Defending a Region's
Rights Can Be a Balancing Act
Published at Bangkok Post 14/10/2009
Sriprapha Petcharamesree has been endorsed as Thailand's
representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission
on Human Rights.
Sriprapha: ‘No easy job’
The 53-year-old yesterday spoke to Achara Ashayagachat
immediately after being given the three-year AICHR posting.
How will you live up to the different expectations of
the civil society and the government?
Expectations vary from one country to another. Launching
the commission is a state obligation and needs the involvement
of more than one ministry, not just the Foreign Ministry
alone. There are also other ministries and agencies that
have a role to play in promoting human rights, including
the National Human Rights Commission .
Regionally, the AICHR is expected to serve as a link
between the state and the civil sector. It could even
be asked to offer advice and technical assistance on how
to organise fair and free elections in Burma next year.
Do you feel the agency has a limited scope of authority,
and what are its shortcomings?
As a voice of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,
I think we should only defend Asean when we really need
to in the international arena, but not if they are not
taking good care of their people as the spirit of the
Asean charter demands. Neither should member states expect
the AICHR to act as their mouthpiece if things are not
in line with our mandate.
If you ask me whether I feel heavy-hearted or am afraid
of conflict, the answer is no.
This is because the Asean governments and the AICHR share
the same goals in promoting and protecting Asean people's
But I need to make clear that I am not the representative
of the Thai government but of the Thai civil sector, which
was involved in the selection process.
For controversial terms of reference, we may have to
borrow Dr Vitit Muntabhorn's guidelines which state that
things that are not prohibited (by the terms) are not
I try to encourage myself to interpret our job description
more creatively so that we will not be easily discouraged.
After all, the promotion aspect remains important in the
We could gather information and commission certain bodies
to prepare studies on such issues as child soldiers -
now also a problem in southern Thailand - migrant workers,
violence against women, human rights violations, and development
How could the AICHR and the NHRC collaborate?
The NHRC has a larger mandate as it can receive petitions
and undertake investigations, while we could not move
on such things without the consent of the hosts. Yet,
I believe there are issues that carry cross-border impacts
which the NHRC cannot grapple alone. On issues like dam
construction impacts, such problems are rather common
in the region, and the AICHR is in a good position to
How will the AICHR get started?
After the Asean leaders meeting in Cha-am next week,
Thailand as the chair of the meeting will propose the
establishment of a human rights fund.
I realise that from NGOs' point of view, Burma might
be on top of the agenda. But there are also other more
important issues to be addressed, and we need to make
sure none of the member governments are offended.
What will happen if the AICHR's consensus is not in line
with the governments' expectations?
Autonomy is important, but communications and consultation
with Asean foreign ministers is also key.
Are you afraid of losing your identity as a strong and
I certainly do not like to compromise my principles but
will offer my cooperation in working out the details and
I don't have the diplomatic skills to compromise if those
skills mean I must offer blank promises without an honourable
commitment. Certainly, it is not an easy job.