LONDON, 29 August 2014 – Following a ruling by a Thai court dismissing murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban for their roles in the 2010 Bangkok massacre, international lawyer Robert Amsterdam says that the Red Shirt movement will not rest until the responsible parties are held accountable.
“More than 90 Thai citizens were brutally murdered by the Thai Army under the direction of Abhisit and Suthep simply because they protested for their right to vote. No matter where these men go, the spectre of this atrocity will haunt them,” said Amsterdam, who originally brought the case of the 2010 massacres before the International Criminal Court (ICC). “The military coup came to the rescue of these criminals, but what I can guarantee to all Red Shirt members, this will not be the final chapter in this story.”
The controversial decision by the Criminal Court of Thailand today dismissed the charges without considering the evidence, instead claiming that it did not have jurisdiction because Abhisit and Suthep held political office at the time of said crimes. Even the President the Criminal Court Thongchai Senamontri rejected the ruling, issuing an official “note of disagreement” along with the ruling highlighting the court’s rightful jurisdiction to handle the case.
The Bangkok massacre case has now been passed into the hands of the coup-appointed National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which is all but certain to launder the crimes of the past government, says Amsterdam. “The NACC is an integral part of the coup-elite network that has now overthrown the past five democratically elected governments of Thailand, so we all can see what is happening now,” Amsterdam said.
The Criminal Court’s decision is particularly controversial given coup leader (and self appointed Prime Minister) General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s record of interference in the case, Amsterdam said. Before the coup, Prayuth had repeatedly threatened and intimidated investigators, lawyers, witnesses, and journalists involved in the Bangkok massacre case, according to a 23 August 2012 statement by Human Rights Watch.
This granting of impunity comes amidst a rapidly deteriorating situation for human rights in Thailand, Amsterdam says, pointing to the junta’s sentencing of seven protesters at McDonalds to a three-month jail term, as well as the widely condemned harassment of lawyer Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, who is being sued for “damaging the reputation of the army” because she documents torture for the Cross Cultural Foundation.
“This unjust precedent will not stand, and survivors and families of victims of the 2010 massacre will now pursue international legal avenues,” said Amsterdam. “It is beyond any doubt that the junta currently controlling Thailand will never, under any condition, allow standard, non-arbitrary legal proceedings on its watch, so will continue our pursuit of justice for the victims of the 2010 massacre.”
An open letter to the Harvard Crimson from Robert Amsterdam, counsel to the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (FT-HD)
Nicholas P. Fandos
14 Plympton St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
August 21, 2014
Dear Mr. Fandos,
I read with grave concern the recent article published on 18 August 2014 in The Harvard Crimson entitled “Troubles with Thai Studies,” which reported the ongoing efforts by Thailand’s coup-appointed Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan to institute a $6 million endowed “Thai Studies Program” at Harvard University that would serve to legitimize an illegal military government.
I was further dismayed to see the article temporarily pulled from the website after the author received threats of violence from these same extremists that have toppled the elected government in Thailand. Although the article has indeed been reposted subsequently, legitimate concerns remain.
My latest op/ed in Foreign Policy Journal explores some of the similarities between Thailand and Guatemala’s experience with coups, and the subsequent struggle to achieve historical memory.
The topic of historical memory has long been a core theme among many Red Shirt groups, and it’s a issue of vital importance to many countries which have experienced tragedy and civil war. But specifically, the comparative case with Guatemala that has struck my attention for its similarity to Thailand in recent days while reading the excellent book “Paper Cadavers” by the Canadian academic Kirsten Weld.
On the surface, there is very little that connects the tiny Central American republic of 15 million to the Southeast Asian juggernaut of 67 million people, with completely different societies, economies, and political systems. But what Guatemala and Thailand share is fascinating: a common history of repeated, violent military coups and heavy U.S. involvement as a result of the Cold War, creating a lingering distortion in each nation’s political culture.
Many passages from Weld’s book are chillingly applicable to today’s Thailand.
As part of her research examining the secret archives of Guatemala’s military dictatorship, she came across a former guerilla named Gustavo Meoño, who for a time served as the director of the archives. According to Weld:
“Meoño’s postwar objectives included the recovery of what he called ‘democratic memory’ – a focus on the history of political struggle, rescuing and restoring the stories of those who had resisted dictatorship, even if their alternative visions had failed or been flawed in their execution. Without protecting this ‘democratic memory,’ Meoño believed, Guatemala would never construct a democratic national identity; instead it would continue to criminalize those who fought for the right to think differently, discouraging future youth from politics and leadership. ‘The idea of the rights to memory, truth, and justice is not an issue of the left or of the right,’ he argued. ‘It’s an issue of fundamental human rights, independent of ideology or political militancy.’”
This article was originally published RealClearWorld:
In recent weeks, the military junta in Thailand has been working hard on rehabilitating its image. A battalion of soft-spoken diplomats has been dispatched on an international charm offensive, lecturing policymakers and journalists on their good intentions and popular support. Just don’t ask them to prove it in an election.
