Washington (March 22, 2022) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Senate East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, and Senator Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led their colleagues in letters to the governments of Thailand and the United States asking leaders to address significant concerns with a proposed Thai Non-Government Organization (NGO) law which human rights groups have said will threaten the ability of Thai civil society to operate freely and negatively impact the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Burma. The letters also call on the U.S. and Thailand governments to do more to address the humanitarian crisis in Burma precipitated by the military’s February 1, 2021 coup and offer support to those fleeing violence.
“The conflict in Burma has resulted in 14.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance within Burma, many of whom are close to the border with Thailand in Kayah, Karen, and Shan States and whose access to such assistance is limited due to the ongoing violence and the military’s politicization of aid. Cross-border assistance provides a critical lifeline for these vulnerable populations and we urge your government to work with the international community to allow for its increased flow from Thailand into Burma, including in areas not controlled by the regime’s military,” write the Senators in their letter to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. “The international community must work together to support those in need and prevent a mass catastrophe that impacts the stability of the entire region. Providing cross-border assistance will hopefully prevent future refugee flows and mitigate risks to both those fleeing violence and the communities that host them.”
In their letter to Secretaries Blinken and Yellen, and Administrator Power, the Senators write of the draft Thai NGO law, that “[if] enacted, it will represent one of the most restrictive NGO laws in Asia and will have an irreversible effect on civil society in Thailand.” They continue, “It threatens to eliminate what could soon be the last available place for Burmese civil society organizations to operate. We therefore call for an urgent, coordinated, whole-of-government approach to pressure the Thai government to drop all consideration of this dangerous law.”
The letters are also signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
In the letter to the Government of Thailand the lawmakers urge Thailand to:
- Allow unimpeded humanitarian access to Burmese refugees in Thailand for civil society organizations and the United Nations.
- Revoke harmful provisions of the draft NGO Law and keep the law focused on the promotion, rather than the restriction, of NGO activities.
- Use Thailand’s voice as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to press for a resolution to the crisis in Burma.
In the letter to the United States Government, the lawmakers urge the United States to:
- Use all available opportunities to raise concerns about the proposed NGO law with the Government of Thailand in coordination with allies and partners.
- Engage with affected organizations to understand the law’s impact on civil society and begin contingency planning should the law go into effect.
- Urge the Thai government to explicitly commit to uphold protections for civil society and freedom of expression, association, and assembly, as required under international human rights law.