In This Review

Human Rights in Thailand
Human Rights in Thailand
By Don F. Selby
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018, 256 pp

In 1997, during a democratic phase, Thailand established the National Human Rights Commission. (The commission still exists, although its work has suffered since the most recent military coup, in 2014.) Selby observed the commission’s staff and activist lawyers over several years as they worked to improve the way the Thai police treated Burmese migrant workers and to help victims ofland seizures. His observations led him to reject the “Asian values” thesis, the idea that human rights are a foreign transplant that Asian societies commonly reject. Thai practitioners, he notes, built their concept of rights out of local ideas, such as Buddhist compassion, and advocated on behalf of victims in ways that drew on local norms, such as saving face and honoring mothers. The point is well taken, but Selby understates the cosmopolitan aspects of the Thai human rights movement. Thai nongovernmental organizations rely on foreign funding, advocates use international human rights law as a benchmark for pressuring the government, and the very idea ofestablishing national human rights institutions originally came from a 1993 UN General Assembly resolution.