Thai Authorities Are Dodging Obligations under International Law
On the 17th and 18th of August, several members of the government of Thailand, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, and Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Piromya, issued comments in response to a letter I sent on August 10 on behalf of victims of the April and May killings of protesters in Bangkok.
This letter raised a number of unanswered questions dating from a previous letter sent on June 29 with regard to Thailand’s duty to investigate the killings as a signatory under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and addressed the current rights of the accused to access and independently examines evidence held against them.
As numerous members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have been placed under arrest and charged with terrorism, Thailand is obligated under international law to provide their defense counsel and legal advisors with access to all “governmental or military documents relating to the Thai government’s overarching strategy, operational orders, written or oral instructions, and all military, intelligence, investigative or other expert reports used by the Thai Authorities to prepare for, address, and disperse the Red Shirt protests.” The letter furthermore requested documentation reflecting the chain of command within sections of the military assigned to the containment and dispersal of these protest rallies.
The response in the past few days from the government has been categorically insufficient in addressing these concerns. Prime Minister Abhisit has again declared he has not read the letter, despite multiple copies having been provided to his offices, and instead offered personal insults and raised groundless objections to dodge the state’s responsibility to comply with the ICCPR. Both Mr. Panitan and Mr. Chavanond denied that the rights of UDD protesters had been violated, and instead of addressing fulfillment of ICCPR requirements, demurred to accusations of a foreigner’s legal standing.
I am disappointed that the Thai government has neglected the opportunity to begin an open engagement with the victims of the crackdown, and has stepped away from reconciliation by promoting many of the police and military officials who are believed to have participated in the killings. Prime Minister Abhisit and the administration have openly refused to comply with international law with respect to the duty to investigate and prosecute those responsible for more than 80 deaths. Prosecutors have yet to provide the Thai defense team for jailed UDD members with complete materials as required by law.
The reaction of the government confirms an ongoing practice of obfuscation and unwillingness to provide information on these urgent issues, while this attempt to dodge accountability leads many to conclude that the evidence must be politically inconvenient to the maintenance of personal power within the leadership.
The international community will not sit by idly while the Thai government violates its obligations under international treaties such as the ICCPR. The recent announcement by the United States government of its support for war crimes tribunals in Burma only serves to underscore the perilous nature of the present conduct of those who have seized power in Thailand.
There is no debate over what Thailand’s duties are to its citizens. The duty to investigate and the duty to prosecute have been historically honored under international law, and impunity for the military officers and political leadership is inconsistent with the image Thailand is attempting to sustain.
The strategy for this government appears to be based upon denial, avoidance, and the increase of tension in order to use security as a pretext for dictatorship. When one raises objections or criticism of their conduct, they falsely claim that it is an attack on the reputation of the whole country. If the Abhisit administration wants to claim that they represent the Thai people, there is only one way to do this: win a free and fair election.