PPT is somewhat late on getting to the latest Human Rights Watch report on Thailand. In looking at the report and the media release, we wonder what is going on at HRW, for they appear to come from two very different organizations.
The press statement begins with a statement that the “government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand failed to fulfill its pledges to hold human rights abusers accountable in 2010…”. It is added that: “Human rights in Thailand suffered a sharp and broad reverse in 2010.” This is incontestable.
The statement points out that:
the government used emergency powers to hold dissidents and critics without trial in unofficial places of detention and repeatedly failed to provide exact information about those held and their whereabouts…. Freedom of expression was a casualty of a far-reaching government censorship campaign that shut down thousands of websites and dozens of community radio stations, TV and satellite broadcasts, and publications….
During and after the anti-government protests, the Thai authorities responded with excessive force to violence committed by militant elements in the anti-government United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)….
This HRW press release goes on to criticize the government’s failure to conduct an adequate and independent investigation into the violence of April and May 2010 and the lack of cooperation in investigations that have taken place, the political use of the emergency decree by CRES and its arbitrary use of emergency powers to harass political opponents. It adds: “… CRES also used emergency powers to hold some suspects without charge for extended periods in unofficial detention facilities, where there are inadequate safeguards against possible abuse in custody.” More worrying still is the National Human Rights Commission report “that many UDD detainees had experienced torture and forcible interrogations, arbitrary arrest and detention, and overcrowded detention facilities.
The press release continues by mentioning the government’s “rolling crackdown on peaceful political expression,” noting the “enforced to shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, publications, and more than 40 community radio stations, most of which are considered to be closely aligned with the UDD.”
Of course, it also notes that political use of the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste to censor and “persecute dissidents.”
The press release also mentions the “chronic problems with police and security operations that use abusive tactics…. Officers responsible for horrendous misconduct have rarely faced punishment” and this is especially the case in the south.
As has been said many times, this government’s “human rights rhetoric in international forums is matched by action on the ground.”
But then this is the HRW country summary in the organization’s World Report 2011. This report does mention all of the human rights abuses noted in the press statement and singles out an “abusive anti-narcotics policy,” violence and human rights abuses in the south,
and justifiably makes the case on the Abhisit government’s abuse of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers. Also covered are the abusive use of the emergency decree and powers of detention and the repression of media freedom and freedom of expression.
What concerns PPT in the report is the wholly one-sided account of the political violence of April-May 2010. HRW’s account may as well have been penned by Thailand’s acting government spokesman. Whoever is responsible for this account has failed to acknowledge the state’s responsibility in orchestrating violence against protesters and in so doing HRW appears to exonerate the state’s violence. It also manages to slip in yellow-hued accounts of events and speculation about “hardliners” and “moderates” within the UDD and the role of so-called black shirts in the UDD. At least the report does concede that the “military deployed snipers to shoot anyone who breached ‘no-go’ zones [actually termed live-fire zones].
HRW should be ashamed and concerned that it has allowed its report to be tainted by speculation and politically-driven accounts of the violence that diminishes the state’s role in the deadly events. It should examine the disparity between its press release and its account of political violence. As PPT repeatedly said at the time when pro-government sources made similar claims, if observers look at the body count its is clear which groups were targeted, and it was not state forces.