HRW on Army interference

23 08 2012

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement that condemns Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha for intimidating critics. It states that the “Thai government should order the army commander-in-chief to cease interfering in the criminal investigations of the 2010 political violence.”

Indeed, the Yingluck Shinawatra government should make such an order. However, the army chief’s consistent interference in politics makes it clear that he considers himself beholden to no civilian and that he remains a threat to the longevity of the government.

HRW notes many of the facts that have already been in PPT posts of late, so we will not recount them all here.

It is important to recall that “Prayuth has denied any army abuses during the violence in which at least 98 people died and more than 2,000 were injured, despite numerous accounts by witnesses and other evidence.” HRW states that: “Abuses by soldiers took place in full view of the Thai public and the world’s media, yet the Thai army chief is now trying to intimidate investigators and critics into silence…”.

Of course, as HRW makes clear, “Prayuth is also using Thailand’s archaic criminal defamation law to deter public criticism, … [when he] ordered an army legal officer to file a criminal defamation complaint against Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer representing the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Amsterdam’s translator.”

HRW states further that, in the face of documentary evidence, it “is ludicrous for the army chief to claim that the army did not deploy snipers who fired on civilians…. Instead of going after critics, he should be ensuring accountability within his ranks.” The problem is that Prayuth and many of the other top brass are deeply implicated and fear prosecution. This is one of the reasons they round on Amsterdam, for they also fear the International Criminal Court.

HRW is right to be concerned that Yingluck ministers seem unwilling to prosecute soldiers. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung is said to have “announced that soldiers would be treated as witnesses in the investigations and that they would be fully protected from criminal prosecution.” That would be the usual road to impunity in Thailand.

HRW also refers to its controversial report from May 2011, “Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown,” as a source for further details on the Battle for Bangkok.