THAILAND - Though it has been 40 years since the October 14, 1973 uprising, people's rights have still not improved, a seminar found.
Participants at a Thammasat University forum yesterday questioned the state of people's rights in Thailand, where the natural resources are being claimed for state projects or are going into the hands of capitalists, while people-initiated laws remain unimplemented and the public's well-being remains unchanged.
Sunee Chaiyaros, the vice-chairwoman of the Law Reform Commission, lamented how businesses are unfairly taking natural resources from the people.
She said that while the state asserted its right to use natural resources under government policies, the people had to exercise their rights under the Constitution and call on independent agencies for help. Though she admitted that many times these agencies do not favour the people.
"We have to review the people's democratic rights over the past 40 years and stick to them, not just for the elections, politics or politicians. We must ensure that people exercise their right to secure welfare so they can be self-dependent," she said.
The October 14, 1973 student-led demonstration, which cost many lives, was seen as the start of people rising up against dictatorship.
Surichai Wungaeo, director of Chulalongkorn University's Centre for Peace and Conflicts Studies, said he believed that democracy was the answer over the past 40 years, but this democracy has now become a problem. Nowadays, people in the same organisation - who shared similar ideologies - faced problems as they had different ideas on implementation.
Basic problems such as poverty remain unchanged and had become more complicated. For instance, people now own farmland, but cannot grow crops because of pollution.
Then there's the split between people who support different ideologies.
"If we focus on solving people's suffering without thinking of division between groups or [political] colour-codes, we should be able to review and solve these problems," he said.
Arunee Srito, leader of a group called the People Pension Network, said organisations should be punished for not implementing people-initiated laws such as the 2012 National Savings Act that the government had not pushed, or for failing to work on organic laws as required.
"I heard that the government will cancel this law. I wonder what democracy we would have if the government does this. I wonder if the constitutional clauses that allow people to initiate laws are bogus," she asked.
Human rights activist Sappasit Kumprapan said state mechanisms do not really serve the people but facilitate capitalist groups in taking local people's natural resources.
"The government calls itself a 'phrai' [civic] government against 'ammart' [elite] but I think the government is now part of the elite as many laws initiated by the people have been dropped," he said.