A long and hard path to reconciliation

national July 13, 2015 01:00

By Wasamon Audjarint,
Marisa Ish

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No shortcuts to justice and amnesty, two victims say

Almost 10 years have passed, but many relatives of victims of past political conflicts are still struggling to move forward to reconciliation. 
Although they cannot agree more with the latest set of recommendations proposed by the reconciliation panel under the National Reform Council, they still want to be assured that the truth will be revealed and justice upheld.
At a garland shop at the Romklao national housing estate in Bangkok, Phayaw Akkahad was sitting casually in front of a television with her husband and relatives when she spoke to The Nation. The shop was closed, as it was their day off.
“We didn’t open the shop today, but we never shut it down, even after Kaed was gone,” said Phayaw, referring to her daughter, Kamolkaed Akkahad, or Kaed, a voluntary nurse who died from “mysterious” bullets during the 2010 political unrest. “It’s been five years now.”
In those five years, Phayaw has determinedly sought justice for her slain daughter. She believes many actors were involved in the killing and have not been prosecuted.
“So much of the truth has been concealed. The wrongdoers never admit their guilt, and all the burden goes to ordinary people who simply joined rallies. Is their expressions of political preferences so wrong that it caused them to end up behind bars?” Phayaw said.
And that is why a conditional amnesty is needed, she said.

“Those who are actually not guilty should be set free, while the wrongdoers should confess their wrongdoings, and most importantly, be willing to follow the justice process,” Phayaw said. “If that really happens, I’m sure society will be ready to forgive them. Even I, as an affected one, will forgive them, too.”

Conditional amnesty is part of six key recommendations made by the reconciliation committee that aim to help concerned parties of political conflicts between 2006 and 2014 move forward together to reconciliation. (See graphic).
The amnesties will not include people who committed serious criminal offences and human rights violations, corruption or lese majeste. For political leaders and officials in charge, they must go through repentance, forgiveness, and reveal the truth.
Phayaw said the conditional amnesty was far better than the controversial 2013 amnesty draft bill that would have pardoned every party in the conflicts if implemented. 
“To be exact, I want soldiers and governmental officers to be held responsible for their previous actions. The current government could apply Article 44 [of the 2014 interim constitution] to facilitate the justice process for cases concerning the 2010 unrest, but they haven’t,” Phayaw said.
“I believe reconciliation can be real, and I do wish it to happen so.”
Phayaw’s family received Bt7.75 million in compensation for Kaed’s death when former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in power. But the payment of compensation to the victims of political violence is being investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission to determine if the process breached bureaucratic procedures. 
“If they find them guilty, compensation recipients like me could be affected. But I don’t care about that. I have spent all that money to help people who are having trouble from the crackdown,” Phayaw said. “Money doesn’t matter to me at all compared with my daughter’s life.”
Phayaw has become a serious human rights campaigner, and has applied to be on the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand [NHRC].
For a garland seller, the road ahead may be tough but Phayaw said she was ready. Recently, she did a course at the King Prajadhipok’s Institute in anticipation to being named a NHRC commissioner.
“I don’t know how long I have to keep going, but I believe it will eventually be worth it,” she said.
In the old building of the Secretariat of the Prime Minister at Government House, Nicha Hiranburana Thuvatham sipped hot tea from a porcelain cup while pondering what reconciliation means to her and society.
Five years have passed since her husband, Colonel Romklao Thuvatham, died while on duty during the 2010 crackdown on anti-government protesters. 
Since then, Nicha has tried to live with the loss, hoping to use it as motivation to help unify society. In her own way, she has never stopped seeking justice, which she sees as a fundamental right for society and the path to reconciliation. 
“Thailand has learned its greatest lesson through my case and many people’s losses since the political conflict in 2005,” said Nicha. “It is good that people have become more aware of politics. However, the lack of understanding of their right to resolve their differences often results in conflicts and violence.”
Nicha stressed that reconciliation was possible when there was an act of contrition and forgiveness. Asked about the recent reconciliation recommendations, she said she strongly believed that permanent and genuine reconciliation could occur when wrongdoers acknowledge their guilt and were forgiven. 
Such an act would guarantee that these sorry incidents do not happen again, she said. “People may think differently, but they should respect norms that enable people to live together in society.” 
When asked about how reconciliation could be achieved, Nicha stressed that reconciliation was not only about amnesty. There was no shortcut to reconciliation, she said.
“There are clear prerequisites or steps laid down before achieving reconciliation, which are fact finding and revealing of the truth, identifying wrongdoers, the justice process, and remorse and contrition, and then forgiveness and understanding can be achieved,” she said. “So far, people tend to quickly jump into amnesty.” 
Nicha stressed that reconciliation required time and justice, as well as selflessness and open-mindedness to be achieved. 
“Injustice still exists, but I still believe in and await justice,” she said. 
“Forgiveness cannot be demanded or even expected, unless a person who is asked to forgive knows exactly what it is he or she will be forgiving. If the wrongdoers have admitted the guilt we could have been discussing amnesty by now.
“True reconciliation cannot be imposed by any decree; it has to be built in the hearts and minds of all members of society through a process  that recognises every human being’s worth and dignity.”

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