Saturday, July 16, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

One must not shuffle about with the death penalty. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice published a second Human Rights Plan for the years 2009 to 2013. In section 3.1 of the plan we are informed that Parliament has discussed the death penalty, agreeing to abolish the penalty and to replace it with life imprisonment. The document originates from the Ministry of Justice. In an annex to the plan, government ministries and departments, respond to the plan, accepting its proposals. Among the signatories are Mr. Kasit Phirom, Minister of Foreign Affairs. On October 5th, Thailand is scheduled to present itself for a Universal Peer Review (UPR) of its human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at present displays a report which the Royal Thai Government will present at the Review. Strangely, there is no mention of abolition of the death penalty. It is impossible that this is some careless omission. In its previous appearance before the UN Human Rights Council the Government was advised that current interpretation of international law recommends abolition. Since that time the UN General Assembly has voted three times in favour of a Moratorium on executions worldwide to be accompanied by national reflection on abolition.
What is the Government doing? Have they reversed the decision in favour of abolition? Ominously, regarding the death penalty, the UPR submission speaks of the importance of paying attention to public opinion throughout the country. By this statement, it appears that the Government is falling back on an old cliche, that abolition must wait a majority in public opinion. As the government, now three years into the human rights plan, has made no effort to introduce a public debate or to present evidence for an informed discussion, we can only assume that it intends yet again to quote the uninformed opinion of a majority to block progress on abolition. This is a failure in moral leadership, and a betrayal of the stand taken in the 2nd human rights plan. Is this a decision of the Ministry of Justice? By what right do they reject the plan and the signatories who accepted its proposal? Will they try to justify this stand in Geneva in the coming October, or hope that it will quietly pass unnoticed?

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