#FightRacism How we denounced racism in Thailand before the UN
On Monday, 20 June 2022, we marked World Refugee Day. This year, Manushya devoted #RefugeeWeek2022 to one of the most vulnerable groups in the world: the LGBTIQ+ refugees. But not only. We also powered the people from Isaan, known as ‘Khon Isaan’, who count Lao invisible refugees among them. It is no coincidence.
Last year, we advocated for their rights at Thailand’s CERD Review, examining the country’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and achieved a great success when the intersectional discrimination against them was denounced by the CERD Committee - for the first time ever at Thailand’s human rights review. It wasn’t our only success there though.
Read on to learn about our impactful advocacy!
From the Government pretending that indigenous peoples don’t exist in the country, to its treatment of the Malayu Muslims in the Southern Border Provinces, to its disregard for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Thai civil society with Manushya Foundation at the front has been tackling these issues for a long time, tirelessly advocating for equality on the ground, at the national level, and internationally, at the UN. But there are issues less known about or simply overlooked. And certainly never heard of at the United Nations (UN). The everyday discrimination of the Khon Isaan, ethnic Lao population of Thailand’s North-East. Normalized hate speech against them or forced evictions of poor Isaan farmers. The invisibility of individuals whose LGBTIQ+ identity intersects with racial discrimination: LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers harassed in the detention centers or LGBTIQ+ indigenous peoples who lack access to appropriate gender-responsive health care. In the past, none of their pleas reached the international level where the Government could be held accountable.
Last year, Manushya Foundation changed this.
With the mission of reinforcing the power of local communities across Asia to be at the center of decisions and policies that affect them, we took on a quest to bring the issues of the Isaan people and LGBTIQ+ refugees, asylum seekers, forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples to the UN. And we made it happen! For the first time ever, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) denounced the discriminatory treatment that Isaan people and LGBTIQ+ refugees, asylum seekers, forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples receive in Thailand. How did we do it?
The communities learned about the CERD process and the opportunity to engage with it to amplify their voices at the international level. Divided into thematic groups, together they identified the most relevant issues to be shared with the CERD Committee and drafted community-based recommendations to emphasize their own solutions.
Input shared by community members was used to build on our Joint Civil Society Report ‘List of Themes to be considered by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)’ (July 2020). Together with information gathered during the regional meeting and through close cooperation with our CSO partners, we subsequently issued the Joint Civil Society Shadow Report on the Implementation of ICERD ‘Thailand is a Paradise. But Only for the 1%!’ in autumn 2021. This report also highlighted issues that have not been included in the ‘List of themes’ to be considered during the review, compiled by the CERD Committee.
While we submitted our report to the CERD Committee to make sure it includes and denounces these serious issues during the review, Manushya Foundation was also present in Geneva. Our mission was to make sure that important issues covered in the report are brought to the attention of the Committee!
Emilie Pradichit, Founder and Executive Director of Manushya Foundation, and ‘Best’ Chitsanupong Nithiwana, Founder and Executive Director of the Young Pride Club (YPC) had two meetings with the CERD Committee members where they talked about the human rights violations and racial discrimination faced by Isaan people and LGBTIQ+ refugees, asylum seekers and indigenous peoples. Both of them shared powerful statements on behalf of the communities and explained in detail the real situation on the ground.
CERD Committee members, in particular the Country Rapporteur Ms. Chung Chinsung and Mr. Yeung Sik Yuen who participated in the meetings with Emilie and Best, addressed all of the issues we brought to their attention! They used our data, our evidence, and even our words to denounce discrimination, hate speech, harmful stereotypes, and unequal treatment of many communities in Thailand.
For the first-ever time at a UN human rights review of Thailand, the Country Rapporteur talked about the negative stereotypes against Isaan people, including the offensive stereotype of ‘mia farang’ or ‘white foreigner’s wife’:
The stereotype of ‘mia farang’ was denounced for the second time by Mr. Yeung Sik Yuen:
Click to watch the CERD Committee members addressing racism against Isaan people, including the negative stereotype of 'mia farang'.
On the other hand, Mr. Yuen addressed, among others, issues faced by the LGBTIQ+ community in Thailand:
Another Committee member, Ms. Faith Dikeledi Pansy Tlakula also denounced the intersectional discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ refugees:
Watch the CERD Committee members denouncing intersectional discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people.