Their efforts are aimed at promoting a distorted understanding of events — an exercise that the United States and Europe seem all too willing to accept. They want the world to believe that the May 22, 2014, military coup is somehow a “normal” feature of Thailand’s political culture, and as such, the junta should get a free pass.
If things continue along this path, we are due to have a replay of the aftermath of the 2006 coup. At the time, Western governments eventually gave their support to the military’s plan to introduce a new constitution that severely watered down representation and allowed them to keep appointees permanently entrenched in the Constitutional Court and Senate. It’s little wonder why the situation has culminated in violence and repression once again several years later, and undoubtedly what will happen if they remain unchallenged in 2014.
The following op/ed article by Robert Amsterdam and Jakrapob Penkair was first published in the Diplomatic Courier:
Less than a month since Thailand’s military seized power by a coup d’etat, the junta has been quick in attempting to “normalise” their illegal power grab.
Seeking to shore up support, the junta has launched a charm offensive by sending a delegation to China, where they now claim to have support for their coup, and hosting visits of military leaders from neighboring states. This regional strategy could place extraordinary pressure on Washington to recognize the coup or risk watching a key ally drift into Chinese hands.
For anyone who remembers the 2006 coup, there may be a sense of déjà vu. At first, foreign governments made strong statements, followed by inaction, and later followed by resignation and acquiescence.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was firm in his initial comments, stating: “There is no justification for this military coup. (…) We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with U.S. law.”
The law on this matter is clear—no U.S. aid can go to a government whose elected representative was deposed by a military coup. A large-scale joint exercise with the Thai military has already been cancelled, but still no sanctions have been tabled.
The European Union’s initial reaction was similar, but so far they have refused to suspend arms sales or discuss sanctions. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton urged the military to release the thousands of detained political prisoners and ease censorship, and said that they are following developments with “extreme caution.”
Unfortunately, more is needed.
Last time there was a coup in Thailand, Western nations failed to support the democratic will of the Thai people. The generals have clearly interpreted the message that a coup only poses short-term inconveniences instead of real consequences.
Before the May 2014 coup, Thailand had experienced 18 interruptions of it democracy by the military. It begs the question: if leading Western governments and trade partners with Thailand were less permissive and forgiving in response to military coups, would they continue to occur with such frequency? Have we lowered our expectations for Thailand?
There is no ambiguity about the repression taking place in Thailand today. The junta’s soldiers have arrested and held thousands of detainees at gunpoint and beyond the reach of their families (or lawyers) or weeks. Thai citizens can face arrest for almost anything, for example giving the “three-finger” anti-coup salute from the Hunger Games film, while the military is threatening to jail people based on “liking” social media content. The ugly spectre of lese majeste is flourishing, while even people outside of Thailand have been threatened by the coup leadership.
For generals such as Prayuth Chan-ocha, an architect of the massacre that murdered more than 90 unarmed protesters four years ago, the coup represents both an economic opportunity (military budgets have already been increased with zero transparency) as well as an engine of impunity—an obligatory exercise taking place once every decade or so to cover up responsibility for human rights crimes. There are unfortunately a class of citizens in Thailand who do not believe that their fellow countrymen enjoy equal rights to representation. This kind of tyranny poses a chilling image of what could happen next.
The coup began long before the Army’s declaration of martial law. It was forged under the so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) of former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who had been charged with murder. Any other government would have arrested and convicted this man, Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration was stripped of its most basic powers typically endowed to an elected government.
If the international community wants to see Thailand successfully emerge from the coup, strong action is required, beginning with and not limited to actions such as a steadfast refusal to recognise the junta as a legitimate government of Thailand, halting of all arms sales and military cooperation, targeted sanctions against assets and travel privileges of coup leaders, sanctions and public boycotts of the main business conglomerates who financially sponsored Suthep’s overthrow of the elected government and demanding the immediate restoration of democratic governance.
A failure to respond to this coup in a much stronger way than the past will only perpetuate this destructive cycle. It is time to expect more from Thailand and stand behind democratic values. It may be our last opportunity to do so.
Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Partners LLP serves as international defence counsel to the United National Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), and prominent Red Shirt group in Thailand. Jakrapob Penkair is a founder of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and former Minister and Member of Thailand’s Parliament. He resigned from the government after criticisms of his 2007 comments against the nation’s patronage culture and left the country after a military crackdown on protesters against the 2008 judicial ouster of the government he had served. The views expressed are their own.
LONDON – On behalf of UDD, we urge you not to use the language of legitimate trials in describing illegal and indeed criminal military tribunals that have absolutely no jurisdiction, no independence, no impartiality and no due process that are being used in a manner entirely divorced from law or reason to punish individuals who are political opponents of the military.
Instead of “trial,” please use the term “process” or “hearing.” Please refrain from using the term “judgment” which implies some form of neutral consideration. Please refrain from using the term “detention”, when in fact the individuals detained are in reality hostages.
