Response on HRW report

25 01 2010

Human Rights Watch produced its annual report on Thailand this past week, and PPT posted on this. PPT thinks HRW get it about right on the deterioration of human rights in the country.

However, the government’s chief of censorship and royalist cheerleader Prime Minister’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey has been reported in the Bangkok Post (24 January 2010) as “slamming” the HRW report as a distortion, and questioned its sources of information.

Interestingly, this last point sees the very nasty Minister Sathit using propagandist’s tools by seeking to link HRW to the red shirt movement. Regular readers will know that PPT has little time for the odious Sathit.

Sathit claimed that the report “contained inaccuracies, especially concerning the government’s handling of street protests in Pattaya and Bangkok in April last year.” Sathit says that “allegations that the government’s handling of the situation was responsible for fatalities was absolutely untrue. It contradicts the facts. The US government even complimented the Thai government for maintaining law and order and avoiding loss of life. Foreign press correspondents were also there [covering the protests] and their reports did not match HRW’s…”. Sathit then “called into question HRW’s sources of information, and suggested that the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) may have been the source.

This is what HRW said in their press release: “In response to the UDD’s violent protests in Pattaya and Bangkok, the government declared a state of emergency on April 11 and 12. Soldiers used tear gas to clear protesters and fired on protesters with live ammunition. At least 123 people were injured and two killed in Bangkok on April 13 in clashes between armed UDD protesters, soldiers, and various neighborhood watch groups.”

And here’s what they said in their full report: “Street battles erupted in Bangkok on April 13 when UDD protesters, who had been blocking main intersections in Din Daeng district with buses and taxis, attacked approaching soldiers with guns, petrol bombs, and other improvised weapons. UDD protesters also threatened to blow up trucks with liquefied petroleum gas near residential areas and hospitals. Soldiers used teargas and live ammunition to disperse the protesters and clear the blockades; while most gunfire was into the air, some soldiers fired assault rifles directly at the protesters. Clashes spilled across Bangkok through the next day, when two members of neighborhood watch groups were shot dead in a clash with UDD protesters. At least 123 people were injured, including four soldiers wounded by gunshots.”

Sathit is either illiterate in English, stupid or is fabricating information for political purposes. Clearly, HRW has not accused the Abhisit Vejjajiva government of anything other than what was reported in the press and confirming mostly government sources on the events. Indeed, following the government’s account, HRW makes no mention of the two men murdered and found floating in the river.

Sathit also said: “My observation is that its statement uses similar wording [to the UDD’s]. I’m not saying the agency lacks independence but it needs to have sources of information and it may stick to one source…”. He is making this up, conveniently forgetting his own government’s accounts of the event. In fact, UDD claims were of dozens killed, so Sathit even ignores that.

Sathit said that “the government would address the claims made in the HRW report even though its explanation surrounding events at the April riot were well accepted.” And it is that account that HRW seems to accept. So why is Sathit making these claims? It is probably because the government account from Day 1 has been that no person died as a result of the military’s suppression operations and they have never strayed from this line.

The government’s claim is that unknown red shirts killed two persons and the investigation into the two floating bodies has gone nowhere. Just for confirmation, here is a summary of press reports at the time, citing mostly government sources:

The Guardian, 14 April 2009 reports two dead.

Bangkok Post, 14 April 2009 reports two dead, with Abhisit repeatedly stating that no one was killed by the military suppression operation.

Bloomberg, 15 April 2009 reports two dead.

The Nation, 15 April 2009 reports two dead.

Bangkok Post, 17 April 2009 reports four people dead and 123 injured.

The Australian, 18 April 2009 reports 2+2 dead.

New York Times, 18 April 2009 reports two people dead.

At about this time, the government had cracked down on red shirt media and then the assassination bid on Sondhi Limthongkul took the focus away from the military’s suppression operation of a few days earlier.

Of course, the HRW report contained far more than an account of this one eventit included material on the South, police abuses, abuse of migrants, censorship, lese majeste, etc. – but Sathit seems unconcerned. Abhisit said the government would respond. And Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya simply “dismissed the HRW report…” but because it had been “picked up by the foreign press and reported,” the government would respond.

Sathit might appear dim-witted on this but it is the unnecessarily excited response that is interesting. Why? And, why only on the Songkhran Uprising and not on the more general accusation that the government is creating and increasingly authoritarian political climate?



4 responses

25 01 2010
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25 01 2010
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10 02 2010
Human rights muddle « Political Prisoners in Thailand

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