Paradox lies at the heart of Thai quest for justice
August 27, 2012 00:00
By Tulsathit Taptim,
Red-shirt 'terror', Army 'sniper' cases illustrate the Kingdom's dilemma
On the surface, it seems fair. One “state” agency, the Attorney General’s Office, is pursuing “terrorism” cases against some red shirt members, while one “government” agency, the Department of Special Investigation, is going after those “responsible” for shooting the red shirts.
Fairness, however, may exist only on paper. Pessimists see no way forward that Thailand can go from here. How can two agencies, which are under government influence one way or another, handle cases that underline the country’s political divide? In other words, how can we expect justice from this kind of situation?
The mother of a woman killed during a crackdown on red shirt protesters is still seeking justice for her daughter.
The wife of an Army officer killed while attempting to repel a red shirt protest earlier is still wearing black and will continue to do so “until peace returns to this country”.
How can the first woman see justice and the second one see peace restored with partisan politics playing a bigger role than truth where the cases of their loved ones are concerned?
One may argue that this supposed two-pronged quest for justice is as good as can be expected. For obvious reasons, the Democrat government was paying little or no attention to the alleged “massacre” of protesters. Supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra say that at least her administration is allowing both camps to tell their stories.
There is also the argument that the Attorney General’s Office is supposed to have a large degree of independence.
This school of thought points out that although the agency has a duty to provide legal assistance to the government, it is, legally at least, a neutral state agency, not a government agency.
The pessimists cannot see justice being served, however. And even if everybody tries his best, a paradox can occur.
For example, what will happen if the “terrorism” charges eventually hold and red shirt leaders are convicted of crimes against national security, whereas the “massacre” charges also win conviction at the same time?
We could have the extreme scenario of the two cases ending with both sides being found guilty – the red shirts of being terrorists and the authorities of being “murderers” – or we could be left with a scenario of one case dictating or compromising the other.
Why? Because the two cases are obviously related. This means if some red shirt members are convicted of terrorism, the case against the authorities deemed responsible for the shooting of protesters could be automatically weakened.
On the other hand, if the “terrorist” suspects are acquitted, the “massacre” claims will carry a lot more weight.
To add to the apparently messy situation, the DSI, which is now handling charges against the shooters, earlier conducted a probe into the activities of those who were shot and their fellow protesters.
During the Abhisit government, the DSI was accused of kow-towing to that administration. Now, the agency is being criticised for allowing itself to be dictated to by
the Yingluck government.
Payao Ak-had, mother of slain nurse Kaedkamol Akhad, said she believes the DSI is now heading in the right direction with the summoning of “snipers” for questioning. She is very disturbed by Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha’s warning that no one should make any sort of accusation about the Army’s use of snipers.
“The tradition that the Army can kill citizens with impunity is no longer acceptable.
“Things have changed,” Payao told The Nation.
Payao said she will soon visit the DSI to offer moral support and flowers and warned Prayuth that the more he reacts negatively to the on-going investigation, the more he will harm the reputation of the Army. She urged the Army to stop trying to intimidate investigators and added that even though she is not fully confident that the truth will eventually emerge, many in Thai society have already decided who was responsible for the deaths.
The other woman, Nicha Thuwatham, wife of the late Colonel Romklao Thuwatham, was once told – rather ironically – by the DSI that men associated with protesters campaigning against the Abhisit government killed her husband. That was many months ago. Whether the DSI still stands firm on that is anyone’s guess.
Romklao was promoted from colonel to general after his death. Apart from that, there has been little to console Nicha, who has also sought a Senate investigation into the death of her husband, as the government’s probe seems to be going nowhere.
In today’s Thailand, the concept of “justice” is divided along political lines. The word is one of the most over-hyped and under-appreciated. And if the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand was once considered a light at the end of the tunnel, that light has all but dimmed. The TRCT has virtually ceased to exist after its term came to an end with nobody interested in extending it.
That the TRCT’s reports politically benefit no one in particular is no secret. Whether that is why the commission has to fade away is the question that can sum up Thailand’s miserable quest for justice at the moment.