Category Archives: extrajudicial killing

Questions, not dismay, over Tak Bai findings

tak bai truck

It took five years for a court in Songkhla, southern Thailand, to hold an inquest into the deaths of 78 men after they were detained along with over 1,000 others outside the Tak Bai police station in October 2004. But for all the time spent and witnesses heard, the findings [in English] handed down on May 29 obscured as much as they revealed.

By law, the inquest was supposed to identify who died, where, when, how, why and thanks to whom. The judges omitted most of what the court was told about the how and why, and failed to name any specific responsible persons in their closing remarks.

They also tried to excuse those involved by pointing out that they had been performing their duties under difficult circumstances, even though this is a matter for a trial court to consider, not one for a post mortem inquiry.

While the court failed to do the minimum expected of it under law, it could not deny that the 78 men had all suffocated to death in trucks en route to an army camp. That the men were stacked onto one another like pigs being taken to slaughter slipped from the narrative, but that they were in military custody and died of unnatural causes is now on the judicial record. Continue reading

Five years…

thanai-somchai-1

Somchai Neelaphaijit. Still missing, still no one punished: March 12, 2004

We will not forget.

DOWNLOAD NEW BOOK: Reading between the lines, by Angkhana Neelaphaijit (Thai version available here)

Thailand’s rights reputation in the sewer

unhrc

(ชื่อเสียงของไทยด้านสิทธิเปรียบเสมือนอยู่ในท่อน้ำเสียแล้ว)

Not so long ago, Thailand’s representatives at United Nations meetings sat quietly while counterparts from nearby countries like Burma and Cambodia were grilled on their human rights records.

Around the world, Thailand’s legal, political and social developments in the 1990s were greeted with applause, and its people in Geneva could sit comfortably, confident that their country would be held up as an example of somewhere with an improved record, even as their neighbors were being singled out for the opposite reason.

How times have changed. This week, the Asian Legal Resource Center submitted a statement to the Human Rights Council (above) that has painted the bleakest picture yet of denied rights and declining rule of law in Thailand during the past few years. [การเติบโตขึ้นของรัฐแห่งความมั่นคงภายในและการเสื่อมถอยของสิทธิมนุษยชนในประเทศไทย]

According to the Hong Kong-based group, Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state. The center’s indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity, Internet censorship and the lese-majesty witch-hunt, threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas. Continue reading

Court ignores facts of Sabayoi killings

A court has held that police and civilian officials who killed 19 young men in the far south of Thailand early on April 28, 2004, were acting in self-defense. The defendants said they shot the men because they had been under attack, and the Songkhla provincial court ruled in September that the policemen’s testimonies were consistent and believable.

To reach this finding, the court had to ignore the facts. Some of the evidence it heard but omitted from its verdict included the testimony of a national human rights commissioner. She told the judges that her agency had uncovered nothing to prove that the dead men, aged 18 to 34, had been carrying weapons. Nor was there any discernible damage to the Sabayoi market police post that had supposedly been assaulted. Continue reading

Who isn’t bombing Rangoon

When news spread that in the early hours of Oct. 13 a passenger vehicle had exploded in suburban Rangoon killing seven, the first response of some people was that it must have been another in the latest series of bombings to rock the former capital.

It turned out that the blast was the result of a natural gas cylinder crammed between the driver and tray in the manner of most fuel-converted trucks and vans in Burma, to the dismay of those squeezed in alongside.

But it was not long before the bombs started again. On Saturday, a small one went off at a football ground in Yankin, causing minor damage. On Sunday, another in Shwepyithar killed a man who, according to the state media, was building the device.

These followed a number of other incidents in September that left at least seven persons wounded. Bombs also earlier exploded at the main railway station, and near the high-class Traders Hotel and the town hall.

There is a lot of talk going around about who might be behind this new campaign. Some exiled opponents of the regime suggest, as in previous years, that it could be elements of the security forces. Others suspect renegade activists who have lost patience with both nonviolent resistance and the jungle-based insurgencies of old.

One person who wasn’t involved is U Myint Aye. That’s because he’s in jail accused of planting a bomb at the branch office of a government organizing body in July. It’s an odd turn of events for the 57-year-old chairman of Burma’s only out-and-out domestic rights group, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters. Continue reading

Asia needs a new rule-of-law debate

(Der Rechtsstaat in Thailand)

The rule of law has been getting talked up in Thailand a lot since the former prime minister’s wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, lost a criminal case before a special bench of the Supreme Court, and her husband skipped both town and bail prior to a hearing against him too.

Amid the many editorials and headlines (Krungthep Turakit above: Thaksin, Pojaman flee), academic Michael Connors suggested that the verdict against Pojaman could bode well for a more robust rule of law. Newspaper columnist Chang Noi was effusive, declaring the verdict “a manifesto on behalf of the law.”

Thaksin even got in on the act himself, describing those pursuing his family through the courts as having “no concern for the legal system … or the universal rule of law” and claiming that he and his family are victims of “continuous injustice.”

While the former policeman’s complaints jar with his track record of getting things done any which way, the cases against him and his family do raise issues about how the rule of law needs to be understood and debated in Asia.

One of the main problems besetting talk about rule of law in the region is that it continues to be dominated by writers and thinkers living elsewhere in the world, where courts, police and administrative offices work more or less as expected.

These persons usually take separated powers, constitutionalism and representative government for granted. Some publish commentaries on high-profile cases that are in fact relevant to the society as a whole, because their law and bureaucracy are relatively coherent and systematic.

Others go into the finer points of whether or not it is possible for judges to consistently and impartially apply law, and whether the rule of law should be governed by morals or procedures.

But little if any of this is relevant to people in most parts of Asia. Continue reading

The mechanics of murder

The killing of Yapa Koseng in a vehicle parked at an army base in southern Thailand has attracted interest among news media and human rights groups, particularly since a doctor speaking at a postmortem inquest hearing at the end of June indicated that his fatal injuries could have been caused only by savage torture.

However, it was the testimony of another person that day which laid bare the mechanics of the homicide, or how, in the words of a United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings, police and soldiers in Thailand “get away with murder.”

That person was Major Wicha Phuthong, then acting commander of the unit holding Yapa, whom other detainees claim was present during the assault: a claim that the officer has of course denied.

According to Major Wicha, police picked up Yapa together with two of his sons and three other persons “probably” around 3 p.m. on March 19. They were to be held under martial law provisions for up to seven days without being brought to a court. Anticipating their transfer to a neighboring province for further inquiries, Wicha had them kept in the police van that carried them to his unit at Suantham Temple, in Narathiwat.

Yapa didn’t make it through seven days. The 56-year-old died sometime during the night of March 20 or 21, a broken rib stuck in his lungs. (Hundreds attended his funeral, above.)

But don’t ask Major Wicha about that. Continue reading