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A southeast Asian country that borders Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Burma, Thailand lies at the centre of the Indochina Peninsula. A constitutional monarchy ruled by the Chakri dynasty for over a century, democratic processes in the country were interrupted by the overthrow of the Prime Minister in a 2006 military coup, which has led to instability and conflict around subsequent elections. Freedom of expression and the poor standards in the justice system are core human rights concerns, as is the prevalence of trafficking of children and sexual exploitation.
Thailand is located in south-east Asia and shares borders with Burma, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Malaysia. The terrain is varied, made up of mountain ranges, plains and numerous tropical islands. The capital city is Bangkok.
Population and language
Thailand is home to 69 million people, a figure that rose rapidly from 1980, but growth has slowed in recent years in response to the State's family planning programme. This population is relatively ethnically homogeneous, with around 85 per cent of people being culturally Thai. Of the remaining 15 per cent, a sizeable proportion are of Chinese decent, while there are significant minority groups of Malay and Yawi speaking Muslims in the south.
Thai is spoken by the vast majority of people in Thailand, while Yawi is spoken in the south.
History and politics
Thailand has been a monarchy under the Chakri dynasty since the late 18th century, but since a bloodless military coup in 1932, the King has played a more ceremonial role. For 60 years following the coup, the military were the dominant governing force, but in 1992 the country returned to a civilian led government and the Constitution of that year provided for uninterrupted democratic governments until 2006, when the military deposed Prime Minister Thaksin. A new Constitution was approved through a referendum in 2007 and the country returned to democracy, though political instability has continued.
In the elections that followed the implementation of the 2007 Constitution, three parties entered into coalition government, but within a year the Constitutional Court ruled that the Prime Minister had violated the Constitution by acting with a conflict of interests, and two months later the Court ruled that the three main coalition parties had committed electoral fraud. The government was dissolved, and the Parliament elected a new Prime Minister, but the failure to dissolve the parliament led opposition parties to lead a series of protests. A general election was held in 2011 in which the Pheu Thai Party won an overall majority.
Yingluck Shinawatra is the current Prime Minister, and is the first woman to hold the position, and King Bhumibol Adulyedej is the head of state.
During the 25 years leading up to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Thailand transformed its economy from one dominated by agriculture, to one of the most diverse in the region whilst achieving considerable economic growth. The global financial crisis of 2008 caused GDP to contract slightly in 2009, but the country did not suffer any long term financial problems and quickly returned to growth. Tourism plays a major role in generating national revenue, while manufacturing of computer parts, vehicles and electronics provide goods for its substantial export markets. Japan, China, the United States and Malaysia are the country's most valuable trading markets.
The world bank has identified the discontinuity in short term economic policies as a problem for the country, an issue tied to the lack of longevity of governments over the past decade, as well as the national dependency on exports and the need to address the unfair wealth distribution as among the most pressing economic difficulties facing the country.
Media and civil society
Press in Thailand have a comparatively high level of freedom relative to regional neighbours, though serious limitations on press freedom do exist. The lèse-majesté provisions of the Criminal Code prohibit defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the King, Queen, Crown Prince and Regent with penalties of up to 15 years in prison, but Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has reported that these provisions are used arbitrarily as a tool of political censorship. The political instability in 2010 also made the country a dangerous place for journalists to operate. During the turmoil in December of that year, two journalists were killed whilst covering clashes between the army and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.
RWB ranked Thailand 153 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, a fall of 23 places since 2009.
Human rights and children's rights
Thailand has a mixed record on human rights, and human rights bodies have been particularly critical of the national approach to freedom of expression, the rule of law and the use of the death penalty. While the State has historically had a good record on the treatment of refugees, and houses around 150,000 Burmese refugees on the Thai side of the border with Burma, the government has more recently been criticised for its rejection of 20,000 refugees during the violence of the 2010 Burmese election and its refusal to accept Hmong refugees. The Committee on the Rights of Child has highlighted the prevalence of trafficking in children and sexual exploitation as among the most prominent violations of children's rights.
In September 2012, Thailand became one of the first states to ratify the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure for the CRC.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Swathmore.edu, "Demographics of Thailand"
- BBC, "Thailand's Parliament elects Yingluck Shinawatra as PM" 5 August 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, "New cases suggest no change in lèse-majesté policy" 13 September 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, "Journalists under attack, reporting brought to a halt" 29 December 2009
- BBC, "Thailand deports thousands of Hmong to Laos" 29 December 2009 and "Thailand changes tack on refugees" 27 January 2009
- Committee on the Rights of the Child, Observations, March 2006, paragraphs 72-75
- OHCHR, Thailand Homepage
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Thailand Country Profile
- UNICEF Statistics, Thailand
- Reporters Without Borders, World Report: Thailand
- World Bank, Thailand Country Brief
- BBC, Thailand Country Profile
- BBC, Thailand Timeline
- BBC, various news items (see footnotes)