Earlier this week, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a second statement in response to our work, and as with the first one, I am providing a link to the full text here in order to engender an open debate on these important events. Below is a response. Response from Robert Amsterdam: I would respectfully disagree with the Foreign Ministry’s interpretation of Thailand’s obligations before international law. Firstly it is wrong to accuse the protesters of attempting to bring down a “legitimate government.” The current administration in power has arisen out of a military coup which overturned the popular democratic choice of the Thai people, followed by politicized constitutional court decisions that have destroyed public trust in the judiciary and damaged the legitimacy of the state. The suggestion that “rule of law” had to be imposed is an insult to the protesters, who have already suffered the indignity of double standards of a justice system that has never punished members of the PAD for occupying the government house and Suvarnabhumi airport. These Thai citizens are not risking their lives in demonstrations to “create havoc;” they are demanding that their votes count just like regular citizens.
It is insufficient to justify the extraordinary violence against protesters which occurred in April and May by citing the presence of armed elements. Who are these individuals, were any of them captured, and is the status of any investigations initiated? Journalists have confirmed some reports of small numbers of armed individuals, but far short of the government claims of a paramilitary presence of hundreds. What accounts for this discrepancy? If rogue, armed elements were operating on the fringes of the protest, they should have been arrested and tried with applicable charges.The presence of armed individuals, however, does not explain how such a high number of unarmed civilians were killed by military and police, including what appear to be several deaths of unarmed protesters and journalists seeking sanctuary at Wat Pathum Wanaram and other locations. It does not explain the army’s use of snipers. There is the case, for example, of the death of Kamolket Akahad, known as “Nurse Kate,” who was shot three times by high-velocity bullets at Wat Pathum while tending to a wounded man, attempting to save his life. Many witnesses, photos, and videos indicate that army snipers fired upon her from the nearby Skytrain platform, while a military statement has not denied responsibility.The central questions regarding alleged human rights violations remain unanswered: Did the military use disproportionate force? Did they fire live rounds indiscriminately? Were these alleged extra-judicial killings isolated and sporadic, or ongoing as a government policy? Who ordered the military to “shoot terrorists on sight,” and what parameters were given to identify who was a “terrorist” and who was a civilian? To what degree should responsibility for these events be attributed to the Committee for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES)?These same human rights concerns are shared by many in the international community, including Amnesty International, who stated on May 18: “Eye-witness accounts and video recordings show clearly that the military is firing live rounds at unarmed people who pose no threat whatsoever to the soldiers or to others. This is a gross violation of a key human right – the right to life. (…) Deliberately firing live ammunition at unarmed people, whether they be protesters or otherwise and who pose no credible threat to anyone else, is unlawful.“We concur with Mr. Chavanond that the honorable Kanit Na Nakorn be allowed to complete his work in an independent manner, and rather than pre-judging its results, we fully support the idea of engendering understanding among Thais. However, as Kanit himself has stated, the probe will not concern itself with responsibility for the killings, and will not build a case toward prosecution, and therefore fails to fulfill the duty to investigate. Furthermore, it raises significant concerns that the Thai authorities have obstructed independent attempts to collect evidence, and have rejected calls for an international and impartial investigation.We are not the only ones who hold these reservations. The Committee to Protect Journalists has also responded to Thailand’s claims that adequate investigations are underway: “CPJ is concerned that the government-appointed investigatory committee, led by former Attorney General Khanit na Nakhon, will not prioritize bringing the perpetrators of the recent violence to justice. (…) CPJ notes that past government-appointed committees tasked with investigating alleged state-sponsored rights abuses in Thailand have consistently failed to result in prosecutions.”However the most egregious distortion from the authorities is the use of the language of reconciliation as a cover-up for crimes against humanity. It is simply not possible to begin a reconciliation plan that is conceived, implemented, and imposed upon a society by only one party, while at the same time prosecuting the opposition with phony charges of terrorism, hunting down protesters as though they were criminals, and maintaining a rigid regime of censorship on media and web sites critical of the government. True reconciliation, which is fully supported by the UDD, requires open dialogue, consensual and participatory engagement, free media, independent justice, and accountability before the law.Let’s all recall that it was the Red Shirt leadership, including Natthawut Saigua and Weng Tojirakarn, who made the courageous decision surrender themselves to the authorities on May 19 in order to halt the bloodshed, after the government had refused offers of negotiations without conditions, preferring to send in the guns to violently disperse the protest. Now Musikapong, Tojirakarn, and 9 others face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted on terrorism charges, yet the government talks about a reconciliation road map. Such a map is no good when you have lost your moral compass.This conduct harkens back to the 1976 Thammasat University massacre, when the protesting students were branded as either “Communists” or as non-Thai foreigners, meaning that it was acceptable to use lethal force. Today the military is following the same old script by calling the Red Shirts “terrorists.” The only difference is that this time no one is buying it – we’ve all already seen that movie.The de facto government of Thailand needs to worry less about casting undue blame upon individuals, and concern itself with answering a number of the questions outlined above and working toward restoring the minimum semblance of compliance with local and international law.