Aside from these two issues that were brought to any human rights review of Thailand for the first-ever time, CERD Committee members eventually covered all of the themes listed in our CERD Report. Committee members denounced issues such as discrimination against the Malayu Muslims, including women and children, in the Southern Border Provinces, and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand, including the Rohingya.
Importantly, several CERD Committee members denounced Thailand’s false climate solutions and the government’s efforts to ostracise indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. As previously mentioned, one of the Committee members, the country rapporteur Ms. Chinsung Chung, talked about the negative stereotypes against ethnic groups and indigenous peoples, including ‘drug traffickers’ and ‘destroyers of the forest.’
At the same time, other Committee members, such as Mr. Bakari Sidiki Diaby, used our exact words to hold Thailand accountable for not protecting the indigenous peoples’ right to participation, despite their important role as “guardians of the environment.”
While important in the fight of Thailand’s indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities for full equality, the CERD Committee reiterated our demands for Just Transition: no people, irregardless of their ethnic, religious, racial or other identity, can be left behind in the government’s efforts to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crisis. Indigenous and local communities are guardians of the forest and as such, they must be able to participate in the climate action!
Watch the CERD Committee members addressing the discriminatory effects of false climate solutions.
The Government was finally confronted with the Truth. But instead of engaging in a constructive dialogue, owning up to its past and present failures, it tried to save its face!
For example, during its opening remarks, the Government claimed that indigenous peoples don’t exist in Thailand! Hundreds of thousands of individuals identifying themselves as indigenous in Thailand would disagree. The Government claimed:
In other cases, the Government chose silence or tried to cover the real situation on the ground. For example, while repeatedly asked about the situation of LGBTIQ+ refugees, asylum seekers, and indigenous peoples, the Government dodged the question, and instead, only talked about LGBTIQ+ people in general. It even tried to promote its flawed Civil Partnership Bill as a solution to the issues LGBTIQ+ people face. Even though the Bill doesn’t grant them real equality!
When it came to addressing the CERD Committee members’ questions about Thailand’s false climate solutions, the Government only provided half-truths or even pure lies. For example, it celebrated Thailand’s unfair forest and conservation laws as being ‘participatory’ and claimed that they ensure that the population living within protected areas can continue living there. That is certainly not true - and the cases of Bangkloi and Sab Wai villagers being forcefully evicted from their homes are clear proof!
The Government didn’t even try to make up excuses regarding racism against the Isaan people - they remained silent! Why? Unlike the questions on indigenous peoples, refugees, or migrant workers, the Government delegation didn’t expect this question. The mainstream Thai population wrongly takes for granted that people from Isaan are ‘an inferior sort of Thai’, as stated by Mr. Yuen, and that’s why not even the young Thai population blinks an eye when the Khon Isaan become targets of hate speech, open racism, and discriminatory treatment online and in all areas of their life.
However, the CERD Committee members stayed true to the evidence-based data we presented to them. Instead of believing the Government’s lies, the Committee incorporated all of the critical issues that we raised into the official legally binding outcome of the review: the Concluding Observations. Now, the Government must implement them!
By acknowledging the issues the Isaan people face, the CERD Committee held the Thai government accountable. The government can no longer ignore the issue as it is its obligation under ICERD to implement the Committee’s recommendations. The outcome of the review, therefore, becomes an important tool for civil society to advocate for change on the national level.
Read the full set of Concluding Observations given to Thailand during the CERD review in November 2021. Access here.
Also, the fact that the CERD Committee mentioned offensive stereotypes such as ‘mia farang’ has recognized how harmful they are. And that they don’t have a place in a society where everyone is equal.
Click to watch our video about issues people from Isaan face and how we advocate for their rights.
It will take a few years for Thailand to be reviewed by the CERD Committee again, and we will push the Thai government to implement the concluding observations it received until then. These are legally binding and must be upheld if we want to see changes on the ground!
At the end of this year, there will be another important human rights review. This time, Thailand’s progress in implementing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will start to be scrutinized during the 85th CEDAW Pre-Sessional Working Group (31 October - 4 November 2022).
Manushya Foundation is yet again prepared to gather women, feminists, and LGBTI representatives from the whole of Thailand to identify the most pressing issues they face and make sure their voices are amplified on the international level. Stay tuned as we will be sharing more information about this soon! Stay tuned!