We underscore that this junta has no legitimacy under international law. Their determination to use military courts and bogus charges only serves to underscore the insecurity of a group of individuals who have lied, deceived the Thai people, and stand themselves accused of violating not only international law but also destroying the very future hopes and aspirations of the Thai people.
Counsel to the United National Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)
According to reports published in the Thai media, the military junta administration is considering “action” against me in retaliation for public statements, and may seek to “block” communications by shutting down access to websites, among other measures to be pursued via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
These threats come at the same time that many others, including journalists, activists, and civil society leaders, are being called before the junta for interrogations, while hundreds remain detained without rights.
We should ask ourselves what this kind of conduct means. What does this say about the Thai junta that they so fear what people might say, and have to resort to fear and threats to shore up their support? This determination to control information is the defining characteristic of dictatorship, and stands as the clearest evidence why the coup must be dissolved and democratic civilian authority must be restored.
The military coup overseen by Gen. Prayuth has no constitutional authority and no legitimacy to issue these sorts of accusations. They have behaved in a criminal manner by illegally seizing power, and these efforts to chill free speech show a fundamental lack of confidence in their own status.
I reject any suggestion that my public statements have any bearing on “incitement.” The Thai people have the right to question the unlawful actions of an unelected military dictatorship, and they have the right to peacefully oppose the theft of their country by the military. If the act of voicing opposition to the coup and calling for the immediate restoration of civilian rule represents an offence, the junta would also have to pursue action against a wide range of diplomatic figures.
Given the majority of our communications take place on Facebook and Twitter, for the junta to shut down complete access to these websites would place it among the world’s most repressive, criminal governments. It would also confirm the total bankruptcy of their legitimacy among the people of Thailand.
Most importantly, these threats will not work. We will not be silenced, and we will not go away. Instead we have to find ways to work together to achieve peaceful resolution and a return to democracy.
It is for this reason we are committed to providing counsel and support to the legitimate government in exile, in order to ensure that one day peace and democracy are restored to Thailand.
It would be an understatement to say the last few days have been very difficult for you. After enduring several months of attacks on the democracy you value so highly, the Thai Army finally showed their hand and decided to join with those opposed to a Thailand based on civil and political equality.
There is no doubt that the Army’s actions have been both illegal and criminal. Their seizure of power, their taking your leaders and their family members hostage and their suppression of any dissenting voices only reveals them as little more than gangsters attempting to strong-arm an entire nation.
In the days before the Army embarked on their illegal course of action, UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan asked me to act on his behalf should he be seized by the Thai Army. In light of that, and as we write this letter, steps are now being undertaken to re-form a coherent UDD and Red Shirt leadership outside of Thailand. In the interim we will begin the process of seeking legal, international sanctions against the leaders of the Thai Army’s illegal putsch. General Prayuth and his mafia cabal are hereby put on notice – you will be held to account.
We will also do all we can to find out how those already taken hostage by the Army are being treated. Unconfirmed sources are already alleging mistreatment of your leaders and we demand that the Army allow legal representation and the Red Cross access to their prison camps.
We would also ask you to take photographs and video and prepare testimonies and accounts of any Thai Army activity and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Such evidence could prove essential in building our case against the Thai Army – all sources will, of course, remain anonymous.
In the meanwhile we would ask that all pro-democracy activists, Red Shirts and those committed to returning Thailand to civilian and legally mandated rule remain peaceful. The Army may attempt to unleash a “strategy of tension” in the days to come – something which could include terrorist actions – and Red Shirts must do their utmost to stay disciplined, calm and focused.
Yours in solidarity and fraternity
24 MAY 2014 – LONDON – More than 150 Thai citizens who have been arrested by the military are unable to communicate with their lawyers, representing a violation of international human rights law, says Red Shirt legal counsel Robert Amsterdam.
“We don’t know where they are being held, we don’t know if they are being mistreated, and we haven’t been allowed to communicate with them,” Amsterdam said on behalf of a group of lawyers representing detained Red Shirt leaders. “After almost 72 hours, the fact that Gen. Prayuth’s coup is holding people hostage without rights beyond the reach of their lawyers is a clear gesture of intimidation. This represents a violation of both Thai and international law.”
There have also been incidences of harassment of lawyers representing those detained, including Mr. Titippong Srisaen, who was held for five hours before being released. Other members of parliament of the elected government have also been arrested, while today the coup leaders moved to dissolve Senate, taking over all powers of the state.
Amsterdam said the legal team is working in close contact with all relevant UN and international bodies in Thailand to try to protect both citizens and detainees. The Army’s ongoing conduct, which has included nighttime raids on private homes and hounding of people previously pardoned from lese majeste charges, has created a climate of fear among Thai society, Amsterdam says.
“Given the velocity of this crackdown, Prayuth appears to have no interest in maintaining peace, but instead is following the playbook of Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat,” said Amsterdam. “His tenuous support is rapidly eroding, and we are deeply concerned regarding public safety.”
This week Amsterdam announced that the elected leadership of Thailand may consider the establishment of a government in exile. Efforts are underway to document the actions of coup participants to be held accountable when rule of law is restored.