THE DECISION by the charter drafters to merge the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Ombudsman has sparked concerns over what its means for the human rights situation in Thailand and the country's image abroad.
The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) last week concluded that it would merge the Ombudsman and the NHRC under the name Ombudsman and the protection of people's rights for the benefit of the people.
The move will diminish the role of the NHRC, and that could affect Thailand's international standing in terms of its commitment towards international norms on human rights, NHRC Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara told The Nation.
According to Niran, Thailand has already set the standard on human rights and was continuously improving it in accordance with international norms since the advent of the 1997 Constitution, which resulted in the NHRC's establishment.
Niran said that the work of the NHRC was done in accordance with the five Paris Principles - invoked at a United Nations meeting in 1991 and relating to the protection and promotion of human rights.
From the inception of the NHRC, the spirit of these five international principles has been fulfilled, said Niran.
He added that the NHRC was a fully-fledged institution that underwent monitoring and advisory tasks and worked in coordination with regional and international organisations, including the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) and the South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum.
According to Niran, the name "National Human Rights Commission" corresponded to the norms stipulated by the Paris Principles as it comprised the spirit of the promotion and protection of human rights.
Merging the two institutions in light of the military-led government could spark negative perceptions of the junta in the international community, he said.
Niran added that the consequences of merging the Ombudsman and the NHRC may result in the ICC having doubts about the status of Thailand in the ICC and other international forums working on human rights issues.
Thailand is already beset by criticism and doubts when it comes to issues relating to human rights as the country performed very badly in the latest Human Rights Watch report released last week.
In principle, Niran said the Ombudsman was meant to be an independent body with the authority to control the operations of state institutions.
The NHRC, however, has been designed under the spirit of controlling and promoting human rights in Thai society, he added.
He said combining these two institutions was like "putting two different spirits together".
Gothom Arya, a human rights and peace-studies scholar at Mahidol University, said in an interview with The Nation that "the scope of power upheld by the ombudsman when exercising its authority is narrower than the one of the NHRC, as the ombudsman deals merely with cases related to state's agencies".
"It is better to let the two institutions perform their full capacity separately as they both have different mandates," Gothom added.
According to the human rights expert, the function of the NHRC should be to monitor human rights violations by private entities and state agencies as stipulated in UN treaties and conventions related to human rights.
According to a source, it had been said that CDC president Borwornsak Uwanno, who was part of the drawing up of the 1997 Constitution, wanted to diminish the role of the NHRC since its establishment but succumbed to general public willingness during the last constitution-drafting processes.
This issue will be discussed at a NHRC meeting today.