Eight years ago my colleagues and I watched as the streets of Bangkok were covered with blood in one of Thailand’s most violent political confrontations. Yet there is still no justice for the at least 98 people killed and more than 2,000 injured between April and May 2010 – despite compelling evidence that the military was behind most of these abuses.
At the time, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – also known as the Red Shirts – held a mass protest against the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Human Rights Watch documented how the military used unnecessary and excessive force, especially as the military had designated “live fire zones” around protest sites – where soldiers shot protesters, medics, reporters, and bystanders in cold blood.
Human Rights Watch also documented how some of the Red Shirts, including armed militants, committed deadly attacks on soldiers, police, and civilians. Some protest leaders incited violence with inflammatory speeches, urging their supporters to carry out arson attacks and looting.
But instead of prosecuting all those responsible for crimes, successive governments have made paltry efforts to hold policymakers, commanding officers, and soldiers accountable. On the other hand, protest leaders and their supporters have faced serious criminal charges.
Thailand is obligated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties to ensure the right to an effective remedy for victims of serious human rights violations.
No one should be above the law, whatever their political affiliation or official position. But sadly, as time goes by, opportunities for Thailand to demonstrate impartial justice have been fading further and further.
It is outrageous that impunity for state-sponsored violence remains the standard operating policy of the Thai military. This simply encourages Thailand’s policymakers and soldiers to believe that they can get away with murder. It also remains a major impediment to reconciliation between victims and supporters of the Red Shirts, a group that does not trust the army and political establishment. Without justice, this is unlikely to change.