Sunday, August 11, 2013

Thailand's Bogus Human Rights Report

A report on the tragic events of 2010 whitewashes the role of the military

At  long last, a report has been released that was compiled by Thailand's ill-fated Human Rights Commission, headed by academic-turned-Democrat supporter Amara Pongsapich. To no one's surprise, the report is far from being a fair assessment of the tragic incident in which the state security agencies launched brutal crackdowns on Red-Shirt protesters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship in May 2010.

After taking more than three years, the commission, as it appears in the report, creates its own myth about the crackdowns to justify the military's use of force against protesters. It is evident that Amara and her team attempted and failed badly to explain away the wrongdoings of the security forces.

Some of the commission's explanations of the tragic incident are beyond belief. In a televised broadcast last week in Bangkok, Amara claimed that the Red-Shirt protesters indeed provoked the government; and possibly that they deserved to be retaliated against in such a way.

Amara accused the Red-Shirt protesters of using hand-made weapons to fight with the government, exploiting women and children as their own shield. Thus, again, they deserved to be retaliated by the state. She continued to condemn the protesters for violating the state of emergency. Even when Amara confessed that she disagreed with the state of emergency, her commission did not come out to boycott it because, in her own words, "I was still confused at the time."

In this report, the commission confirms that there existed "men in black", those supposedly hiding themselves among the Red Shirts and responsible for the killings of the protesters. Amara affirmed that in the commission's interviews with 184 witnesses, they said that they saw armed "men in black". This information strongly contradicts the verdict of a Thai Court which recently denied their existence.

In her defense of the military and the government of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Amara said that it was not possible that the state security forces would initiate the violence. "They only acted in defense," Amara stressed.

In the case of the death of six volunteers who worked within the no-fire zone inside Pathumwanaram Temple, Amara said that there were many rumors about the incident. Possibly, the six were killed outside the temple but were dragged inside to muddy the situation. Again, her information contradicts other recent testimony by the Department of Special Investigation which verifies that the six were all killed inside the temple and the shootings came from the direction of the sky train where snipers were stationing.

And shockingly, Amara rewrote the details of the arson attack against Central World, a Bangkok department store. She said that it was likely that after the crackdowns, some of the Red shirt members may have quarreled with the store's security guards. Driven by their anger, the Red Shirt members supposedly burned down the whole building. Yet, nobody has been able to identify these res shirt arsonists.

Admittedly, it is excruciating to read a worthless report that was designed to whitewash both the Abhisit administration and the army. This is not the first time, nor the last, for the Human Rights Commission under the leadership of Amara to distort facts and recreate a story that painted a gloomy picture of the protesters.

What is troublesome is not just the report. The chairwoman of the commission, Amara, is an even more troublesome figure. Her leaning toward the Democrat Party and to a large degree the army points to her audacious defense of key actors who were directly involved in the deadly crackdowns.

It all comes down to mutual interests that successfully built a web of patron-client relationships that Amara has long been a part of. She undeniably is an anti-Thaksin figure. Thus under the previous anti-Thaksin regime, she was promoted to become the chairwoman of this supposedly independent human rights agency.

Her previous professional life was also not without controversy. In a contest for the deanship of the Faculty of Political Science in the elite Chulalongkorn University, Amara only gained a few supporting votes. But at the intervention of an old professor who allied himself with the Democrat Party and the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Amara was finally selected against other more popular candidates who received more votes.

As a dean, Amara signed a petition to remove Thaksin from power in February 2006, seven months before the military coup. Her link with the Democrat Party and the PAD deeply politicized the Faculty of Political Science. During the Abhisit government, Amara was seen acting as Abhisit's personal defender, protecting his interests, and therefore remaining silent even when the government ordered the killings of the protesters. It was not the human rights that she has protected, but her own political interests.

It seems clear that Amara is immensely political. In showing her fairness, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has refused to get rid of Amara from the Human Rights Commission for fear of her opponents' criticism. Yet, the latest report simply illustrates the crisis in human rights situation in Thailand. The very person whom the public should be able to trust as a defender of human rights is the one who condoned human rights violation.

At a critical juncture in Thai politics, reconciliation is hard to bring about. Commissions like the Human Rights Commission have a role to play in telling the truth so that members of society could move forward. Sadly, the Human Rights Commission under Amara has done nothing but to widen the gap of injustice. Amara deserves to be removed from an already rotten organization.

(Pavin Chachavalpongpun
is associate professor at Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.)


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