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    Thailand: Deliver Justice for 2010 Political Violence

    Thailand: Deliver Justice for 2010 Political Violence
    May 17, 2013

    Reject Blanket Amnesty, Prosecute Perpetrators From All Sides


    “Relatives and representatives hold photographs of those who lost their lives in the 2010 government crackdown on red shirt protesters during a prayer to mark the second anniversary at Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok May 19, 2012.”
    © Reuters

    Three years ago, the world saw soldiers shooting protesters and parts of Bangkok going up in flames. But instead of investigating and prosecuting those responsible, successive Thai governments and the army have politicized efforts for justice and are now backing an amnesty bill that would let everyone off the hook.


    Brad Adams, Asia director
    (New York) – Three years on, the Thai government has failed to fulfill its promise to impartially prosecute all those responsible for the 2010 political violence, Human Rights Watch said today. Amnesty legislation being proposed by leading members of the ruling Pheu Thai Party would shield perpetrators of serious abuses from accountability and should be rejected.

    “Three years ago, the world saw soldiers shooting protesters and parts of Bangkok going up in flames,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “But instead of investigating and prosecuting those responsible, successive Thai governments and the army have politicized efforts for justice and are now backing an amnesty bill that would let everyone off the hook.”

    From March to May 2010, political confrontations between the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” and the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, escalated into violence in Bangkok and several 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.

    A Human Rights Watch May 2011 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 many deaths and injuries during the 2010 political 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. The army deployed sharpshooters and snipers.

    On September 17, 2012, the independent Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand presented its final report, which blamed both sides for the 2010 violence but indicated that the security forces were responsible for the majority of deaths and injuries. The commission urged the Yingluck government to “address legal violations by all parties through the justice system, which must be fair and impartial.”

    The Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), established by Abhisit and chaired by then-Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, approved the use of live ammunition to contain and disperse the protests, but failed to take steps to ensure the army acted according to law enforcement standards. A document signed by Suthep on April 18, 2010, later seen by Human Rights Watch, broadly authorized the deployment of sharpshooters and snipers to “protect security forces and the public.” It is unknown what orders were given by political authorities to the army at the time.

    “When a soldier looks through his rifle scope at a peaceful protester or medic and pulls the trigger, that is cold–blooded murder,” Adams said. “Soldiers who fired on people when no life was at risk, and the commanders who were directing them, should be brought to justice.”

    There are serious concerns about the government’s commitment to ensure accountability, Human Rights Watch said. Shortly after taking office in 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra publicly vowed to investigate and prosecute the security forces for the 2010 violence, but her government has failed to follow through. Not a single soldier or official has been held accountable for the deaths and injuries that took place during the political confrontations three years ago.

    Criminal investigations have progressed very slowly. The DSI announced in September 2012 that the military was responsible for 36 deaths. So far, only nine cases have been submitted to the court for post-mortem inquests. Thus far, five victims have been found to have been shot dead by soldiers acting under orders from the CRES.

    The government appears to have caved in to pressure from the army not to prosecute military personnel, Human Rights Watch said. Commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has repeatedly said in public that soldiers should not be condemned for the 2010 killings. In August 2012, Prayuth ordered an army legal officer to file a criminal defamation complaint against Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer representing the UDD and exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, after Amsterdam gave a speech the previous March accusing the army of brutality against the “Red Shirts” and demanding accountability.

    Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung and DSI Inspector General Tarit Pengdith have frequently stated that military officers would not be held responsible for the casualties during the crackdown because they were acting under orders from the Abhisit government. In December 2012, the DSI decided to charge only Abhisit and Suthep for the killings. The DSI charged both of them on the theory of command responsibility with premeditated murder and conspiring to commit murder.

    DSI, police investigations, and the inquest rulings have provided inadequate information as to the identity of the soldiers and commanding officers responsible for the killing of protesters and others.

    The families of those killed and wounded by soldiers during the 2010 violence told Human Rights Watch that they now have little hope of obtaining justice. In order to receive financial reparations from the government, the families had to sign a settlement document containing a provision that they agree to forfeit their rights to file a court case against the army for civil damages.

    Elements of the UDD, including the armed “Black Shirt” militants, were responsible for deadly attacks on soldiers, police, and civilians, Human Rights Watch said. Some UDD leaders incited violence with inflammatory speeches to demonstrators, urging their supporters to carry out riots, arson attacks, and looting. Arson attacks in and outside Bangkok caused billions of dollars in damage.

    However, the UDD leadership and their supporters, including those now holding positions in the government and the parliament, have contested these findings. Prime Minister Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party now echo these views. On April 29, Yingluck gave a speech blaming the previous government and the military for all of the deaths during the 2010 confrontations.

    “Violence by all sides took place, yet the UDD and its political supporters in the government still deny any share of responsibility,” Adams said. “Red Shirts” leaders and the supporters should recognize that all those responsible for violence and abuses need to be held accountable for what they did.”

    The current status of investigations into alleged crimes by “Black Shirt” militants is unclear, Human Rights Watch said. Several of those accused by the Abhisit government of violence against soldiers, police officers, and anti-UDD groups were released on bail, apparently without any further legal proceedings. The DSI no longer refers to the elaborated chart, displayed in the media many times when Abhisit was in power, identifying suspected “Black Shirt” militants and linking them with the violent incidents in 2010. The families of soldiers killed and wounded in the clashes say that they fear that those responsible will not be prosecuted.

