THAILAND: Compensation without criminal liability is no solution to the killings in Southern Thailand

The findings of the Independent Fact-Finding Commission on the Krue Se Mosque massacre in Southern Thailand were made public yesterday. While recommending compensation payments and the preparation of contingency plans to prevent future similar incidents, they also contained an important observation that, “Investigations should be pursued through the appropriate organs within the judicial system for those officials involved claiming their actions were in fulfillment of their duties.”

In the aftermath of the mass killings in Southern Thailand of April 28, the Asian Human Rights Commission promptly called for a thorough independent judicial inquiry. While falling short of this standard, and being limited in its study to the single attack on the Krue Se Mosque, the fact-finding commission has served a useful initial purpose in getting onto the public record a little of what happened that day. The report makes undeniable the fact that the killing of the 32 men inside the mosque was unjustified. There is no longer any question that the conflict couldn’t have been resolved peacefully, had the army commander in charge not chosen to ignore government orders to negotiate, instead attacking the lightly armed men inside the mosque with heavy weapons and ammunitions.

However, the fact-finding commission’s recommendations for compensation and contingency measures are valuable only in so far as its observation about pursuit of judicial investigations is made reality. In many similar situations, compensation has been used to sidetrack the question of criminal liability, thereby camouflaging the violations and protecting the perpetrators. Similarly, without resolute action being taken against those responsible for atrocities, the drawing up of plans to prevent their recurrence amounts to little more than wishful thinking, which will not bring an end to either the mentality or practices that allow for such gross violations of human rights.

The April 28 killings took place against the systemic weakening of controls over law enforcement agencies in Thailand. The killing last year of over 2500 alleged drug-traffickers created an atmosphere in which certain groups could be targetted without fear of consequences, be they persons accused of trading drugs, or alleged Islamic militants. The recent police attack on a house in Ayutthaya speaks to how “excessive force” is nowadays characteristic of law enforcement across the whole country: the refrigerator behind which the two elderly residents sheltered was riddled with 31 bullet holes. Attendant abuses, notably torture and enforced disappearance, are on the rise; all of these events reflect increasingly serious defects in the law enforcement system, suggesting that it is easy for offenders to escape the consequences of their actions.

The events of April 28 will have a long-lasting impression on the citizens and law enforcement agencies of Thailand. Whether this impression will be that large-scale killings can be tolerated, or the contrary, depends very much on how this matter is now handled. The fact-finding commission has noted that the responsibility from here on rests with the Prime Minister. Rather than simply brush the matter to one side with casual remarks and promises of compensation, the Prime Minister should consult seriously with his cabinet on this issue and give it the due respect and weight it deserves.

A full judicial inquiry into the massacre, as a follow up to the work done by the fact-finding commission, would be the right occasion for the state and public to reckon with the serious defects in Thailand’s law enforcement system. If this opportunity is lost in favour of some piecemeal gestures, which will not win the respect of the public in the south, then the consequences for the country as a whole will prove to be far worse.

In particular, an inquiry needs to be conducted to establish the role of the commander in charge of the operation, General Panlop Pinmanee. By ignoring government orders not to attack, he undoubtedly caused needless bloodshed. His actions must be seriously examined not only to hold him to account, but also to ensure that a proper command system exists within the armed forces of Thailand, whereby officers are made subject to the instructions of their superiors in government.

Unfortunately, other serious incidents in recent times, including the mass killings of alleged drug dealers triggered by the Prime Minister’s orders and the disappearance of human rights defender Somchai Neelaphaijit and alleged torture of his clients, have not received the attention they deserve. As a result, the commitment of the government of Thailand to its international human rights obligations has been called into question. It is hoped that the victims of last April 28 will not share the same fate. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, other concerned groups and members of the public should be vigilant in monitoring developments and advocating for the necessary steps to ensure that in this instance, justice is obtained.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-24-2004
Countries : Thailand,