In its first interim report, based on six months of work, the commission states that a total of 92 people died in the violence and 1,885 people were wounded, of whom 1,343 were civilians. According to the report, at least 13 people died as a result of actions taken by the military. The prosecutions recommended by the commission so far include 145 cases of terrorism, 21 cases of coercing the government, 86 cases of violence against the public and government officials and 20 cases of wrongdoing related to possession of state-owned weapons. However, according to Mr. Somchai Homlaor, head of the commission's investigation subcommittee, “no charges have been forwarded to the courts”.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand
17 July 2010 – present. The commission is expected to complete its work within two years.
Mandate: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand was established in 2010 by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with the Regulation of the Office of the Prime Minister on the Truth for National Reconciliation B.E. 2553 (15 July 2010).
The commission’s mandate and terms of reference are based on three concepts: truth seeking, conflict prevention and restoration. The commission is mandated to examine the political violence and violations of human rights that occurred between April and May 2010 and, more generally, to investigate the root causes of the conflict. It is also mandated to provide short-term remedies to the victims of the violence and to propose restorative and social justice measures in order to promote long-term reconciliation.
Clause 9(1) of the regulation requires the commission to produce progress reports every six months and a final report containing the findings and recommendations [TRCT | 2011].
Staff: The commission is chaired by former Attorney-General Kanit na Nakorn. The eight other commissioners were selected by the chairperson and approved by Cabinet and include academics, members of civil society and a government official. They are Mr. Kittipong Kittiyarak, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice; Dr. Jutharat Ua-amnoey, Chulalongkorn University; Dr. Decha Sungkawan, Thammasat University; Mr. Pairote Polaphet, secretary-general of the Union for Civil Liberty; Mr. Manich Sooksomchitra, president of the Thai Press Development Foundation; Dr. Ronnachai Kongsakon, Ramathibodi Hospital; Mr. Somchai Homlaor, chair of the Campaign Committee for Human Rights; and Dr. Surasak Likasitwatanakul, Thammasat University.
Budget: The government of Thailand will provide financial support to the commission, but the final budget has not yet been determined.
In its first interim report, based on six months of work, the commission states that a total of 92 people died in the violence and 1,885 people were wounded, of whom 1,343 were civilians. According to the report, at least 13 people died as a result of actions taken by the military. The prosecutions recommended by the commission so far include 145 cases of terrorism, 21 cases of coercing the government, 86 cases of violence against the public and government officials and 20 cases of wrongdoing related to possession of state-owned weapons. However, according to Mr. Somchai Homlaor, head of the commission's investigation subcommittee, “no charges have been forwarded to the courts” [Bangkok Post | 15 May 2011].
The commission has verified the payment of US$13,300 in reparations to the families of each of the 92 people killed. Overall, a total of US$3.4 million has been paid in reparations to people killed or injured in the political violence of April–May 2010. The importance of providing reparations to those affected is stressed in the report.
The commission makes several key recommendations in the interim report, including that government should prioritise finding a solution to the root causes of the violence and hold fair elections that are free of violence, and that the mass media should report responsibly on the violence and the reconciliation process.
The commission has faced mounting challenges in collecting evidence, as it is not mandated to compel people to testify. Due to a lack of political will and military cooperation, the commission has been unable to obtain information about deployment plans and operations, autopsy reports, witness testimonies and photos and video footage from the joint civilian–military Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation [HRW | 2011]. The commission’s mandate, which allows it to engage solely in fact-finding without touching on prosecutions, has been criticised for limiting its ability to tackle impunity. In addition, the absence of representatives from the opposition United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship on the commission has hindered its work [Asian Legal Resource Centre | 2011]. The commission acknowledges these limitations in the interim report, and notes that the lack of witness protection is an additional problem.
In addition to the commission, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva established three committees to design a reform process that would address the structural problems at the root of Thailand’s conflicts: the Committee on Reform Strategy, which is focusing on drawing up strategies and processes for reform; the National Reform Assembly Committee, which aims to draw all sectors of Thai society into the reform process; and the Committee on Constitutional Amendment, which is discussing amendments to the Thai constitution and other laws. The government has set aside an annual budget of US$6.7 million to carry out its “reconciliation plan.” The three committees will operate for three years.
Since the ousting of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup in September 2006, Thailand has been in a continuous state of political volatility [Insight on Conflict | 2011]. Thaksin was elected prime minister in 2001 and won the support of the rural poor by introducing reforms and strategies for the redistribution of wealth. These reforms aggravated the elite, which saw them as “attempts to dilute their privileges and to bestow government favours on the prime minister, his allies, rural villages and small businesses” [Newsweek | 10 May 2010]. Despite its reforms, Thaksin’s government was accused of lacking respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. The Asian Human Rights Commission further accused the government of media manipulation, corruption, intimidation of opponents and use of excessive force, including extrajudicial killings of supposed drug dealers across Thailand [Asian Human Rights Commission | 2006].
These factors played a part in mounting tensions, which led to the 2006 military coup, headed by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. The beginnings of the Red Shirt movement were in the campaign to restore Thaksin to power, but the movement soon grew into a struggle against the ruling elite and the unequal distribution of wealth and power in the country [IRIN News | 30 Sep 2011]. The People's Power Party, supported by the Red Shirts, won the 2007 post-coup election, but when the elite interfered with the judicial system, the party was dissolved and the new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, was forced to resign by a court order. In December 2008, after six months of street protests, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was elected to office in a parliamentary vote. In the same year, the Supreme Court found Thaksin guilty of corruption in a split decision and sentenced him in absentia to two years’ imprisonment [NYT | 15 Dec 2008]. The Red Shirts’ violent demonstrations calling for the dissolution of government and new elections continued and culminated in a 10-week rally that ended in May 2010. That rally resulted in the deaths of 90 people and more than 2,000 being injured [IRIN News | 30 Sep 2011].
In a separate conflict, more than 4,000 people have been killed and thousands more injured in Thailand’s predominantly Malay Muslim southern provinces. The conflict has its roots in the longstanding Malay Muslim secessionist movement, which began when Thailand annexed the independent sultanate of Patani in 1902 [Council on Foreign Relations | 2008].
Attacks on government authorities by insurgents in the southern provinces are widespread. The government has retaliated with brutal military campaigns and currently has 30,000 troops residing in the region. In mid-2005, the government also introduced emergency laws in the area, which give the government forces extended powers of arrest and immunity from prosecution, amongst other powers [Insight on Conflict]. Civil society has criticised both the government’s crackdowns and the emergency laws.
[Asian Human Rights Commission | 2010]
[Asian Legal Resource Centre | 2011]
[Bangkok Post | 15 May 2011]
[Council on Foreign Relations | 2008]
[Human Rights Watch | 2011]
[Insight on Conflict]
[IRIN News | 30 Sep 2011]
[Newsweek | 10 May 2010]
[New York Times | 15 Dec 2008]