THAILAND: Catastrophe in Thailand could have been avoided, must be addressed

The latest mass killing in the south of Thailand is a direct consequence of the intentional and dramatic weakening of controls over the police and armed forces there in the last two years. Despite alarms being raised from numerous quarters, the government of Thailand has blatantly ignored the signs of impending disaster. Not only the south, but the whole country must now face the bloody consequences of an unapologetically aggressive and belligerent approach to legitimate human rights concerns held by growing numbers of people there. 

At least 84 persons are now confirmed to have died as a result of the law-enforcement agencies combined brutal attack on protesters at a police station in Narathiwat province yesterday, October 25. Six were killed outside the police station, 78 while being transported in army trucks after arrest under martial law provisions. Those in the trucks are believed to have died from suffocation and the effects of tear gas. The number may well climb much higher, as to date these are just the bodies identified by witnesses and officials of the Ministry of Justice. Over 1300 persons are said to have been arrested, and the fate of a large number remains uncertain as the exact number of detainees remains unknown, the names of detainees have not been released, and they have been denied visitors. 
That so many persons have been killed due to the use of live ammunition on crowds and the effects of tear gas and suffocation in trucks after arrest is most disturbing and utterly inexcusable. Their deaths speak to the total absence of professional behaviour and rudimentary respect for human lives on the part of those leading and carrying out this operation. The security forces have obviously acted over-excitedly, and without any sense of proportion. 

It is not possible to overlook the fact that the provocative style of dealing with security issues by the Prime Minister, Dr Thaksin Shinawatra, has contributed to this act of great cruelty perpetrated on fellow citizens, without any sense of remorse or decency. The Prime Minister has praised the security forces for defending the police station after the crowd of thousands is alleged to have turned violent, which witnesses deny. Under any circumstances, the question is not whether or not the protesters became violent, but what caused them to stand in front of the police station in the first place, and what the appropriate response from the police and army should have been. 

The villagers and townsfolk had assembled to demand the release of six of their fellows who had been detained for almost two weeks on weapons charges, at a time that they have seen hundreds of their kinsfolk killed and disappeared. An unknown number have been tortured. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has raised deep concern over the case of five men who were seriously tortured by the police after being arrested on similar charges in the same province earlier this year. Four of them are still in detention, and their lawyer, Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit, has been forcibly disappeared. Five police have been charged in connection with his disappearance; all have been released on bail. No action has been taken against the police accused of torture. 

Those who gathered to protest yesterday would have had grave fears for the safety of the six detained. They would have felt intense desperation in efforts to secure their freedom. They would have expected that the men were being tortured into making false confessions, and felt unable to do anything. The police and army created a situation in which a public outpouring of frustration was inevitable, and they dealt with it in the most irresponsible and inappropriate manner available: through brutality and bloodshed.  

During the past year, the AHRC has raised repeated warnings about the consequences of a series of policies and actions that have steadily driven Thailand into barbarism. These began most dramatically with the deaths last year of over 2500 alleged drug-traffickers. Those killings precipitated what has followed, including the mass killings in the south—punctuated by the massacre at the Krue Se Mosque and this most recent tragedy—and the rise in targeted attacks and disappearances across the entire country. All of these events speak to the fact that not only the south of Thailand, but its entire law-enforcement system, is facing a deep crisis from which there will be no easy return. The lessons of Asia are that state approval of one human rights violation or another has led to an intractable cycle of abuse. Extrajudicial killings lead to mass disappearances and torture. Censorship and the use of criminal defamation laws to target political opponents and human rights defenders become the norm; the judiciary and independent bodies are marginalised and finally made irrelevant.  

The latest killings represent an enormous challenge to the most rudimentary principles of human rights in Thailand. They are a clear violation of the country’s own constitution, and its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates in article 4 that the rights it enshrines may be departed from only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”. Attempts by the government of Thailand to argue that the mass deaths of unarmed protesters in southern Thailand were necessary are spurious and cynical: like the killings at the Krue Se Mosque on April 28, there is little question that the situation could not have been ended peacefully. 

After the massacre at the Krue Se Mosque, the AHRC noted that the events of that day would have a long-lasting impression on all the citizens and law enforcement agencies of Thailand. It added that whether this impression would be that large-scale killings could be tolerated, or the contrary, depended very much on how the matter was handled. Unfortunately, rather than treating a detailed report by a fact-finding commission into that event with the respect and weight it deserved, the administration brushed it aside with casual remarks about compensation and letting bygones be bygones. It ignored calls for independent judicial inquiries into the killings, and dealt with matters through internal procedures. 

The consequences of that inadequate response have now been realised in Narathiwat. The lack of resolute action taken to deal with those responsible for the atrocities committed earlier has left the door wide open to further gross violations of human rights. The AHRC again calls on the government of Thailand to commit itself to full highest level judicial and legislative inquiries into the latest massacre. Under the circumstances, this is the least that any government with a modicum of responsibility should undertake to do. It must also immediately allow complete access to all personnel, detainees, witnesses and records pertaining to the incident. These must be made available to the National Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Justice, lawyers and rights groups. 

The AHRC also calls on all concerned groups and agencies in Thailand to exert every effort to address this latest catastrophe and ensure that justice is obtained for the victims. Finally, the international community must also demand unambiguously that the government of Thailand act to secure the rights of the victims in this case, and protect, rather than further undermine, the fundamental human rights of all persons in the country, in the interests of humanity.  

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-43-2004
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention, Extrajudicial killings,