NGO Forum in northern Thailand impacts civil society representation in UNGASS process

Photo by Heroic BeerThe growing movement to involve civil society from northern Thailand in United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS report-writing process in the country, eventually bore fruits.

The Royal Thai government finally decided to invite one civil society representative from northern Thailand for UNGASS 2008. This was the first meeting convened by Royal Government of Thailand to review the country report for 2008 due in January next. This is the first time in history of UNGASS on HIV/AIDS reporting in the country that a civil society representative from northern Thailand has been invited to be part of the 5 member civil society delegation to review and discuss Thailand's 2008 UNGASS report.

The meeting took place on 26 November 2007 in Bangkok. Jutatip Dechaboon from Partners Thailand (national partnership platform in Thailand for information, dialogue and advocacy on AIDS and TB issues), had participated in this meet, representing civil society Working Group in Northern Thailand formed last month at the October NGO Forum, to increase civil society representation and participation from northern Thailand in UNGASS report-writing process on HIV/AIDS. Northern NGOs on HIV/AIDS in Thailand had earlier dedicated their monthly NGO Forum in October 2007 to mobilize a civil society response to the UNGASS process. This was organized by the Northern NGO Coalition on AIDS (NNCA) and Health & Development Networks (HDN) and Mr Sompong Chareonsuk, Country Programme Advisor, UNAIDS, Thailand, was one of the key speakers.

The UNAIDS has been supporting civil society participation in UNGASS review process on HIV/AIDS globally. In Thailand, the UNAIDS had translated key documents related to UNGASS on HIV/AIDS in Thai language to promote genuine civil society engagement in the review process.

This invitation also brought in responsibilities on civil society in northern Thailand to demonstrate how civil society can be more engaged in monitoring and reporting of AIDS response by using existing, practical, open and feasible mechanisms for civil society participation in the country. Is civil society in northern Thailand prepared to respond to this challenge given the short time-span which is left before the country-report finally gets submitted in January 2008?

It is certainly a huge challenge to which civil society needs to effectively respond to if we want UNGASS review processes to deliver results in improving AIDS response in Thailand. It may also be an example for many other countries to learn from.

So far, Thai Government had involved very limited civil society representatives based in nation’s capital Bangkok in UNGASS report-writing, that too largely tokenistic. There was not much scope of a meaningful role for civil society members in the actual reporting or monitoring of AIDS response in Thailand for this review. For instance, one of the civil society members of the Thai delegation to UNGASS 2006 shared her experience in last month’s NGO Forum that she had no role in actual report writing and didn't get a draft report to comment on before it was submitted to UNGASS. In New York during UNGASS 2006, the involvement of civil society participants was reported to be inadequate as well.

The initiative by the Thai government to involve civil society in northern Thailand for the UNGASS 2008 report opens a doorway for civil society to organize itself for genuine participation around UNGASS review in 2010 and beyond.

Bobby Ramakant-CNS