Thailand: stop using counter-terrorism financing measures to reduce civil society space
Today, the ICJ urged the Thai authorities to refrain from adopting so-called additional principles to the “Draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations” (‘Draft NPO Act’) as they are contrary to Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law.
Reportedly, the so-called additional principles include requirements for the NPOs to register; to maintain information on the purpose and objectives of the organization’s activities, directors or those who are in charge, the beneficiaries of funds, identity of donors, and information supplied by NPOs to foreign organizations; to issue detailed annual statements; to maintain records of all transactions; to be subjected to the investigation on the disbursement of funds; and to effective and proportionate penalties.
The Thai authorities maintain that the adoption of these so-called additional principles is necessary to ensure Thailand’s compliance with its obligations under international standards on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (AML/CFT).
“However, these so-called additional principles, in the main, reprise provisions already featured in the first draft of the Draft NPO Act and that were extremely problematic from a human rights perspective,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary-General.
In its submission to Thailand’s Office of the Council of State, the ICJ expressed concern that the Thai government has interpreted international standards on AML/CFT in an overly broad and arbitrary manner with the specific purpose of targeting NPOs.
“The so-called additional principles must be immediately reviewed,” said Sam Zarifi. “Should Thailand eventually enforce these so-called additional principles as presently formulated, Thailand would violate its obligations under international human rights law, including with respect to the rights to: freedom of association; freedom of assembly; freedom of expression; participation in political affairs; privacy; and an effective remedy, as well as the AML/CFT standards themselves.”
In the submission, the ICJ recommended that, in imposing effective counter-terrorist financing measures:
- Countries must respect human rights. “Soft law” counter-terrorism standards cannot be used to undermine binding international law human rights obligations, including those protecting the rights to freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, the right to take part in political affairs, the right to privacy, and the right to an effective remedy – all enshrined in and guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), binding on Thailand;
- All measures must embrace a risk-based approach. Wholesale measures that strictly regulate civil society, regardless of actual activities, evidence of collusion in terrorism financing, or the risk of such collusion, are in violation of the principles of proportionality and necessity under the ICCPR, as well as being inconsistent with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations; and
- Countries should adopt measures that protect NPOs from being exploited by, or actively supporting, terrorist activity or terrorist organisations, as opposed measures that disrupt or discourage NPOs’ legitimate activities under international human rights law.
On 25 May 2021, Anti-Money Laundering Office proposed the so-called additional principles to the Draft NPO Act maintaining that they were needed to address Thailand’s failure to comply with its obligations under international standards on AML/CFT.
On 29 June 2021, the Thai Cabinet approved the so-called additional principles to the Draft NPO Act based on the proposal made by AMLO.
Between 12 and 31 March 2021, the first draft of the Draft NPO Act was made available to the public for consultation. It is currently under review by the Council of State. It was criticized be several experts, including the ICJ, because it was not compliant with Thailand’s international human rights law obligations, particularly with respect to the rights to freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right to take part in political affairs, the right to privacy and the right to an effective remedy under the ICCPR.
Unofficial translation of the bill in English.
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Sam Zarifi, ICJ Secretary-General, e-mail: sam.zarifi(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories