Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected coalition government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party. Parliament elected Abhisit prime minister in December 2008 after the two previous governments, led by the People's Power Party, collapsed following Constitutional Court rulings that forced the previous prime minister to step down. The most recent election for the lower house of parliament occurred in December 2007. Security forces continue to use at times excessive force against criminal suspects, and some elements also commit or were connected to extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. Police reportedly torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees and prisoners, many of whom are held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Government limitations on freedom of speech and freedom of the press encourage some self-censorship by the media and NGOs. Human rights workers, particularly those focusing on the violence in the south, report harassment and intimidation.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

Support for democracy remains one of the U.S. Government's top priorities in the country. The U.S. Government seeks to support and strengthen civil society, the media, and the judiciary. The U.S. Government continues to provide training and support to judicial, law enforcement, and civil society groups to encourage legal transparency, good governance, rule of law, and civic participation. To promote respect for human rights, the U.S. Government focuses its assistance efforts on rule of law, abatement of extrajudicial killings, combating trafficking in persons, and promoting the rights of ethnic minority groups, refugees, and asylum seekers residing in the country. The U.S. Government encourages government officials to maintain a professional military, competent law enforcement capacity, and a bureaucracy that respects and protects individuals, human rights, and the rule of law. The U.S. Government also encourages authorities to investigate corruption and to hold those responsible for abuses accountable.

The United States continues to focus on human rights in southern part of the country, pressing the government to prevent extrajudicial killings; to investigate thoroughly and transparently allegations of present and past human rights abuses by security forces; and to bring to justice guilty officials in order to address widespread concerns about impunity and access to justice among southern citizens.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

During an extended period of political uncertainty and occasional violence between August and December 2008, the embassy consistently called on all sides to resolve differences using peaceful, democratic means within the constitutional framework and rule of law. The United States supports programs aimed at strengthening democratic processes and independent institutions and assists organizations and groups that promote respect for the civil and political rights of ethnic and religious minority communities. The United States implements training and outreach programs to judicial, law enforcement, and civil society groups to encourage legal transparency, good governance, rule of law, and civic participation. The United States supports freedom of expression and the press through cooperative outreach and capacity-building programs with media organizations and community radio networks, and supporting local organizations to help the media professionalize and develop investigative reporting skills. The United States supports a program that assists the country's first national independent public television broadcaster, the newly established Thai Public Broadcasting Service, to develop staff and news production systems that will increase the quality and regional diversity of news reporting. The United States also hosted a video conference exchange between postgraduate journalism students and the Voice of America Thai Service to discuss press freedom and journalistic integrity in a government media environment. The U.S. Government helped facilitate the travel of three teams of local journalists to the United States to learn about democracy through on-the-ground coverage of the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

The United States supports a civic education program aimed at strengthening participation and tolerance among students, and also provides infrastructure and educational material support for local high schools, and universities in conflict-affected southern portions of the country. The United States supports a forensic science program aimed at combating impunity and intolerance in the south. The United States continues to facilitate speaker programs to address ethics in government, constitutional systems, the influence of money in the political process, and civilian control of the military. The United States sponsors capacity building for the criminal justice system that includes human rights training for police and consultations between Thai and American judiciary. The purpose of these programs is to make the criminal justice system a fair and transparent institution worthy of public esteem. The United States regularly raises concerns over the lack of progress in prosecuting those responsible for human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. To support democratic institution-building among a diverse audience, the U.S. Government sends local citizens, including Muslims and women, to the United States to learn about democracy, multiculturalism, and religious tolerance. U.S. officials deliver speeches on U.S. human rights policy, democracy, religious tolerance, diversity, and freedom of expression during visits to universities and other public venues. The United States awarded a grant to a local press organization to develop a handbook on media ethics.

The United States, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations, maintains close contacts with Burmese refugees, political activists, and NGOs in the country. U.S. officials also work closely with the government to advocate for and monitor the conditions of Burmese refugees and other vulnerable groups within Thailand's borders. U.S. officials frequently visit the Thai-Burma border to report on the living conditions in the refugee camps. The United States provides funding for the High Commissioner's operations in East Asia that include protection of Burmese refugees in the country. The United States advocates for the humanitarian treatment of ethnic Hmong from Laos who may have a claim to refugee status and provides funding to NGOs assisting thousands of illegal Hmong housed in an army camp and a smaller group housed in an immigration jail. U.S. officials continue to urge the government to allow the UN access to the Hmong to determine whether any have valid refugee claims. The U.S. Government works closely with various government agencies, local NGOs, and international organizations to support efforts to combat trafficking in persons, including working with government officials on a comprehensive antitrafficking law that came into effect in June 2008. This support includes activities geared to enhance the prevention of trafficking crimes through assistance to local communities; provision of legal, repatriation, and other assistance to trafficking victims; and advancement of law enforcement and prosecution efforts. 

U.S. officials developed and participated in many seminars dealing with witness protection, plea bargaining, modernizing the judiciary, public corruption, and obstruction of justice issues. The United States supports the development of rule of law by funding a grant that sponsors workshops and seminars with Thai and U.S. officials and judicial experts aimed at improving ethics codes for lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, and combating judicial corruption. The United States and the government continue to fund and manage jointly a regional training center for police, immigration, customs, and other law enforcement officials that includes respect for human rights as part of its curriculum. To optimize the institutional effect of this training, the U.S. Government funds and receives law enforcement officers for advanced training, and professional conferences and career development, which includes material on U.S. and international standards for human rights as related to law enforcement.