As 20 September 2022 is Thailand’s National Youth Day (วันเยาวชนแห่งชาติ), it is appropriate for us to revisit some of the commitments and promises Thailand has made (and refused to make) to the international community with regards to children’s rights. Thailand’s obligations vis-à-vis children under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—both of which Thailand has ratified—are of particular relevance.
The right to freedom of expression is explicitly enshrined under both ICCPR and CRC. Article 19 of ICCPR protects freedom of expression, which includes “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Article 21 further recognizes the right of peaceful assembly, the restrictions of which can only be enacted under limited and narrow circumstances. Similarly, these rights are specifically protected under CRC when they are exercised by children. (Articles 13 and 15 of CRC)
At its 3rd Universal Periodic Review in November 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland, Thailand received a total of 278 recommendations from other Member States at the Human Rights Council. While Thailand did support some of the recommendations concerning children’s rights, it refused to support those that pertain to the criminalization of children’s exercise of freedom of expression. Specifically, the following recommendations were not supported by Thailand:
- Mexico: “Decriminalize freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and avoid the detention of minors for exercising these rights”;
- Finland: “Review the usage of lèse-majesté legislation in its entirety and especially against minors to comply with international human rights standards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child”;
- Austria: “End arrests and prosecution of children under article 112 and other articles related to security and public order in the criminal code, and ensure the respect of Thailand’s obligations under articles 13, 15 and 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”; and
- Denmark: “Ensure that the most severe criminal sentences are not applied to children, including in the context of article 112 of the criminal code, and in line with article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
Thailand’s refusal to support recommendations on children’s right to freedom of expression—especially in the context of Section 112 (lèse-majesté) of the Criminal Code—is part of the larger pattern of the country’s refusal to support 19 recommendations on the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
For example, Thailand refused to support Norway’s recommendation calling on it to “protect individuals, including political opponents, from judicial harassment”. It also did not support Austria’s recommendation calling on it to “[g]uarantee the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and stop targeting civilians engaging in peaceful protests under criminal charges entailing punishment with exorbitant prison terms”. Recommendations calling on Thailand to review or revise Section 112 of the Criminal Code and other speech-restrictive laws also did not enjoy the country’s support.
In its statement to the Human Rights Council on 13 September 2022, Thailand noted that: “Thailand is committed to upholding the international obligations, including ICCPR. The rights to freedom of expression and of assembly are guaranteed under the Thai constitution. The exercise of these rights, however, must be within the boundary of law and not infringe upon the rights of others.” (emphasis added)
As of 20 September 2022, at least 283 children have been charged and/or prosecuted for their political expression. Seventeen children have been charged and/or prosecuted under Section 112. Between 1 January and 15 September 2022, at least 35 children were harassed by the authorities. This number represents only cases which TLHR monitored. As Thailand celebrates the National Youth Day on 20 September 2022, it is imperative that we do not forget about these children.
Approximately two years have passed since the start of the #FreeYouth Movement. While many adults are preparing for the upcoming election, children—especially those who came out to exercise their right to freedom of expression until they became targeted by the state—are subjected to criminal prosecution and/or extralegal harassment. These children still do not have the right to vote in the upcoming election. They will have to endure such harassment unless and until the “adults” realize that this method of harassment is not the solution to the children’s political awareness and expression. Our children deserve a better treatment for their courage and contribution to the development of democracy in Thailand.
Read more on TLHR’s website for more details on political charges against children here: https://tlhr2014.com/en/archives/25302.