Tag Archives: Krue Se

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

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The ties that bind Thailand’s Burma policy

on-the-beach

When Abhisit Vejjajiva slipped through the back door and into the prime minister’s seat in Thailand late last year, exiled democracy advocates from Burma welcomed him. Over a week after reports broke of the Thai navy forcing boatloads of people from Burma back into the ocean to die, they should be thinking again.

Abhisit’s maneuvering into the leadership spot – made possible only after military and royalist intrigues and the three-month illegal takeover of the offices that he now occupies – prompted lots of excited talk about nascent change in Thailand’s policies on Burma.

That was never going to happen. At no point in the last two decades has there been a meaningful shift in Bangkok’s approach to dealing with the generals to the west, neither under Abhisit’s Democrat Party or any other. There have been a few changes in style, but none in substance.

This is because the strongest ties binding Thailand’s policies on its neighbor are not from ministerial offices, but from military bases. And as the prime minister owes his job to the people that decide those policies, rather than the electorate, there is no advantage to him if he tries to do things differently.

The strength of these ties could not have been more apparent than in the handling of news that perhaps thousands of people from western Burma travelling to southern Thailand in boats have been repeatedly forced back out to sea since last December. 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

“Tak Bai? Ohh… you have heard about that incident? Did you?”

samak-101-east.jpg

Interview with Samak Sundaravej, Prime Minister of Thailand

101 East, Al Jazeera, 9 February 2008

Part 2

Start: 3:41

Your predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, was criticised for a pretty brutal campaign against Muslim fighters in southern Thailand. Many people who were innocent were caught up in that violence. Do you support his policies in southern Thailand?

Actually, he doesn’t mention any policy. The wrong that he committed, somebody says that… ahh… he says that it… ahh… it’s not quite so important mandate, and that’s all. That is what he mentioned.

But if we refer to Tak Bai, the Tak Bai incident, when many young Muslim men were beaten and rounded up and their bodies were stacked into trucks, many of them suffocated and died…

Where?

At Tak Bai.

Tak Bai? Ohh… You have heard about that incident? Did you? Continue reading

Selective justice for drug-war killers

war-on-drugs-victim.jpg

ความยุติธรรมที่ถูกเลือกสำหรับมือสังหารในสงครามยาเสพติด

A high-level committee in Thailand is gearing up to recommend that people who enabled the killing of thousands in 2004 and thereafter be held criminally liable. It has in its sights former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other parties to his “war on drugs.”

The committee is waiting for a new government to be formed in 2008 before presenting its findings.

At a glance, the committee seems like a good idea. Lots of people were killed thanks to government policies at the time [like the victim shown above], yet no one has been prosecuted. The anti-drugs war has quickly become another yawning hole in the country’s modern history. Any efforts to do something about it should be welcomed.

But the question that it begs is why did the thousands of murders, and a government policy to encourage them, not rouse Thailand’s existing multifarious investigating agencies? Why must this committee, with no actual authority, do their work for them?

Continue reading

The trouble with “sorry”

ronachai-3.JPG

Among the contingents of soldiers manning checkpoints and keeping watch on the public throughout August, in the eve and aftermath of Thailand’s military-backed constitutional referendum, at least one took its work a bit too far.

The unit, on detail in Lamphun, just south of Chiang Mai, on Aug. 11 knocked a teenager off his motorcycle, circled him and took turns at kicking his head before letting him go. The reason? They thought that the boy, Ronachai Jantra (shown above), had thrown a bottle at them while riding past.

This is an everyday sort of event in Thailand, and it would not have attracted any attention except that it was captured on film by a camera crew that happened to be nearby at the time.

After the recording was broadcast on television (and online at http://tna.mcot.net/i-content.php?clip_id=qqScpqY=&size=256k), the senior officer responsible for the north, Lt. Gen. Jiradet Kocharat, said on local radio that the army had investigated and warned the soldiers about their behavior, and made them say sorry to the victim.

“Soldiers have to put up with things that they shouldn’t have to,” he explained. “When there’re a lot of people, and then there’s a lot of work and stress, they have to be told to use patience. And if there’s some mistake they have to go apologize and also make amends.”

The commander’s response to the incident points to one of the many deep obstacles to the establishing of both an effective justice system and a culture of human rights in Thailand: calculated atonement as a substitute for criminal punishment.

Continue reading