Today, the ICJ submitted recommendations to Thailand’s Office of the Council of State concerning the Draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations B.E. … (‘Draft Act’), which is scheduled for public consultation between 12 and 31 March 2021.
The ICJ urged that the Draft Act be repealed in its entirety or substantially revised in order to ensure compliance with Thailand’s international legal obligations.
The ICJ is concerned that the law, if adopted, would pose onerous and unwarranted obstacles to many civil society organizations in Thailand, including human rights NGOs, in carrying out their work. In its submission, the ICJ underscores the imprecise and overbroad language of the draft law, which would allow for abusive and arbitrary application by the Thai authorities on “Not-for-Profit Organizations” (NPOs). In particular, it provides for discriminatory restrictions on organizations that receive foreign funding.
“It is well-established in international law and standards that any registration of NPOs should be voluntary and that no law should outlaw or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.
Violators of the Draft Act would risk having their registration revoked. The Draft Act also imposes liability of criminal punishment on those who operate without registration with imprisonment not exceeding five years or fined not exceeding 100,000 THB (approx. 3,200 USD), or both.
“In cases of registration revocation, the legal recourse available for NPOs to challenge such decisions involves lengthy and burdensome administrative and judicial proceedings, which would normally take years to reach a conclusion. Proceedings of this kind will be untenable for some organizations and will deal a fatal blow to the essential work of many human rights defenders,” said Ian Seiderman.
The Draft Act also provides sweeping powers to government authorities to monitor activities, search and seize electronic data of NPOs without any court warrant, in violation of the rights to privacy.
Thailand is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which requires States to respect and protect, inter alia, the right to freedom of association, expression, peaceful assembly, the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to privacy and the right to an effective remedy. Thailand may impose limitations on NPOs only in narrow circumstances and subject to strict conditions as set out in the ICCPR.
On 23 February 2021, Thai Cabinet approved in principle the Office of the Council of State’s proposal to enact a law aims to provide oversight on NPOs’ operations.
The draft law is currently under consideration of the Council of State for legal review. Public consultation is currently carried out by the Office, only via their online platform. Members of the public were expected to have registered any concerns about the Draft Act through the website of the Office, by post or by email, between 12 to 31 March 2021 – a considerably tight period of time.
The draft law will then be resubmitted to the Cabinet, then presented to the Parliament.