Human Rights in Asia
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Human Rights in Asia

Edited by Thomas W.D. Davis and Brian Galligan

Does the increasing prominence of Asia also mark a new era for human rights in the region? This timely book uncovers the political drivers behind both recent regional and country-based changes to the recognition, promotion and protection of rights.
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Chapter 7: Ambivalent About Human Rights: Thai Democracy

Michael K. Connors


Michael K. Connors1 Human rights politics are typically marked by predictable scripts of violators and promoters, of observance and neglect, and of action and policy. But to speak of human rights in Thailand after the coup d’état of 2006 that overthrew the Thaksin government (2001–06) is to step into an unpredictable political minefield of local conflict and discourse, exemplified by the political competition between ‘red shirt’ (pro-Thaksin) and ‘yellow shirt’ (anti-Thaksin) movements and the rival elite networks that have mapped on to them. The conflicting sides proclaim support for ‘rights’ and democracy while playing a part in the violation of both, conceived liberally. The predictable transcript isn’t very helpful for Thailand. Rather than offer a comprehensive account of Thailand’s human rights situation, this chapter discusses human rights in relation to state form, democracy and the contest between liberal and authoritarian currents. The ‘war on drugs’ (WOD), during the tenure of the elected Thaksin government, is used as a case study to examine forces that combined to abuse human rights. To bring those events into the present post-coup discussion helps to identify uncertainties surrounding Thailand’s future capacity for human rights protection, assuming the country will return to some form of stable electoral democracy (though this is by no means certain). The case study might have been the 2006–07 coup regime’s suppression of free association, speech and movement, but then there is nothing profoundly difficult in understanding that military juntas, founded on repression, by definition and in practice violate...

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