US Thai Senator, Tammy Duckworth, was among three senators who called on the Thai government on Thursday to heed the voice of street protesters. The statement, from Capitol Hill, strongly supported the student-led movement pointing out that young people on the streets were not looking for a revolution but democratic rights which are normal in democratic countries across the world including the right to free speech.
US Senate Committee members, this Thursday in Washington, turned up the heat on the Thai government when key members accused authorities in Bangkok of using violence to suppress anti-government student-led protests which have been ongoing since July. The statement made by three leading senators, including Democratic US Thai Senator, Tammy Duckworth, may also signal a more challenging stance on human rights by the incoming Biden administration and will not go down well with conservatives in Thailand who already accuse the United States of being too involved in the kingdom’s internal affairs.
A resolution before an influential Senate committee in the United States has called on the government leadership in Thailand to listen to the voices of student-led protests and respect key principles of democracy.
A key member of the committee is Thai born Tammy Duckworth, the junior senator from Illinois who was born in Bangkok in 1968.
Three US senators issued a statement on Thursday
A statement was issued on Thursday by Senators Bob Menendez, Dick Durban and Tammy Duckworth in which they emphasised the commitment by the United States to human rights, democracy and rule of law in the Kingdom of Thailand.
A draft resolution, put before the committee by seven US Senators, controversially, accepted that the pro-democracy movement in Thailand is being confronted by what it termed repression and violence from authorities.
Officials have consistently stressed protester’s safety
This is in stark contrast with the Thai government’s position as the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok has consistently emphasised that the priority has been the protection of protesters in its operations undertaken to police the ongoing street protests.
Indeed, in a recent statement from the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, in these last few weeks of tumult, he called for consideration to be given, by those protesters on the streets, to the ongoing difficulties and stress being experienced by police officers doing their duty under trying conditions.
Senator Bob Menendez stressed US Senate’s support for freedom of speech as a key human right
The statement by 64-year-old Senator Bob Menendez, the senior United States senator from New Jersey, specifically mentioned free speech rights and noted that the protesters were not seeking a revolution but calling for Thailand to align itself with fundamental democratic principles accepted worldwide.
‘At a time when democracy is under assault from so many quarters, it is critical that the United States Senate stands with the democracy movement in Thailand,’ Senator Menendez said. ‘Thailand’s reformers are not seeking a revolution. They are simply yearning for democratic changes to their country’s political system, for freedom of speech and assembly, and for Thailand to be a part of the community of democratic nations. With this resolution, we are sending a clear message of solidarity and support for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Thailand, and urge all parties not to engage in needless violence or harassment. The United States needs to make clear to the Thai people and the international community that our alliance and long-term partnership with Thailand will continue to be based on shared interests and values, and mutual respect for democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law.’
American Thai Senator said she fought for the principles which young Thais were also fighting for
52 year old Senator Duckworth echoed the sentiments and described herself as a Thai American who had fought for the peaceful right to protest.
She acknowledged the long-standing and strong relationship between Thailand and the United States in the Asia Pacific region but called for more respect for democratic principles at the heart of the Thai government.
‘As a Thai-American who fought to protect the right to peacefully protest here at home, I know that both the long-standing, strong relationship between the U.S. and Thailand as well as every individual’s inalienable democratic rights are critically important to uphold and defend,’ she said. ‘Thailand is a strong partner with the U.S., both in terms of our shared national security priorities and economic relations. The Thai people have a proud history of democratic reform. I urge the Thai leadership to listen to the people and respect the democratic principles at the heart of the government they’ve worked so hard to form.’
Incoming Biden Presidency may see a greater focus on human rights compared to Trump years since 2017
Senator Duckworth may become even more significant with the incoming Biden Presidency in January which is expected to be more radical and determined about human rights than the laissez-faire and pragmatic approach taken by the Trump Administration, although, even Trump officials have pressed Thailand in several recent trade spats, on its progress in reform.
From labour representation to human rights and other issues, the Thai government has long argued to visiting foreign envoys and international institutions such as the United Nations that the kingdom has its own unique culture and history which needs to be taken into account.
It has also been consistent in resisting what conservatives in Thailand see, clearly, as external interference while also striving to meet international standards and best practice. Thailand works hard to maintain a healthy and warm relationship with all countries.
Senator Duckworth’s family has a long and proud association with the US military going back to 1775
Senator Duckworth’s father was a veteran in the US Army and Marine Corps who met her mother, originally from Chiang Mai, while serving in Bangkok during the Vietnam War.
Franklin Duckworth’s family had reputedly served in every US war dating back to the American War of Independence in the 18th century.
Senator Duckworth joined the US National Army Reserve in 1992 as a commissioned officer and learned to fly helicopters.
In 2004, she lost her two legs fighting in Iraq, on her right side below the hip and her left leg, below the knee, flying a Black Hawk helicopter which was hit by rocket fire.
The US senator holds a PhD from Northern Illinois University and is a regular visitor to Bangkok.
She is also a key figure in US veterans affairs and the growing American Thai community in the United States.