Religious Tolerance in Thailand
Published on Sep 22, 2016
-Wednesday 21 September, 2016-
Tensions between religious communities, particularly between Buddhist and Muslim, have increased in the last few years in Thailand. Last year, a monk's call to "burn a mosque for each monk killed in the South" was widely echoed on social networks before being put down on order of the government. More recently Buddhist in Chiang Mai opposed the construction of a Halal food zone industrial estate and Muslim in Pattani complained about a project of a "Buddhist park", since aborted on order of the government.
The ambiguity of Section 67 of the draft charter on religions added to the anxiety of Muslim, prompting the NCPO to issue an order to guarantee that the State would protect all religions. Meanwhile, inter-religious dialogue in the country has been anemic.
To speak about these tensions and the ways to decrease them, we have a panel of knowledgeable speakers: Angkhana Neelapaijit, formerly the director of the Justice and Peace Foundation and currently one of the seven members of the National Human Rights Commission and Gothom Arya, an independent human rights activist who has a longtime involvement in inter-religious dialogue.
Angkhana Neelapaijit became publicly known under tragic circumstances when her husband Somchai Neelapaijit, chairman of the Muslim Lawyers Association and a human rights activist, disappeared in March 2004, after witnesses saw police officers forcing him to climb onto a car in Bangkok. She founded in June 2006 the organization Justice and Peace Foundation, with the objective of raising awareness on issues of justice and human rights in Thailand and strengthening the capacity of victims and their families to fight for justice. The group has been particularly active in the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. Since the beginning of the year, Khun Angkhana has been chosen as one of the seven members of the National Human Rights Commission. Raised as a Muslim, but educated at the Catholic Assumption school in Bangkok, she has a deep understanding of inter-religious issues.
An electrical engineer by training, Gothom Arya has been involved in the struggle for human rights and participatory democracy in Thailand since the end of the 1970s after he came back from where he participated to the May 1968 student revolt movement. Back in Thailand, he co-founded Union for Civil Liberties, a local civil society organization, and was a pioneer in elections observation with the Poll Watch organization in Cambodia, Indonesia and India. He became a member of the first Thai election commission after the adoption 1997 "people's constitution". From 2001 to 2008, he presided the National Economic and Social Advisory Council, an advisory body to the prime minister. He continues to be involved in human rights and peace studies as an independent analyst.