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Thailand: Don’t Block Accountability for Political Violence

Perpetrators From All Sides Should Be Investigated and Prosecuted

(New York) – The Thai government should undertake a transparent and impartial investigation into violence and abuses by all sides in the 2010 political upheavals and hold accountable all those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. Serious investigations and appropriate prosecutions are important for promoting lasting reconciliation.

At least 90 people died and more than 2,000 were wounded during the 2010 political confrontations between the previous government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) protesters, known as “Red Shirts,” backed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Arson attacks in and outside Bangkok also caused billions of dollars in damage.

“The victims of the violence in 2010 deserve justice and accountability, not another round of political whitewash,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “A parliamentary proposal now under debate would let people with influence get away with grievous crimes at the expense of the victims.”

Parliamentary support for the proposal undermines hopes for justice, particularly among the many rank-and-file members of the Red Shirts and supporters of the current ruling Pheu Thai Party who were the main victims of the violence, Human Rights Watch said.

On March 27, 2012, the parliamentary Committee on National Reconciliation presented to a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate a proposal submitted by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI). The KPI recommended releasing the fact-finding report of the government-appointed Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRCT) “when the time and conditions are suitable” and with the names of those responsible for 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 Pheu Thai Party, together with its coalition partners and a majority of senators, voted in favor of a motion to place the report on the parliamentary agenda for urgent consideration on April 4 and 5. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung also said a reconciliation bill based on similar principles will soon be submitted to the parliament by the party and its coalition partners.

While welcoming Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s decision to provide financial reparation to those affected by political violence, victims from all sides told Human Rights Watch that they were disappointed that the actions by the parliament would result in keeping the truth buried and block accountability.

Human Rights Watch’s 2010 report “Descent Into Chaos” documented deaths and injuries resulting from excessive and unnecessary use of lethal force by the security forces and attacks by “Black Shirts,” the armed elements within the UDD. Since the new government took office in August 2011, the focus of criminal investigations has been entirely on the cases in which soldiers were implicated.

To date, the police have found evidence that soldiers were responsible for 18 deaths of civilians, including Red Shirts protesters, medical volunteers, and news reporters. At the same time, despite clear evidence to the contrary, the government claims that there were no armed elements within the UDD.

Impunity has very deep roots in Thailand. For decades, the term “reconciliation” has been used in Thailand not to bring communities together, but to protect powerful politicians and military leaders. It has been a convenient device for suppressing the truth and denying justice to victims of human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

In the name of “reconciliation” there were no independent investigations 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 the bloody 1992 repression of 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.

To end the cycle of impunity in Thailand, Prime Minister Yingluck and her government should promptly bring charges against those responsible for crimes committed during the 2010 violence, whatever their political affiliation or official position in the military or government, Human Rights Watch said. No amnesty should be given for serious human rights abuses.

“Thai people should no longer suffer in silence, while generals and politicians make peace with each other in the interests of escaping accountability for criminal conduct,” Adams said.

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