Deaths in uniform and cases growing cold

opinion August 23, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

The Army has been less than accountable over recent tragedies

An unwanted spotlight is shining once again on the Army’s Vibhavadi Rangsit Camp in Surat Thani following the second death there of a young soldier in four months. Private Noppadol Worakitphan, 21, died from internal injuries after arriving at his family’s home on Saturday night. His mother’s reaction on seeing her dead son was heartbreaking to everyone who saw the video. 

Noppadol’s death follows that of Private Yuthkinan Boonniam in April. He had allegedly been severely beaten at the same camp.

In Noppadol’s case, a preliminary autopsy revealed internal bleeding, ruptures to the heart and one lung and a damaged spleen. The full autopsy to follow at Police General Hospital’s Institute of Forensic Medicine will shed further light in about two weeks.

Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said that, so far, there was no indication that any Army rules had been violated, and a CCTV camera outside the camp recorded Noppadol looking well as he waited for a bus to take him home. That may be so, but it doesn’t help explain the injuries that killed the young man. Winthai’s remarks come across as premature, dismissive and insensitive.

Spokesmen for any branch of the government must keep in mind that what they say reflects on the country as a whole, not just, in this case, the colonel’s superiors – generals who tend to believe they have a mandate to dictate what Thailand is and should be.

Saturday’s tragedy demands more sensitive treatment, coming so soon after the death of Private Yutthakinun, whom the examining physicians said suffered kidney failure after being repeatedly beaten with a blunt object. Images of the injured victim circulated on the social media, his face swollen almost beyond recognition. His mother suspected he’d been beaten up while being detained in military prison for minor disciplinary offences, such as oversleeping and missing guard duty. 

Police have so far taken action against five Army officers and five other privates, but Human Rights Watch was livid. “The Thai army faces a chronic inability to end abuses against its conscripts,” said its Asia director, Brad Adams, citing a “culture of impunity”. Adams noted that there has been no progress in prosecuting the soldiers allegedly responsible for the death of still another private in June 2011. The military has also been repeatedly accused of torturing and killing civilians extrajudicially.

Regarding the two deaths this year, the ruling military junta is best advised to simply allow a full and transparent investigation, followed by swift and fair justice should guilt be established. To whitewash, stonewall or otherwise impede progress in the two cases would further undermine the country’s already woeful level of credibility when it comes to enforcement of the law and the application of justice. 

The military appears to be taking an undue amount of time in investigating the fatal shooting in March of Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pasae at an Army-police drug checkpoint. From the far North, the gaze moves southward to the vast majority of allegations of unarmed civilians being murdered by security forces. The armed insurrection in the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces notwithstanding, no military personnel have ever faced justice over these alleged abuses.

Sadly, for all its hand-wringing when tragedies come to light, the general public tends to enable military impunity by letting the passage of time foster indifference. The generals and police superintendents should not be complacent, however. There are those of us keeping lists.