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No Justice 10 Years After Thailand’s ‘Red Shirt’ Crackdown

Policymakers, Officers Escape Accountability for Nearly 100 Deaths

Thai activists use laser projectors to display the message “Searching for the Truth,” in remembrance of the 2010 military crackdown on the “Red Shirts” protest, May 2020. © 2020 Private

On the evening of May 10, activists in Bangkok used laser projectors to display the message “Searching for the Truth” onto walls of many downtown buildings. These symbolic actions popped up in locations where, 10 years ago, I witnessed one of Thailand’s most violent political confrontations.

It is a sign of popular support for the demand for truth about the 2010 violence that the “Searching for the Truth” hashtag is now trending on Twitter in Thailand.

Sadly, the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, just like its predecessors, has no answers for those demanding justice for at least 98 people killed and more than 2,000 injured between April and May 2010.

During that time, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – known as the “Red Shirts” – held a massive, continuous street protest against the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Human Rights Watch documented the military’s use of unnecessary and excessive force. Through designating “live fire zones” around protest sites, soldiers shot unarmed protesters, medics, reporters, and bystanders, sometimes in front of the assembled media’s cameras.

We also documented that some Red Shirts – including armed militants – attacked soldiers, police, and civilians. Some protest leaders incited violence with inflammatory speeches, urging supporters to carry out arson attacks and looting.

In the decade since, the authorities have conducted no serious investigations to prosecute government officials responsible for crimes. While protest leaders and their supporters have faced serious criminal charges, successive Thai governments have made paltry efforts to hold policymakers, commanding officers, and soldiers accountable.  

Under pressure from the military, authorities made insufficient efforts to identify the soldiers and commanding officers responsible for the shootings. Criminal and disciplinary cases were dropped against former Prime Minister Abhisit, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda over their failure to prevent the wrongful use of force by the military that caused deaths and destruction of property. To add insult to injury, Thai authorities have also targeted for intimidation and prosecution witnesses and families of the victims.

Hope for impartial justice fades with each passing year. This is not only a great injustice for the victims and their families, but sends a message to all Thais that there is little to protect them from government atrocities in the future. 

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