    The Yingluck government is repeating the previous government’s failure to address the 2010 violence in an impartial manner, Human Rights Watch said. The Abhisit government charged hundreds of UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses. The Yingluck government, which has the UDD’s backing, has taken a similarly one-sided approach, focusing criminal investigations to prosecute Abhisit and Suthep for authorizing soldiers to use live ammunition and lethal force while denying deadly violence by UDD-linked “Black Shirt” militants. Both governments have shielded military personnel from criminal prosecution.

    “Both sides in Thailand’s political divide share responsibility for the deadly confrontations in 2010, and now it is up to the government to prosecute all those responsible regardless of political affiliation or position,” Adams said.

    “No one should be above the law.”

    Our Report:



    Descent into Chaos
    Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown
    May 3, 2011

    Get the report: Download summary and key recommendations: photo feature

    Download the full report

    Go to report home »

    hrw.org

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    Red shirts wary of 'wholesale' amnesty
    18 May 2013

    The Pheu Thai Party's decision to back a "wholesale" amnesty for all sides involved in the violent events of May 2010 has upset some of its red-shirt supporters as well as critics of the government.

    Some red shirts see the proposal as a betrayal because it would cover senior Democrat Party figures who were in government when the military crackdown on the Bangkok rally took place three years ago Sunday.

    Others say the amnesty is simply a cynical attempt to pave the way for the return home of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts' patron.

    Thaksin is reported to have pushed Pheu Thai to back a broader amnesty proposal. He is expected to address his supporters via video link on Sunday when they gather to commemorate the third anniversary of the 2010 events.

    Pardoning leaders on one or both sides of the political divide would simply perpetuate the culture of impunity in Thailand, where senior figures are rarely punished for anything, say academics.


    Deputy PM Chalerm Yubamrung addresses red-shirt activists at a rally in January to press for the release of political prisoners.
    (Post file photo)

    Pheu Thai earlier had favoured a limited amnesty that would cover only rank-and-file followers who had been locked up for offences deemed political.

    Prominent figures sympathetic to the red shirts have been criticising the Pheu Thai flip-flop in social media forums. They include Nitirat Group core member Piyabutr Saengkanokkul; Thammasat University scholars Kasian Tejapira and Somsak Jeamteerasakul; as well as red-shirt activists Nithiwat Wannasiri, Jittra Kotchadet and Suda Rungkuphan.

    They say the party is betraying the red-shirt rank and file, as if a hundred deaths and a thousand injuries were simply the price to pay for the party’s compromise with the old establishment for the sake of its own survival.

    Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, the party's most strident supporter of Thaksin, has made no secret of his determination to bring the former premier home.

    Mr Chalerm has reportedly called meetings with provincial governors and senior police officers nationwide to prepare the way for a smooth return of the fugitive politician.

    Mr Chalerm's campaign appears to have gained the upper hand over one backed by Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hemma, who had proposed a bill granting amnesty to rank-and-file members on both sides of the political conflict.
    However, Mr Worachai is modifying his position and says he has 150 signatures to support introducing a "wholesale amnesty bill" at a parliamentary meeting on Thursday.

    An earlier "amnesty for all" bill was advanced by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratklin, who led the coup that overthrew Thaksin in 2006. It would have let everyone off the hook, including soldiers.

    Mr Chalerm is also reportedly planning to visit Udon Thani on Friday to explain to sceptical northeastern red shirts why his amnesty proposal is necessary.

    Critics are afraid that such an amnesty would only reinforce the culture of impunity in Thai politics.

    "It is inappropriate, if not unwise, to make a move during the mourning and commemorations of those who died and injured," wrote Mr Somsak on his Facebook page.

    "Thaksin should make clear his position on the matter when he speaks at the videoconference Sunday night."

    He added that the ball was now in Thaksin's court and the Thai public would now see the true nature of their exiled leader, whether he cared only for himself or for his comrades in arms.

    Banjerd Fungklinchan, the father of a man killed on April 10, 2010, cautioned that Pheu Thai should not think only about its majority votes without hearing the voices of those who lost loved ones in 2010.

    "The UDD core leaders have previously announced they could exclude themselves from amnesty so this amnesty would be for whom? How can we forgive before seeing justice is served?" he asked.

    "Our beloved leader Khun Thaksin has lived abroad cosily and comfortably so he should not rush to come back. He previously announced that if it was still impossible for him to return home, he could stay away."

    But if the politicians intend to work only for their own convenience, the relatives of the dead and the injured would still fight for justice, said Mr Banjerd.

    Somchai Homlaor, a member of the Law Reform Commission and the now-defunct Truth for Reconciliation Commission, said the Pheu Thai move was not in line with the TRC recommendations.

    It had said that amnesty should be considered thoroughly and details of who did what should be differentiated.

    "There must be a real process with some specific timeline that leads to true reconciliation — say those involved in the political turmoil must concede to their guilt, apologies must be made to the victims' families and the general public, and certain information about the incidents must be shared with the public," said Mr Somchai

    "Otherwise there is no learning and forgiving as conflicts still remain."

    However, he believes there will still be some time for Pheu Thai to reconsider and make the right decision on amnesty and reconciliation, as the actual consideration of the bills would not take place until the next House session in August.

    bangkokpost.com

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