Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with a democratically elected coalition government led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's People's Power Party (PPP). The PPP took office following the December 2007 national elections, ending nearly 17 months of governance by a government established by leaders of the September 2006 military coup d'etat. In an August 2007 national referendum, voters approved a new constitution drafted by an assembly established by the coup leaders. The constitution contains provisions that appear designed to prevent the monopolization of political power, which some commentators have characterized as undemocratic. The security forces continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects and committed or were connected to dozens of extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. The police reportedly tortured, beat, and otherwise abused detainees and prisoners, many of whom were held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The longstanding practice of bringing defamation suits encouraged self censorship by the media and NGOs. Human rights workers, particularly those focusing on the violence in the South, reported harassment and intimidation.
Support for democracy remains one of the U.S. government's top priorities in Thailand. The United States conducts outreach programs to strengthen democratic processes and independent institutions, and to assist organizations and groups that promote respect for the civil and political rights of ethnic and religious minority communities. The United States implements training and outreach programs to judicial, law enforcement, and civil society groups to encourage legal transparency, good governance, rule of law, and civic participation. The United States promotes press freedom by supporting local organizations to help the media professionalize and develop investigative reporting skills to perform its role as a political watchdog. The United States supports freedom of expression through cooperative outreach and capacity building programs with media organizations and community radio networks. The United States also provides infrastructure and educational material support for local high schools and universities in conflict-affected southern Thailand.
The United States continues to focus on human rights in southern Thailand, pressing the government to prevent extrajudicial killings; to investigate thoroughly and transparently allegations of present and past human rights abuses by Thai security forces; and to punish adequately officials guilty of offenses in order to address widespread concerns about impunity and access to justice among southern Thais. U.S. officials maintain close contact with the many domestic and international NGOs in the country that work to promote human rights in Thailand. The United States continues to encourage government officials to establish and maintain a professional military, competent law enforcement capacity, and a government bureaucracy that respects and protects individuals, human rights, and the rule of law.
The United States was at the forefront in calling for a prompt return to an elected government following the September 2006 coup. The United States funds programs aimed at strengthening democratic governance and the rule of law, including technical assistance in the analysis of the new constitution and activities to educate NGOs and officials on vote buying. The United States also provides support for domestic monitoring of the constitutional referendum and voter education activities. The United States urged the post-coup interim government at its highest level to rapidly restore civil liberties, remove restrictions on political activities, and lift martial law. Following the coup, U.S. programs supported a return to civilian rule by bringing legal experts from the United States to address constitutional concerns, funding local NGOs to observe the constitutional referendum, providing legal guidance to draft new elections laws, and dispatching observers throughout the country during the December 2007 parliamentary elections. The United States continues to facilitate speaker programs to address ethics in government, constitutional systems, free and fair elections and referenda, the role of women in the political process, the influence of money in the political process, and civilian control of the military.
The United States regularly raises concerns over the lack of progress in prosecuting those responsible for human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. The United States presses the government to investigate the possible extrajudicial killings of at least 1,300 people during the 2003 "war on drugs" campaign, end practices that allow security forces to operate with impunity, and bring to justice officials responsible for abuses. To support democratic institution building among a diverse audience, the U.S. government sends citizens, including Muslims and women, to the United States to learn about democracy, multiculturalism, and religious tolerance. U.S. officials give speeches on U.S. human rights policy, democracy, religious tolerance, diversity, and freedom of expression during visits to universities. As part of its outreach to Muslim communities in the South, the United States sends students and teachers to the United States to participate in workshops on the promotion of democracy and human rights.
The United States awarded a grant for a Thai press organization to publish a handbook on management and production challenges for community radio operators, as well as a grant to a media organization to build the capacity of community radios. The United States promotes media freedom and freedom of speech, particularly broadcast press and the Internet, by offering training for media professionals. The United States facilitated a digital video conference exchange between a former chief operating officer of the Public Broadcasting Service and an audience of fifty broadcast journalists and policy makers on key considerations for establishing and sustaining a public television service. The United States also sent a team of Thai journalists to the United States to learn about democracy during the 2008 presidential primaries.
The United States, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations, maintains close contacts with Burmese refugees, political activists, and NGOs in the country. U.S. officials also work closely with the government to advocate for and monitor the conditions of Burmese refugees and other vulnerable groups within Thailand's borders. U.S. officials frequently visit camps along the Thai-Burma border to report on the living conditions of those who have fled Burma. The United States also provides funding for the High Commissioner's operations in East Asia that includes protection of Burmese refugees in the country. The United States advocates for the humanitarian treatment of ethnic Hmong from Laos living in the country. The United States also provides funding to NGOs assisting thousands of Hmong in long-term detention in an army camp and immigration jail. U.S. officials continue to urge the government to allow the UN access to the Hmong to determine whether any have valid refugee claims. The United States also continues its large-scale program to resettle Burmese refugees living with unofficial status in the country.
The U.S. helps enhance the legal, professional, and technical capabilities of government institutions. U.S. officials developed and participated in many seminars dealing with intellectual property enforcement, witness protection, plea bargaining, modernizing the judiciary, public corruption, and obstruction of justice issues. The U.S. supports the development of rule of law by continuing for a second year a grant to the American Bar Association Asia-Initiative project in Bangkok that sponsors workshops and seminars with Thai and U.S. officials and judicial experts aimed at improving ethics codes for lawyers, prosecutors, and judges. This project organized and funded conferences on combating judicial corruption. The United States and the government continued to fund and manage jointly the International Law Enforcement Academy, a regional training center for police, immigration, customs, and other law enforcement officials. The academy's curriculum incorporates support for democratic institutions, impartiality and integrity in criminal law enforcement, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. To optimize the institutional effect of this training, the U.S. government also funds and receives Thai law enforcement officers for advanced training, professional conferences and career development, which includes material on U.S. and international standards for human rights as related to law enforcement.
The United States supported more than a dozen government agencies and NGOs involved in combating trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation and labor, including programs to enhance law enforcement and prosecution, legal assistance, protection for victims, and reintegration assistance. The United States provides funding to the International Organization for Migration for return and reintegration assistance for victims trafficked among countries of the Mekong region.