(New York) – The Thai government and parliament should reject a proposed blanket amnesty law that would prevent prosecutions of those responsible for serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
On October 18, 2013, the House of Representatives Vetting Committee expanded a more limited amnesty bill already under consideration to include leaders from past political protests, soldiers, and authorities who carried out the crackdown on protesters.
“The proposed amnesty would allow officials and protest leaders who have blood on their hands to go unpunished,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “By whitewashing past abuses, the government denies justice to victims and tells future abusers they have little to fear.”
Members of parliament from the ruling Pheu Thai Party, who dominate the 35-member Vetting Committee, passed an amendment to provide a blanket amnesty to all people involved in political unrest, including protest leaders, military personnel, and authorities responsible for ordering and commanding the crackdowns. This worsened the version of the draft law approved by the House of Representatives in August, which only provided full amnesty to protesters who have been charged, prosecuted, and convicted for actions against the state from the period between the coup that ousted then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on September 19, 2006, and May 10, 2011 — one year after the anti-government “Red Shirt” protests.
Current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, had pledged that she would investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the 2010 violence, including soldiers and their commanders.
“To appease the military and promote a political agenda, Prime Minister Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party are apparently willing to throw out the window the solemn promises they made to ensure justice for victims of political violence” Adams said.
Background: Thailand’s deadly chaos
The violent confrontations in Thailand that took place from March to May 2010 involved the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), popularly known as the “Red Shirts,” and the government of then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok and several northeastern provinces. According to the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), at least 98 people lost their lives and more than 2,000 were injured.
Human Rights Watch’s report, “Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown,” concluded that excessive and unnecessary force by the Thai army caused the majority of deaths and injuries during the confrontations. The high number of casualties – including unarmed demonstrators, volunteer medics and first responders, reporters, photographers, and bystanders – resulted in part from the enforcement of “live fire zones” around the UDD protest sites in Bangkok, where the army deployed sharpshooters and snipers. The DSI announced in September 2012 that the military was responsible for 36 deaths, but to date only nine cases have been submitted to the court for post-mortem inquests. The courts found that 13 victims were shot dead by soldiers acting under orders from the government Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES).
The government and members of parliament from the ruling coalition, including those currently holding positions in the UDD, have disregarded recommendations – including from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – to clearly specify for which actions an amnesty will be granted, and to ensure that those who used violence or committed rights abuses will not be protected from criminal prosecution.
Despite overwhelming evidence that soldiers shot people posing no threat, the government has repeatedly announced that no military personnel will be held responsible for casualties during the crackdowns, arguing that they were acting under orders from the Abhisit government. Only Abhisit and then-deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban have been charged by the DSI with premeditated murder on the basis of command responsibility, which allows the prosecution of superiors for the actions of their subordinates.
The revised amnesty bill, which is expected to be submitted to the parliament for its second and final readings in November 2013, would also provide immunity from prosecution to elements of the UDD, including “Black Shirt” militants, who were responsible for deadly armed attacks on soldiers, police, and civilians. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns about the status of investigations into alleged crimes by these militants, who should be investigated, identified, and appropriately prosecuted. Despite clear photographic and other evidence, the government and UDD leaders continue to deny the “Black Shirts” ever existed. UDD leaders who incited violence with inflammatory speeches to demonstrators, urging them to carry out arson attacks and looting, should also be held accountable.
Under international law and UN principles on the right to a remedy for human rights violations, governments have the duty to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations and prosecute those responsible.
“Prime Minister Yingluck should not permit those responsible for serious crimes to go unpunished, and instruct her Pheu Thai Party to reject the proposed amnesty provisions,” Adams said. “Only then will her government meet both Thailand’s international human rights obligations and the demands for justice of the families of those killed and wounded.”