Updated: On impunity

22 10 2013

In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Atiya Achakulwisut makes some quite useful points regarding the impunity enjoyed by state officials, and especially those in the military who have repeatedly murdered citizens over several decades. She relates this to the misguided and politically-suicidal amnesty amendments made by some Puea Thai MPs a few days ago.

She refers to her “most memorable press conference … right after Black May in 1992.” She was a reporter who saw “the casualties and bullets up close,” and recalls being “pushed out of the protest site by lines of soldiers shooting into the sky right behind us.” Atiya remembers:

a lot of anger as journalists and the public in general were questioning whether the “people’s killers” would be brought to justice, or would be exempted from their crimes the way the powers-that-be have always been, through a special amnesty law.Suchinda

Of course, the result of the end of the military in May 1992 was an amnesty. As General Suchinda Kraprayoon wandered off after the massacre, he signed the amnesty for himself and all others involved. In this clip from journalist Michael Richardson, we see ACM Kaset in 1992 sounding much like General Prayuth Chan-ocha after the 2010 events.

Reflecting on this, Atiya thinks that it “was different back then … [as] there was no polarisation among the general public,” as there is now. She believes the “line of division was clear: between the government _ seen as dictatorial _ and the public demanding democracy. It’s not like now…”.

While PPT has sympathy with her basic point on impunity, we think her recollection of 1992 is just a little too simplistic. The reason we say this relates to another clip from 1992, where it is seen that there were plenty of bigwigs willing to serve the dictatorial government. The point is that there have always been particular social forces lined up with the military, gaining benefit from their dictatorial rule, “protection” for their interests and the promotion of a conservative and hierarchical social order.Senate

The monarchy comes to mind as a particular beneficiary but many other members of the economic elite are mentioned in this clip (left, from the Bangkok Post Weekly Review, 3 April 1992) also benefited. Some may have changed their minds when they saw the military shooting down innocent citizens (again), but it is this elite that fared pretty darn nicely under military and military-backed regimes. It is their support that has engendered the culture of impunity that persists today.

Atiya recalls the press conference in 1992 when reporters told Dr Prawase Wasi: “The government and military killed us and there is nothing we could do about it…”. She says his response was that “things would always work out. I remember him saying there would always be a way, somewhere or somehow.”

Her response was:

“How unrealistic!” How could things work out when the government that ordered a crackdown on protesters and caused scores of deaths and many more injuries was getting away scot-free? How absurd it was. How could we move on politically when such a glaring exemption was given? What framework would we adhere to in the future, what rule of law?

She was right then, but she seems to have decided that Prawase was somehow right because “[m]ost, if not all, of the key partners in the political conflict took a break and let other people take over from them.” She is mistaken because she focuses only on leaders of the moment. The economic elite remains, the military remains and the monarchy remains. They continue to work their political “magic.”And don’t forget that the rich also manage to manage their own impunity for their crimes committed in the name of quick profits, a bit of power-, alcohol- or drug-induced “fun” or because of “connections.”

But she is absolutely right when she observes:

The truth of the matter is if we look back at the history of amnesty laws in Thailand, it does not matter how they were written or how they tried to keep certain people accountable. In the end, no state authorities have ever been prosecuted for this type of crackdown.

Never. That has to change. We are heartened by protests by many red shirts, including the rank-and-file, leaders and members of parliament. Hopefully they can assert some political sense and, in the process, and maintain the call for justice for the victims of the state’s 2010 violence.

Update: Khaosod has more on official red shirt responses to the proposed amnesty, including comments by Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn, Nattawut Saikua and Jatuporn Promphan, each appearing to reject it.


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