I don’t know whether I sound pessimistic. But actually I am not pessimistic. I am very optimistic about what has been going on. But the reason I raise the issues that it is just the beginning is that having the constitution is not the end of it or having the revolution is not the end of it. It is just the starting of the democratization process. It will take really take a long time. And in the case of Thailand, people never before having the chance to participate in public policy making, this is this the first time that they have. So, I think it is really important to start with education. We should not just tell them what rights they have but civic duty, civic responsibility, civic education, civic virtues. It is very important and it has never before been taught in the country even though you have the rights in a democratic society, you have to listen to the others and you have to finally give in to the majority. And that lesson I think they have to learn, a very important one because now there is more conflict. If you are looking at the short term, there is more conflict, some people say upheaval, confusion going on. So, I think for those of us who really believe in this process, we have to keep on doing things that need to be done, keep on proving to them that this is the best way that we should go about doing it. Against this background is those who don’t believe in the system, those who have the power of the old guard, waiting there, trying to make it look bad or worse then it could. I am sure that it happened in other societies, not just Thailand but in other forms. I think that the education and the role of the media is very important. Media is a very important tool to educate people. In Thailand, we have problems with other society also, that the constitution that passed the Parliament and the coup in 1991 and finally in 1992, the people won, partly because of the strong media , the courage of the media to report the truth. But the old guard, they learned how to use the media. So now it is even more complicated that those big business, they know how to use the media. They know that advertisement is very important to the media. So the issue that we have to confront next is how to make this airwave or this media available to all. So there are so many issues that we have to do. Even though here in the US some things are taken for granted because it already has been there. Even though you had some problems about the election, finally there is no protesting on the street, finally the system went on even though there are many loopholes in the process. But I think the ideology was there. People believed in the system. I think what we learned from the Eisenhower fellowship, was that even though I mentioned at first that the constitution is brief but very well written and a lot of ideology, values behind that. And that is very important for new democracies. Even though we have the best constitution, I think Thailand has one of the best, and it is very long constitution 336 articles. It is a very long one. The Indians have four hundred something but even that is good. But I think you have to keep it to spirit. I don’t know whether I addressed your question directly but I get the feeling that we have.
Can I just follow up on that? Do you think that it is a dangerous position thinking that we need to institutionalize a culture of human rights before real human rights redresses can be addressed because then you are saying that if you don’t have a culture of human rights then nothing is going to happen. What about new democracies or countries going through transitions, if their institutions are sort of weak and their constitutions don’t make the right provisions and they also don’t have the culture of human rights, then they are really a mess. I am sort of afraid that position might be saying that these countries are doomed.
In Thailand, the driving force for change is not through the government, as I mentioned. It is through the people. I think the issues of human rights abuses in the past that even though people, because of the culture, do not stand up and say that we have to crush each other, we have to prosecute or bring them to justice right away, probably is part of the culture, but it doesn’t mean that people ignore or doesn’t really bother, it was banned. It has happened here before as I mentioned and I think that we cannot plan better than this. There will be some confusion going on. It is not very easy to try to steer the cause of democracies. But you have to believe in the values, you have to work very hard. You have to stick together for those who believe in this; NGOs networking is very important. So the driving force, even right now is for the election, and networking of the NGOs. I think sixty percent of my work, even though I am government officer, rely on NGOs. And most of my work, that I have been successful is not because of position as a government officer, but as a NGO, as they can change things better through its connection. This government, I think that they realize that they cannot go on without the support from the civil society. So they are trying to make themselves at least, to make themselves look good, that they are trying to follow up on the issue of human rights, but it is up to the people to get together and keep pressuring them and try to prove to them that this the way.
I have a question for Mr. Kittipong. One of our on-going human rights issues, in many countries there are obstacles to persection of officials, and I was wondering if this ever demoralizes people. Could you comment on this?
In the new constitution, two new institutions were built. The first one is the National Commission on Counter Corruption that is an independent commission that the members are nominated by the Senate and the selection committees are endorsed by the Senate. Another institution is the court. For politicians it is a very strange one. It kind of lets you know the feeling of the people that detest corruption. They, the drafter of the constitution, go to the polls and one of the things that they get from the people is that we need a justice not to be short and we need disposition to receive punishment. So they establish a new court within the Supreme Court. So it is one trial. There is no judicial review. I don’t know whether it is against the rule of law or not but the people want that. So I think through this National Commission they have, the National Commission has two alternatives. The first one is to use the impeachment process, sending the case to Parliament for impeachment. Another one, if they find criminal activities, they have to send this to the prosecutor to prosecute to this special commission. So far no cases have been prosecuted yet but we have been very successful in the last year. The most powerful minister in the government, the Minister of Interior, he was disqualified by the NCCC commission on grounds that he didn’t declare the assets properly. It never happened before in the past. And most recently, his current Prime Minister, before he got elected, just three weeks, this commission said that his declaration had hidden some property. He didn’t declare fully. And now the case is still pending in the constitutional courts. So I think this is very important development on corruption. What is the other part of your question?
