On Constitution Day’s 90th anniversary, Thais call to protect human rights
BANGKOK – As Thailand celebrates the 90th anniversary of its first constitution today, a group of women activists have called for a new charter to protect and promote human rights.
Ninety years ago, on 10 December 1932, Thailand (then called Siam) adopted its first constitution marking the country’s transition from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary monarchy. This day is celebrated annually as Constitution Day.
Thailand is now on its 20th constitution, a testament to the nation’s rocky democratic path and the dozen successful coups against elected leaders, most recently in 2006 and 2014.
The current constitution was adopted in 2017 through a controversial referendum backed by the military government of coup-maker General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the country’s current prime minister.
Activists and legal scholars have criticised the 2017 charter for failing to protect fundamental human rights. For example, community rights were acknowledged for the first time in the 1997 constitution but omitted from the 2017 version.
There have been several attempts to rewrite the current charter, including the vote in the House of Representatives in early November for a referendum on drafting a new constitution. This motion sponsored by the opposing parties is expected to make a sweeping change to the current constitution.
However, a new request from the Senate will likely delay this effort. On 22 November, the upper house voted to form a panel to study the referendum. Some senators criticised this as a tactic to stall the drafting of a new constitution. Outside of congress on International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, members of the Women Human Rights Defenders Collective in Thailand called for a fairer charter for all people, especially those of women and local communities.
During the event at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) the participants made six demands to promote human rights for women. They highlighted the need to recognise caring work, such as chores and taking care of family members, is mainly done by women.
Thailand signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, indicating that women’s homework must be accounted for its economic value. Yet until now, caring work has not been economically recognised in Thai laws. The activists said that by cutting the defence budget, Thailand could allocate the funds to help pay caring wages.
Against the backdrop of calls for a charter amendment to decentralise control of local administrative bodies, the collective stressed the importance of providing quotas for women in local administration positions.
The referendum on drafting a new constitution is expected to be held the same day as the next general election, which has tentatively been scheduled for 7 May next year.
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