The 24th Session of UN Human Rights Council (in session 9-27 Sept 2013) in Geneva, Switzerland released previously confidential documents outlining how five United Nations Human Rights Council Experts/Mechanisms have intervened in a Letter of Allegation to the Thai Government on the Criminal Prosecution of Mr. Andy Hall by Natural Fruit Company.
Date and Case Type: 26/04/2013 Joint Letter of Allegation
Reference and Link to Original Correspondence: THA 4/2013
Intervening Mandates: Business enterprises; Freedom of expression; Human rights defenders; Migrants; Trafficking;
Summary of the Allegation Transmitted: Alleged criminal charges brought against a human rights defender. According to the information received, criminal charges of broadcasting false statements have been brought against Mr. Andy Hall, a British citizen, based on a complaint by a fruit processing company. Mr. Hall was the leading researcher for a report published in January 2013 by the NGO Finnwatch, which detailed serious human rights violations by the fruit processing company in question with regard to work conditions and labour rights of migrant workers employed by the company. Mr. Hall personally conducted many of the interviews for the report and faces, in addition to the criminal charges, a private lawsuit by the company demanding 300 million Baht (or approx. 7.7 million EUR) in damages for defamation and damage to the company. Mr. Hall has worked as a researcher on labour and migrant rights in Thailand for over ten years, exposing numerous violations.
Reference, Date and Link to Official Government Reply 03/05/2013
In a previously confidential letter of allegation dated 26th April 2013, delivered to the Thai Government and already replied to, the Government was asked by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to respond to the following UN Human Rights Council Mechanisms/Mandates on the criminal prosecution cases against Andy Hall: (1) the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; (2) the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; (3) the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; (4) the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; and (5) the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
The letter of allegation outlines that: ‘Concern is expressed at the possibility that the criminal charges against Mr. Andy Hall may be the result of his legitimate and peaceful actions gathering and publishing evidence of facts which, if accurate, would amount to serious human rights violations that warrant investigation by the authorities without delay. Further concern is expressed at the possibility that the charges against Mr. Hall may have a chilling effect on other human rights defenders and civil society activists working in Thailand and elsewhere to expose human rights violations perpetrated by non-State actors, including business enterprises.’
The letter of allegation goes on to state: ‘Concern is also expressed that most of Mr. Hall’s legitimate human rights activities aimed at exposing violations of the human rights of migrant workers a group that remains, generally, outside the protection remit of institutional and mainstream systems. There also exist serious concerns that such actions against Mr. Hall may constitute acts of reprisals for his collaboration with international human rights mechanisms.’
The letter then goes on to outline in detail the international binding responsibilities and principles applicable to the Thai Government regarding such a case and expresses continued and deep concern at the general conditions of migrant workers in Thailand, specifically relating to human trafficking and forced labour, ending: ‘It is our responsibility under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention. Since we are expected to report on these cases to the Human Rights Council, we would be grateful for your cooperation and your observations on the following matters: 1. Are the facts alleged in the summary of the case accurate? 2. Has a complaint been lodged by or on behalf of the alleged victim? 3. Please provide the details, and where available the results, of any investigation, and judicial or other inquiries carried out in relation to this case. If no inquiries have taken place, or if they have been inconclusive, please explain why. 4. Please explain the legal basis of the criminal charges brought against Mr. Hall and how these are compatible with international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly with regard to the freedom of opinion and expression. 5. Please explain what measures have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders in Thailand, in particular those working to protect the rights of migrant workers, are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of judicial harassment or other restrictions. 6. What policies and measures have been put in place to ensure that the Natural Fruit Company on other business enterprises respect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, the right to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and fundamental labour rights? We would appreciate a response within sixty days. Your Excellency’s Government’s response will be made available in a report to the Human Rights Council for its consideration. While waiting for your response, we urge your Excellency’s Government to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of the above mentioned person are respected and, in the event that your investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, the accountability of any person responsible of the alleged violations should be ensured. We also request that your Excellency’s Government adopt effective measures to prevent the recurrence of these acts.’
In a previously confidential reply dated 3rd May 2013, the Thai Government, by means of the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, replied as follows:
‘As a democratic country that respects the promotion and protection of human rights for all, the Royal Thai Government is fully supportive of the work of all NGOs. Mr. Andy Hall has long been welcome as an active member of the Thai civil society. The Royal Thai Government even supported Mr. Andy Hall to participate in a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland as a civil society representative in 2011. We do not have any problems with Mr. Hall’s academic and advocacy work as long as they are based on factual and reliable evidence.’
‘The criminal charges brought against Mr. Andy Hall by Natural Fruit Company are between two private entities and is now -being considered by the Court. We have full confidence in our judicial system in delivering justice to both parties.’
‘In a democratic and rule-based society, the Natural Fruit Company has the right to file a lawsuit against Mr. Hall, should it deem the accusation in the report against the company inaccurate and thus damaging its reputation. Likewise, Mr. Hall certainly has the right under Thai laws to defend himself against such an allegation.’
The next hearing in the criminal case of Natural Fruit Company vs. Andy Hall is scheduled to take place on Friday 13th September at 9am in Court 501 at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court.