THAILAND: Justice in Thailand must not be sacrificed out of political expediency

Signs of recent days are that the government-appointed inquiry into the October 25 mass killing in southern Thailand is about to end with a whitewash. Worrying reports suggest it is likely to conclude that the killing of at least 85 persons in Narathiwat was accidental, and something that everybody should just understand and forget about. Meanwhile, evidence is multiplying of efforts to control the local distribution of news and media on violence in the south, despite the immense publicity already given to it at home and abroad. Early promises by the authorities that all would be revealed have vanished into thin air. The government instead seems intent to consign another slaughter to history, and further guarantee more of the same for the future.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has from the beginning stated that there must be a full independent judicial inquiry into the Narathiwat killings. In fact, this inquiry should already have begun. Neither politically-appointed panels nor investigations and reports by subsidiary agencies and independent bodies lacking in legal authority can make up for the absence of judicial proceedings. It is not the role of a fact-finding body to decide the guilt or innocence of persons alleged to have caused deaths and other crimes. This is a matter for the courts.   
Denial of a proper judicial inquiry into the killings of October 25 will only further diminish the quality of justice available to people in Thailand. Denial of a proper judicial inquiry will amount to denial of fair trial, as no trial can take place if proper inquiries are not held. Denial of fair trial amounts to denial of natural justice. Denial of natural justice in turn amounts to denial of human rights. 

The struggle over the truth of what happened at Narathiwat is really a struggle between the people of Thailand and the military over who has control of society. Attempts to hush-up the truth may be due largely to pressure from the armed forces, which object to civilians scrutinising their activities. These attempts are aimed at removing control over procedures following gross human rights abuses from the public. Together, these attempts amount to a grave challenge to the protection of human rights in Thailand. 

Seventy-eight persons are known to have died in custody at Narathiwat. It is a basic norm everywhere in the world that arrestees be treated humanely and be kept under judicial supervision. Why has the judiciary failed to guarantee the same for these victims? Perhaps the failure to secure legal action against the perpetrators has been caused by radical defects in Thailand’s justice system. While initial responses to the killings gave hope, it lacked the capacity for a sustained fight against more powerful forces. It lacked the inner strength needed to secure and stand by universal norms of justice: that perpetrators of crimes be brought to account for their actions. The experience of the victims and their families after the Narathiwat killings has been that impunity is more deeply entrenched in the judicial system of Thailand than justice. This is the same experience had by the families of victims in the “war on drugs” and those of numerous other gross human rights violations throughout the country in recent years. The effect is to reinforce a perception in society that when the security forces and their accomplices kill, nothing can be done. Where there is a feeling that nothing can be done, there is silence: no one bothers to risk speaking out against crimes for which the perpetrators enjoy absolute impunity.  

The AHRC again calls for judicial inquiries into these deaths without delay. Under no circumstances should judicial proceedings be abandoned. We particularly call upon the lawyers of Thailand to act in the best interests of their profession and guarantee that the principles of fair trial are not denied due to political expediency. We again also call upon the international community to look into the growing threats to justice in Thailand, and impress upon the government that it has international obligations to uphold; in particular, to protect the most fundamental right of all its citizens: the right to life. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-64-2004
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Judicial system, Rule of law,