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BBC: Row Over Thailand's Regard for

Subject: BBC: Row Over Thailand's Regard for Human Rights and Democracy

BBC: East Asia Today May 21st 1999
Row Over Thailand's Regard for Human Rights and Democracy

The Thai government has refused permission for an international trade union
organisation to hold a conference in Bangkok next week to discuss democracy
and workers rights in Burma. The International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU) says it strongly objects to the decision and has hinted it
may now lobby against the Thai candidate for the leadership of the World
Trade Organisation. On the line to Singapore East Asia Today presenter,
Kathryn Davies asked Rod Ellis of the ICFTU what reason the Thais had given
for their refusal:

Rod Ellis: We received a written advice late last night which said that
permission to hold the conference was now refused and they sited the reasons
that they believe the holding of the conference may be damaging to their
neighbouring country. We had discussion with the Thai authorities, at the
highest level of the Foreign Ministry, back in January and there had been no
objections raised at all to us holding the conference.

Kathryn Davies: What is your reaction to that refusal?

Rod Ellis: We are very angry of course. It has obviously cost us enormous
effort and money having to postpone the conference at this very late stage -
but it is far more than that. It means that the military junta in Burma has
been able to lean on the Thai government, this demonstrates very clearly the
complete lack of sovereignty by the Thai government.We think it raises
serious doubts about the candidacy of the deputy Prime Minister in relation
to the Secretary General post of the World Trade Organisation, and the
ability of Thailand to actually nominate and successfully hold such a
position. We think that it is time that Thailand and other Asean countries
stop pretending that the human rights abuses in Burma do not exist, and that
they actually stand up and be counted on this issue.

Kathryn Davies: Given the known Asean position on Burma, and the sensitivity
attached to the whole question of Burma's human rights record - can you
possible be surprised that this conference has been cancelled? Wasn't it
more surprising that they were going to allow it to go ahead?

Rod Ellis: No I don't accept that. We were merely holding a conference on
democracy and we were using Thailand as the venue. The ICFTU has official
consultative status within the United Nations. We should be able to tackle
in a conference setting a question of democracy in one of the United
Nation's member states. We should be able to do that anywhere. Surely no
country in the world should be scared to discuss the issue of democracy.

Kathryn Davies: These concerns are very well known - you must have been
aware of the traditional Thai view of this kind of issue before you decided
to hold this conference there? Haven't you been indulging in gesture
politics yourselves?

Rod Ellis: Thailand frankly has had a reasonable record in relation to
Burma. Several Thai politicians have had very good track records in relation
to Burma and have criticised the human rights abuses which the whole world
knows exists in Burma. We thought frankly that Thailand was a country which
was trying itself to have a good record of human rights and promotion of
democracy after itself being subject to military rule. We felt it was a good
place to hold the conference. We don't hold those views anymore.


On the face of it, it looks as if the Thai government is divided in its
response to the planned conference. Don Poramutvinai is a spokesman for the
Thai foreign ministry and when East Asia Today's Kathryn Davies spoke to
him, he defended the government's decision:

Don Poramutvinai: Despite the fact that Thailand is a free country and a
free society, we are not free enough to really allow our country to be
engaged in highly politically motivated activities.

Kathryn Davies: The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions told us
that they had been in touch with the foreign minister and that Mr Surin had
raised no objections to this conference - he was very well aware of what it
was going to be about. Doesn't this suggest that there is a split within the
Thai government over this issue?

Don Poramutvinai: It is not really a split. In fact the Foreign Ministry and
Kun Surin in particular has no objection in principle to it is an academic
exercise - that is what we understood it would be. But what we learnt
afterwards was that the conference is not basically academic, but would be
very much political in its nature. That is why the Foreign Ministry had
second thoughts. As I understood it we are not looking at who is the host of
the meeting, we are looking more at the substance and the participants of
the conference itself.

Kathryn Davies: Do you accept that Thailand's decision not to allow this
conference to go ahead after all is going to damage Mr Supacahai's candidacy
for the Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation?

Don Poramutvinai: We don't think anybody should link the two matters
together. There are many things going on which of course can be connected,
but matters such as this should be viewed in isolation.