Op-Ed for Human Rights Day by UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand
Luc Stevens, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Thailand
On International Human Rights Day
10 December 2016
Stand Up For Someone’s Rights Today
Almost seven decades ago today, the international community agreed on a ground-breaking document which recognises inherent dignity and equal rights for all people, everywhere, under all circumstances. December 10 each year is observed across the globe as Human Rights Day. It commemorates the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. It has since been regarded as one of the most significant documents which, for the first time, articulated the fundamental human rights to be universally enjoyed and protected by all.
Amidst the global phenomenon of rising authoritarianism, shrinking democratic spaces, increasing inequalities and growing aversion to dialogue, this day serves as an important reminder to renew our resolve to realise the human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone as enshrined so powerfully in the UDHR. This year, we mark Human Rights Day with the campaign: “Stand Up for Someone’s Rights Today,” as a call on everyone to be active global citizens, to take action for rights in their daily lives, for themselves and others, and to take a stand for humanity.
Thailand, as well as its people, have been an active member in the UN human rights bodies, from having served on the Human Rights Council to the recent appointment of a Thai national, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, as the first UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to lead efforts in protection of LGBTI rights around the world.
Moreover, Thailand also has a vibrant civil society whose work contributes greatly to strengthening human rights in the country through advocacy at all levels. An illustrative case of such contribution, among many others, is their collective contributions as a stakeholder earlier this year to the country’s second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is a regular State-driven process to review the human rights records of all UN Member States.
We are pleased to see the Thai government has taken steps to lift some restrictive measures which have been imposed in the past years, including ending trial of civilians in military court — and we hope that this measure will be implemented retroactively in the near future. At the UPR final adoption session, Thailand agreed to accept over 187 of 249 recommendations. The United Nations encourages Thailand to take this opportunity to fulfil its international commitment and more importantly advance promotion and protection of human rights by rigorously implementing these recommendations to ensure full enjoyment of human rights by all people in Thailand.
In effort to escape the middle-income trap, Thailand is now pushing for a new economic model described as Thailand 4.0 aimed at transforming the country into a value-based economy. Great opportunities exist to advance Thailand in ways that benefit all people and as Thailand moves swiftly with this great aspiration it must be recognised that fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and rights to peaceful assembly and association, must never be at stake in the process. Importantly, the rights of those dedicated Thai citizens who work to improve social, political and economic conditions in the country need to be equally respected.
It is also noteworthy to mention December 10 coincides with national Constitution Day, marking the first promulgation of a constitution in Thai political history, back in 1932. With a new constitution soon coming into effect, Thailand is also moving closer to achieving full democracy. The country is now in the process of preparing organic laws governing the new political system and paving the way for general elections. This process can only be successful if it is based on an open and inclusive dialogue whereby people of diverse opinions can openly and honestly participate in discussing Thailand’s sustainable future, guided by international human rights and democratic norms and principles.
In the spirit of this year’s campaign, the call to make a stand for rights may very well be extended to governments. They play a crucial role in supporting an enabling environment in which people can express freely and defend the rights that matter to them.
Even after 68 years of the UDHR, we recognise the fight for the promotion and protection of human rights continues in all countries of the world. As individuals, we must defend the rights we believe in, doing every little bit that we can, so that all people can live more happily and healthfully. With each of us, we can champion change by taking action. So, together, let us take a stand for someone’s rights today.
*Luc Stevens is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and leader of the UN Country Team in Thailand