Failure to Prosecute Undermines Reconciliation
April 10, 2012
The violent clashes that rocked Thailand two years ago continue to affect the lives of many Thais. Those harmed in the upheavals and their families are still waiting for justice because successive governments haven’t kept their promises to hold the abusers accountable.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The Thai government’s new “political reconciliation” proposals will undermine justice by giving immunity to those responsible for human rights abuses during bloody confrontations in Bangkok in 2010, Human Rights Watch said today.

Lack of accountability for politically motivated violence will persist in Thailand unless perpetrators are brought to justice regardless of their status and affiliation, Human Rights Watch said.

“The violent clashes that rocked Thailand two years ago continue to affect the lives of many Thais,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Those harmed in the upheavals and their families are still waiting for justice because successive governments haven’t kept their promises to hold the abusers accountable.”

On April 10, 2010, violent street battles broke out in Bangkok after the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva attempted to forcibly disperse anti-government protests organized by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), commonly known as “Red Shirts.” Gunfire and blasts from bombs and grenades killed 19 protesters, six soldiers, and a journalist. At least 569 participants and bystanders, 265 soldiers, and 8 police officers were injured the same day from teargas inhalation, beatings, gunshots, and shrapnel from explosions.

The violence continued for weeks. By the end of the Red Shirt protests on May 19, more than 90 people had been killed and over 2,000 wounded from excessive or unnecessary use of lethal force by security forces and attacks by “Black Shirts,” armed elements within the UDD. Arson attacks in and outside Bangkok also caused billions of dollars in damage.

The current government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in office since 2011, has attempted to downplay the need for accountability for the 2010 violence, Human Rights Watch said. On March 27, 2012, the parliamentary Committee on National Reconciliation, dominated by the ruling Pheu Thai Party, presented a report submitted by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute to a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Institute recommended releasing the fact-finding report of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand “when the time and conditions are suitable” and with the names of those implicated in the violence removed. The report also proposed a broad amnesty for leaders and supporters of all political movements, politicians, government officials, and members of the security forces involved in the violence.

The political aims of rival political parties are trumping accountability, Human Rights Watch said. The Pheu Thai Party, together with its coalition partners and a majority of senators, voted on April 5, to forward the Committee on National Reconciliation’s proposal based on the King Prajadhipok’s Institute report to the government for consideration.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said a bill for reconciliation based on similar principles will soon be submitted to parliament by the Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners. This reconciliation proposal would undermine hopes for justice, particularly among the many rank-and-file members of the UDD, including Pheu Thai Party supporters, who were the main victims of the violence, Human Rights Watch said.

“The reconciliation proposal is about enabling powerful people on all sides to get away with grievous crimes,” Sifton said. “Everyone wins, except the victims.”

The families of victims from all sides welcomed a recent government decision to provide reparations to those harmed by political violence, but told Human Rights Watch that they feared the proposed parliamentary actions would block accountability and keep the truth buried. They also expressed concern about further politicization of the judicial process.

The Abhisit government charged hundreds of UDD protesters with serious criminal offenses without any basis, but did not file charges against any government officials or soldiers. Since the Yingluck government took office in August 2011, the focus of criminal investigations has shifted entirely to cases in which soldiers were implicated while those involving UDD violence have been ignored. The government claims, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, that there were no armed elements within the UDD.

Impunity for politically motivated violence has very deep roots in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said. In the name of “reconciliation” no independent investigations were undertaken into the crackdowns on students and pro-democracy protesters in 1973 and 1976, which led to the deaths of over 100 people. The complete findings of a government inquiry into a violent crackdown in 1992 on protesters calling for an end to military rule have never been released. In each of these cases, in the name of “reconciliation,” amnesty was given to those responsible for the violence.

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the government-appointed Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand are still unable to complete their inquiries into the 2010 incidents due to insufficient support from the government, as well as mistrust and lack of cooperation from participants in the events. The work of the two agencies has also suffered from internal bureaucratic obstruction and a critical lack of political will to investigate government officials and UDD leaders fully and credibly.

“To end Thailand’s cycle of impunity, the Yingluck government should act now to bring charges against perpetrators of crimes committed during the 2010 violence, whatever their political affiliation or official position,” Sifton said. “No amnesty should be given for serious human rights abuses.”

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