Saturday, December 8, 2007

Prachatai/Rule of Lords: Awzar Thi Speaks Truth to Power

Selective justice for drug-war killers

Awzar Thi

Prachatai/Rule of Lords


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?

Evidently, Thailand's investigators have remained inert because there are categories of persons to whom the ordinary laws do not automatically apply. They include police, soldiers, certain bureaucrats and politicians, business elites and mafia figures. Most can conceivably be charged and tried, but only where a clear signal has been sent that they have forfeited their rights to special treatment.

The former prime minister and his allies lost their rights when they were ejected from government last year. Once fully protected, now they are fair game. The committee investigating the war on drugs is a part of the project to get them. But although scrutinizing their abuses is allowed, scrutinizing those of the army or interim government is not.

For one thing, investigating soldiers and paramilitaries who kill people is absolutely not okay. Military spokesmen vigorously rebut claims for redress when civilians are killed, such as the two young men and two boys shot dead by a militia unit in Yala on April 9. They were right to shoot, the army said, as the youths had attacked them with "sticks and stones."

Four days later, troops killed two 15-year-olds and wounded three other teenagers in a neighboring province. Local and provincial authorities, including the governor, acknowledged that the soldiers were in error, as did the army. In neither this nor the former case has a criminal case come before the courts.

Investigating soldiers who assault and torture people also is not okay. Numerous detailed reports of abuse at army camps in the south have been swept under the mat. Most cannot be publicized because of the risks to victims. In July, coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin reportedly ordered that yet another committee was needed to look into allegations about the Ingkhayuthboriharn army camp in Pattani, saying that genuine incidents would be referred to "the justice system."

Nor has the case of a boy assaulted at an army checkpoint in the north this August as yet been referred to the prosecutor's office, even though it was broadcast on national television and recorded by the police immediately thereafter.

The reasons that criminal justice has failed in each of these cases are the same as those in the aftermath of the war on drugs. The accused are all exempted from the ordinary workings of law until and unless a senior official indicates otherwise. Where the perpetrators are low-ranking personnel it is occasionally possible, with persistent effort and a bit of luck, to make some progress. But the further up the food chain they are, the more difficult it becomes.

Take General Pallop Pinmanee. Last year, a Pattani court found that he and two of his subordinates -- Colonel Manas Kongpan and Lieutenant Colonel Tanaphat Nakchaiya -- were responsible for the deaths of 28 men during an army assault on a mosque in April 2004. Under Thailand's criminal procedure, the case went back to the public prosecutor and then to the police for further work. After that the chief prosecutor must choose whether or not to file charges.

I love this last line:

By next year, the committee will call for a few politicians and perhaps some officials to be held to account by the very same agencies that should have acted in the first place. Will the new government pay it any heed? Who knows, by the time it presents its report, General Pallop Pinmanee could be a member of Parliament. Why not make him justice minister?

I have been crying about this for a year now. Basically, a committee has been set up to get Thaksin and blame him for everything, but all the police officers and soldiers who gave the orders and pulled the triggers will get a pass.

Why have a justice system at all if it doesn't function? Maybe Thailand should just eliminate the bureaucracies and just set up ad-hoc committees to manage the country.

1 comment:

Thai Observer said...

Is this really how Thailand works?

If it is then there is no hope for Thailand ever joining the world of grown-up nations and it will remain some kind of toytown for delinquent and arrogant children forever.

Depressing to learn of the way things really are in Thailand. As someone bought up to observe the rule of law thee are many things in Thailand that have puzzled, and this article surely helps to explain them. But the price of enlightenment is melancholy.