia Pacific to do so, and we are expanding cooperation with different partners, including with UNDP in seeking ways forward to protect human rights defenders from strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP). The Global Compact Network Thailand and the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) have also played an active part in promoting awareness of the public and private sectors on the importance of conducting business with due respect to human rights and sustainability.
The significant progress during this UPR cycle that I have touched upon has to be balanced against certain setbacks, in particular as a result of COVID-19. We thus see many parts of our human rights efforts as work in progress, and this work needs to continue.
Among others, there is a recognition that intensive debate on the role of cyberspace will continue in Thai society. Managing information flows in cyberspace while maintaining the people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as confidence and trust building between the Government and the general public, will become even more vital.
I hope I have touched upon human rights developments that are of interest to our friends and colleagues. We thank delegations for their advance questions, which will be addressed by my delegation as part of the interactive exchanges.
Thailand is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, and looks forward to having a constructive dialogue and to learn from our friends during this important peer review. We also pledge to continue to work closely with all partners after this Session to constantly make progress in various areas and address the human rights challenges that remain.
I thank you.
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