The trafficking, we have new laws on this. A very strong law came out three years ago that has elements of international cooperation and conspiracy concept in it. We are also quite active on conventions of international organized crime. We have a protocol on human trafficking and I think there are many cases of cooperation between us and many countries of Europe and the US. Recently, just two weeks ago, one of the deputy speakers of the Senate had to resign and was prosecuted because he was sexually involved with a minor. For the first time that even the crime of those involved is there. So I think that it is a good development on this that we have to keep working on it.
Hello, my name is Angelica Jongco and I am with the Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solutions or FACES. One thing that I didn't really hear mentioned is the factor of economics in all of this and how much at times the economic factors can be pitted against the moral obligations to go after the human rights abuses in cases of environmental justice. I expect that Mr. Bernal might come up against this often when he, often times, has opponents who are corporations that are bringing economic investments in and often times the allies of those corporations are the government who are granting permits or are even sometimes legally taking away the titles of the land. And I was wondering what you were seeing in the future, in terms of when human rights or champions of the people, might not be economically expedient or in the case of the military abuses of the Philippine government, not politically expedient.
I think that is a very good question and after observation, one particular issue is that we have to confront, when there are existing communities that are faced with development projects. Introduced by global corporations that come, how are we going to respond to advantages of these corporations. And, in so far as, at the level that we have reached, we have come to the point that we are saying that, what we want is the desire, the will of community. We are not particularly opposed to a particular project. All we want is the interest of the community is properly expressed and if they do want an investment and if they do want a reparation, if they do want redress then so be it. But just the processes be observed. And if the processes in place are not conducive to that that we have to change the law or we have to change the structure, then so be it. That is the kind of approach that we have right now.
We have time for one final question.
I am Neena Kumar, a member of the Asia Society, an avid supporter of the Society. And one factor is the factor of education, teaching people what their rights are. Otherwise, you have another actor, like you have so many actors and actresses. But your system works and from a forum of illustrious members, we are all giving birth to your own cultural, legal rights or framework that would suit us as a people. The question I have, living here, is I am constantly approached by foundations that have a presence in the countries and a lot of them address legal rights but they work as NGOs. And my question is how much of a grassroots effect do you feel occurs from their work. How much of an impact does this foundation have?
Since our organization is a direct beneficiary of the Ford Foundation, it's hard to say. I think it is a matter of coincidence. It is a matter of tailoring projects or your interests to the interests of the foundation. It is true that we could not just submit publications or proposals to any foundation. We have to look for a foundation that is of interest that is more similar to ours. And in that sense, we could say that the absence or presence of particular foundations that would grant or support our particular interest, might effect whether we are going to have this sort of initiative or not. But I think and I believe that the identification of particular interests that we are going to do, are properly grounded upon ourselves as advocates and the communities that we are serving and the foundations are just like a universe from which we are going to select. Which foundations are going to support our initiative rather then the other way around. Although we are going to go through the details, which is basically reporting and telling the foundation how we are going to gauge or assess our success, our impact to the communities. That I think, the foundation might have a say. But it is not, I think, that this is it.
Mohammad Fajrul Falaakh
The role of the foreign supports be it NGOs, or whatever. But certainly the amount of the issues, the number of relations, these areas should be covered, but foreign support has its limitations. Overall, I would rather say that the way foreign support could also help also facilitate the local responses. For instance if local NGOs, working on awareness of human rights work in the cities or Metropolitan area. What would you expect with that sort of activities?
I want to thank all the speakers for their very, very interesting comments. Also, this is the first of series on Law and Human Rights and what we are proposing at the Asia Society is that we continue this series in varies forms. We are also in conversation with a particular law firm, which we will not mention here, to try to sponsor some of these talks as well because maybe half the year if we have some of these forums at the Asia Society and then we go midtown or downtown to go do some there as well. I hope you are all on our list so we can keep you posted on such upcoming events and again thank you all for coming this afternoon.