Civil society groups have sent a letter to the government of Thailand expressing concern regarding the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for Profit Organizations B.E… (‘Draft Act’) for containing provisions that could potentially curtail the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights.
This statement was originally published on article19.org on 27 December 2021.
27 December 2021
Cabinet Ministers of the Royal Thai Government
1 Phitsanulok Road Dusit
Cc: Council of State
All members of the National Assembly of Thailand
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
Re: The Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations B.E…
We, the undersigned Thai and international organizations, write to express our deep concern regarding the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for Profit Organizations B.E… (‘Draft Act’) dated 21 December 2021. We are civil society groups working on a wide range of social, economic, environmental and human rights issues and collectively our activities assist millions of people in Thailand.
Whilst each of our organizations are very different from each other, we are united in our alarm and opposition to the Draft Act which contains numerous provisions that would subject not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) and its members to excessively restrictive measures curtailing their rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights, including facing arbitrary interference with the right to privacy.
Whilst many aspects of the Draft Act are concerning, in particular, Sections 19, 20, 21, 25, 26 and 27 are extremely problematic.
Under Sections 19 and 21, several of the proposed requirements for information disclosure do not specify the purpose, which could enable the exercise of arbitrary power. Existing legislation (including the Civil and Commercial Code, Revenue Code, regulations on foreign private organizations) already requires a particular level of transparency and relevant authorities have the power to investigate when necessary.
Section 20 is overly broad, vague and drafted so that legitimate activities by most not-profit organizations in Thailand could, to some degree, be interpreted as falling under its prohibited categories. In its current form, this section could allow for arbitrary interpretation and implementation. In a country of 70 million people, any of these provisions could easily be applied arbitrarily to severely restrict freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and other human rights.
Section 20 states that “a Not-for-Profit Organization must not operate in the following manner:
(1) Affect the government’s security, including the government’s economic security, or relations between countries.
(2) Affect public order, or people’s good morals, or cause divisions within society.
(3) Affect public interest, including public safety.
(4) Act in violation of the law.
(5) Act to infringe on the rights and liberties of other persons, or affect the happy, normal existence of other persons.”
The list of prohibitions in this section is so broad that it could likely capture activity by NPOs working on most issues of public interest, or bilateral and multilateral development initiatives involving civil society.
Additionally, Section 20 does not respect the principle of legality in international law, which requires that laws be drafted in a way that makes their consequences foreseeable so that organizations and people can regulate their behaviour in accordance with them.
Section 21 curtails certain privacy rights that NPOs are entitled to. Requirements around foreign funding are overbroad and violate the right to freedom of association, which embraces the ability to seek and secure resources, both domestic and international.
Sections 25, 26 and 27 propose punishments which are overly punitive, disproportionate and likely to discourage individuals and groups from being active participants in Thailand’s civil society.
This Act, if passed with its currently excessively broad provisions, could be easily misused and abused to significantly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights. Not only could it have a significant impact on a wide range of grassroots, national and international civil society groups in Thailand, but such an Act threatens Thailand’s status as a hub for local and international not-for-profit organizations working on diverse issues of public interest in Southeast Asia.
Urging the Government of Thailand to support civil society and to uphold human rights is consistent with the constitutional requirement to protect fundamental rights. Additionally, this is in line with Thailand’s National Strategy on Public Sector Rebalancing and Development. While we recognize that the Royal Thai Government has a duty to protect public order and national security, authorities must do so in a manner that is in accordance with international human rights law, and that is proportionate, necessary and fulfils the government’s obligations to ensure and facilitate respect for human rights.
We note that the United Nations Charter recognizes the importance of international cooperation to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all”.
In light of the above grave concerns, we consider the Draft Act inconsistent with Thailand’s constitutional requirement to protect fundamental rights and its obligations under international human rights law and standards. We call upon the Thai government to withdraw the Draft Act immediately and reaffirm its constitutional and international obligations to measurably protect, promote and fulfill the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights.
Additionally, the undersigned Thai organizations call on all members of the National Assembly of Thailand and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to support a vibrant, diverse and independent civil society and oppose the Draft Act in its current form.
Finally, we urge the Thai Government to ensure a fully transparent and constructive consultative process of an adequate time frame that meaningfully involves the general public, not-for-profit organizations and other relevant stakeholders, and results in an outcome that benefits, rather than harms, people in Thailand and this region.
Thank you for your attention to the issues and recommendations expressed in this letter. We remain available to discuss this matter further with the Royal Thai Government and would welcome further opportunities to support the government in meeting its constitutional and international obligations.
NOTE: A recent statement of concern by a coalition of Thai NGOs was issued on 15 December 2021 and a joint letter responding to an earlier Draft Act from a group of international NGOs was released on 31 March 2021. The International Centre for Not-for-profit Law published analysis of the current Draft Act on 23 December 2021 – for more information or to receive a copy, please email [email protected].