Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, with the assistance of media outlets eager to run with the Democrat Party’s official line, have rationalized the murder charges recently filed against them as part of a scheme to bring Thaksin Shinawatra back to Thailand. The charges, they claim, are designed to squeeze them into accepting an amnesty bill that would guarantee them immunity from prosecution in exchange for vacating Mr. Thaksin’s conviction on a dubious conflict of interests charge. They should be so lucky.
Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep better not delude themselves. Even in the unfortunate event that the current government would consider putting a deal of that kind on the table, Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep will not get off that easy. Whether or not it happens as a result of these charges, the millions of Thai people who are fighting for democracy will see to it that they are held accountable for what they have done. Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep continue to be blind to a basic reality their party has tried to deny at great cost to itself and its supporters: Thailand is not what it used to be.
Democrat Party officials are positively stunned by the news. As former government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn correctly stated, “it’s unprecedented to charge two top policymakers, including the former prime minister, like this.” While Mr. Panitan might think it outrageous that powerful people in Thailand should face consequences for their actions like everyone else, charges of this kind should be absolutely normal in circumstances when scores of unarmed protesters are gunned down as a direct result of a policy approved by the highest executive authorities. These crimes took place. Now it is a matter of serving justice.
As much as they may want to believe this to be part of some game or ploy, these charges will haunt Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep for the rest of their lives. The same should happen with the military generals co-responsible for planning and carrying out the crackdowns of April and May 2010. That is the reason why the Red Shirts have pressured the government to give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the entire case. The involvement of the ICC would help Thailand make sure that everyone responsible for committing crimes against humanity is held to account.
The filing of murder charges against Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep is a milestone in Thailand’s struggle to end official impunity. The word “unprecedented” will be bandied about a lot as the process continues to take its course, as there is no precedent for Thailand joining the ranks of countries where human rights violations are actually punished. While there is no guarantee that these charges will result in real accountability, politicians on all sides would be well advised to disabuse themselves of the idea that the Thai people will accept anything less.