By The Nation
“While protest leaders and demonstrators have faced criminal prosecutions, no justice, truth or reparation has been served to families of those killed during the violence,” the rights group noted.
May 19, 2010, saw Thai authorities launch their final military operation to disperse thousands of protesters during months-long demonstrations in Bangkok. The clearance operation followed five weeks of often violent confrontations that claimed 94 lives, while at least 1,283 individuals sustained injuries, Amnesty International (AI) pointed out.
Protesters, journalists, bystanders, volunteers, police officers and military personnel were among those killed, but the cause of death is still unknown for some victims.
“On the 10th anniversary of the last day of the violent crackdowns, Amnesty International calls on the Thai authorities to immediately bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials before civilian courts, and provide effective remedies for families of those who were killed,” AI said in a statement.
The protests began on March 12 when the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) mobilised several protests in and around Bangkok and called on supporters from provinces throughout Thailand to immediately join them. Two days later, the UDD demanded that then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and hold a general election. AI notes that when measures by the government’s Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation – headed by then deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban and General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is currently deputy PM – had failed, Army troops equipped with live ammunition were deployed to disband the demonstrators.
During these operations that commenced on April 10, the military used unnecessary and excessive force and unlawfully killed protesters, including three children and two unarmed medics wearing medical uniforms with a red cross, said AI. Army troops reportedly also fired live ammunition at and above the crowds in the “live fire zones” adjacent to the protest sites. Demonstrators also reportedly used firearms to attack political opponents and security forces, and were accused by the authorities of arson and vandalism, noted the rights group.
Following the violence, the government announced on May 21, 2010 that “an independent investigation of all the events that have taken place during the protests” would be carried out “in a transparent manner”. AI points out that, to date, none of the government officials, Army commanders or military personnel involved in the operations has been prosecuted, despite the Department of Special Investigation’s effort to file murder charges against ex-PM Abhisit and his deputy Suthep with the Prosecutor’s Office based on a court-confirmed death by military ammunition. The victims also filed a malfeasance case against Abhisit, Suthep, General Anupong Paochinda, then Army Commander who currently serves as Interior minister, and others to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, but the case was dismissed in 2015. Five police officers who were involved in filing were sentenced to four years imprisonment, then reduced to two, by the Court of Appeal for malfeasance.
Some protest leaders were acquitted of “terrorism-related” offences by the Criminal Court in August 2019, but have faced serious criminal and civil charges in at least five other cases, one of which resulted in a fine of more than Bt20 million.
“When human rights violations and abuses are committed, all those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before civilian courts. If state officials are found guilty of human rights violations, purely disciplinary or administrative remedies are inadequate and not in accordance with international law,” AI said.
It adds that since 2010, families and friends of the victims have consistently called for justice, but in response, some have faced intimidation by government authorities.
“Phayaw Akkahad, mother of a volunteer nurse Kamonkade Akkahad, who was shot dead at Bangkok’s Pathum Wanaram temple, filed murder charges against military personnel with the Department of Special Investigation in 2010. In May 2019, she learned that the military prosecutor issued a non-indictment decision on the case. In July 2019 Phayaw was fined for failure to notify authorities of the protest under the Public Assembly Act after she had campaigned for justice for her daughter.
“Most recently, on May 11, 2020, Special Branch police made several phone calls at night questioning her about plans for the anniversary of her daughter’s death. Under international law and standards, remedies must be provided by an independent and impartial court of law, ‘especially when violation of the right to life is alleged’.”
The rights group notes that a key witness to nurse Kamonkade’s death – Nathathida ‘Waen’ Meewangpla – faces “terrorism-related” charges in relation to a grenade attack on Ratchada Criminal Court, in addition to royal defamation allegations under the vaguely-worded Article 112 lese majeste law.
To mark its 10th anniversary and demand justice for the crackdown, activists have projected laser-messages “Searching for the Truth” and “Killing Fields in Central Bangkok” on sites related to the crackdown, including Pathum Wanaram temple, the Defence Ministry, the Democracy Monument, CentralWorld mall, and Ratchaprasong intersection. In response, the Defence Ministry labelled the act “politically motivated” and threatened to take legal action against the Progressive Movement, which carried out the campaign.
On the night of May 13, 2020, red shirts gathered at the entrance of Bangkok’s Lumpini Park in memory of Major General Khattiya Sawatdiphon, known as “Seh Daeng”, a military adviser to the protesters who was killed by a sniper’s bullet while giving a press interview during the 2010 protests. After the crowd dispersed, police arrested Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanich, a well-known political activist who had organised the event, and accused him of violating the prohibition of gatherings set under the Emergency Decree and subsequent regulations issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Anurak faces two years in prison and a fine of Bt40,000 in addition to a number of pending criminal charges against him as a result of his previous activism.
Amnesty International has previously called on the Thai authorities to ensure that emergency powers to address Covid-19 are not used arbitrarily to restrict human rights.
The lack of justice, truth and reparation from the government for those killed and injured during the 2010 protests highlights the continued impunity for human rights violations, as well as the government’s disregard of international law and standards on crowd dispersal and the use of force, said AI. The authorities’ failure to address these violations creates a climate of fear among the public and allows room for future violations and abuses to go unpunished, it added.
“The Thai authorities must immediately prosecute any current and former officials and individuals suspected of criminal responsibility, including those with command responsibility, with the guarantee of the right to a fair trial. Full reparation must be effectively provided for relatives of the victims and survivors in accordance with international law and standards.”