CRES, the ICC, and Accountability
Over the course of its short history, Thailand’s Orwellian-titled Committee for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) has made a number of outlandish statements to accompany its repressive conduct. Apart from jailing activists, journalists, and academics, they even took time, in a moment of profound absurdity, to declare that a vendor selling flip flops imprinted with the image of the Prime Minister posed a threat to national security.
Therefore no one was expecting a responsible or serious statement in response to the recent submission of a preliminary report to notify the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) of alleged crimes against humanity committed against protesters and others during the Bangkok crackdown. However, what CRES did claim may surprise even the most hardened cynics.
On 27 October, Spokesman, Col. Sansern Keawkamnerd stated to the press, “CRES hasn’t yet held a meeting regarding this issue and I am not quite certain whether this case can be brought before the ICC or not, because we all know what happened in Thailand – soldiers didn’t hunt down and kill civilians, but rather violence happened because of an illegal demonstration.”
Later Sansern continued, “The Thai courts gave legitimate power to the government to control the situation and we all had done our best to negotiate with the protesters. (…) For the crackdown operation, we had been following international standards and we had also informed and given all information to people through TV and radios – we never suppress press freedom.”
The administration’s position was echoed by Thepthai’s comments: “If we look at ICC jurisdiction, we will see that ICC has no power to investigate this case. (…) This case is different from the genocide case in Cambodia which ICC obviously has jurisdiction over, but what happened in Thailand is domestic problem and the government had no intention to kill its civilians and also the government’s action was authorized by laws.”
What we can take away from these statements is actually something remarkable – that according to the thinking of CRES (and we can generally interpret this to be the thinking of the elites), there is still an official denial that the Royal Thai Army and police engaged in the killings of protesters. This position of CRES, as disingenuous a stance imaginable given evidence in the public domain, helps to explain why there have been so many efforts to deny access to forensic evidence and cover-up other facts and information relating to the events. One single act, picked out from mass of obstructing tactics deployed by the Thai state, highlights their efforts to deny due, impartial process – the decision taken by a Thai court on 27 August– a complete rejection of requests on behalf of 19 detained Red Shirt leaders to conduct independent autopsies of nine bodies from the massacres.
The bodies in question already been autopsied by the government but, so far, they have refused to share these reports with the defendants. In response, the families have not gone forward with the traditional Thai cremation ceremonies in order to preserve the evidence, out of the eventual hope for justice. The court’s denial of this request constitutes a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — to which Thailand has acceded — which requires that criminal defendants have full access to evidence to the same extent as the government. The reasoning of the court was that only the government prosecutor is entitled to request autopsies.
So why cover up the autopsies? Obviously, one of the purposes of the autopsies is to examine bullet trajectories, calibers, and distances in order to establish whether these victims were killed by Army snipers, or on the street level by other individuals, as the government claims. This is something the government examiners failed to do when they conducted their own autopsies. By denying the defendants’ request, the government is in effect destroying important evidence that Army snipers killed these civilians, because the autopsies will eventually be conducted and the bodies will be destroyed.
It is also noteworthy that the government has charged the Red Shirt leaders with terrorism before the facts were ever investigated. If there were — as the government has repeatedly claimed — violent elements that infiltrated the ranks of the protesters, the state should investigate and identify those individuals before simply charging the Red Shirt leaders with terrorism when they were doing nothing more than peacefully exercising their rights to express their political views, something that is also guaranteed under the ICCPR.
It is also important to note that the Red Shirt leaders have even been denied the right to attend their own criminal proceedings. They were not allowed to be present on August 27 at their own arraignment to hear the formal charges against them and present their plea. Further, the court specifically stated that they would not be allowed to be present at the next court hearing. This violates the guarantee to a fair trial set out in the Thai constitution and the ICCPR because it impedes the defendants from communicating with their lawyers about the charges/facts/allegations, and it impacts their ability to prepare a defense against the charges. The reason given for not allowing them to attend – that the courtroom was too small – is further indication of the absurdity of the regime’s handling of proceedings (there were three seats for more than 19 lawyers on August 27). The families were also denied the right to attend, for the same reason, while requests for a larger courtroom were denied.
If there were any remaining doubts about why the Thai government has become so invested in preventing any kind of real investigation – and thereby undermining any reconciliation effort – it is because they evidently fear the answers that would come about if independent autopsies were performed on a large number of victims. The military-elite compact in control of the country is apparently placing its bets on an outright denial that any of these killings ever took place.
What is very telling about the Abhisit administration’s position in this case is that they are frantically eager to dodge accountability before international legal regimes, rather than share all the information to back up their claims. There is one party here that is interested in more information, more evidence, and more openness, investigation, and process, and another party who only argues that they are the only ones who can rule on the issue. In short, we are more than happy that our overwhelming evidence of the regime’s guilt be tested in an open court.
Mr. Sansern, Mr. Thepthai, and Mr. Abhisit, among others, have so far not displayed much confidence in their position, but rather have exhibited the evasive behavior of the guilty.