The long and disgraceful tradition of impunity for Thai state murders

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In just one week at the end of 2015, the long and disgraceful tradition of impunity for state murders was reinforced once again in Thailand. That week former unelected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his thuggish right hand man Sutep Teuksuban were cleared of wrong doing for their part in ordering the cold-blooded murder of nearly a hundred pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010. This was no surprise since the present junta leader Generalissimo Prayut was also centrally involved in this state crime and had a hand in appointing the Abhisit government against the expressed wishes of most citizens in the first place. The grotesque justification for this crime was the need to clear the roads around luxury shopping centres. The unarmed protesters were demanding democratic elections.

In the same week the courts squashed the long-running case concerning the murder of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit. Somchai was defending a group of Malay Muslims who were tortured by police into confessing that they took part in a raid to steal weapons which was carried out at an army base in the south. Somchai was “disappeared” by policemen from several different units, indicating a green light from the top. Taksin Shinawat was Prime Minister at the time. Taksin also has blood on his hands from the deliberate murder of unarmed protesters at Takbai in 2004.

Impunity for state crimes in Thailand has a long tradition stretching back to 1973 and beyond. No government official, politician, policeman or soldier has ever been put on trial for unspeakable crimes of violence committed back in 1973, 1976 and 1992. All these crimes were carried out in order to defend dictatorships.

Impunity for state crimes also extends to non-state actors who are allied to the state, such as the violent mobs in 1976, and more recently the royalist mobs led by the yellow shirt PAD, the fascist monk “Buddha Isara” and Sutep Teuksuban.

It is obvious that there are no standards of human rights in Thailand.

Why is this so? The main explanation is the prevailing conservative attitude of the elites, reinforced by military brutality, which does not tolerate the fact that citizens should be equal. The Thai people are usually called “Ras-sa-don” which means “people who live in the land belonging to the king”. It is an out of date concept and is incompatible with the modern democratic world.

In the work places, employers think that they have absolute rights over their employees. The attitude is fully enshrined in labour laws as well as in the minds of the judges who fail to deliver justice. When judges sit in court they look at the poor with contempt. The children of the rich can get away easily when they kill people because “daddy” buys the police and judges.

We see inequality in the mainstream body language in Thai society. Ordinary people have to crawl to show their respect to people who are in power or are their seniors. This grotesque culture has been taught through schools and families. In the elite households they make their maids crawl to them as well. The unequal concepts can be easily seen in daily conversations, especially with personal pronouns which signify social position. Women are told that they need to call themselves “Noo” which means “little mouse” in a childish fashion. The idea simply identifies women as second class citizens.

Yet all this is only half the picture. The other half is about the continuing struggle by ordinary people against injustice and inequality. This is met with violence from above, but on many occasions dictatorships have been overthrown and the elites pushed back. But what is needed more than anything is a powerful mass social movement which can establish more long lasting democracy and high standards of human rights. Throughout the world, and including Thailand, independent trade unions have played a vital part in this struggle. Without such a movement, impunity for state crimes will continue. “People Power” is the key here. Hoping to establish a “Truth Commission” by well-meaning academics will achieve nothing without this power.

We need to abolish the National Human Rights Commission. The organisation is full of soldiers, police and academics who stand against democracy. A pro-democracy mass movement, which can influence public opinion, is much more effective than a state-sponsored human rights commission.

We need to overthrow the physical and political power of the army and the ideological influence of the monarchy in order to bring state criminals to justice. In the long term, we need to increase the rights in work places, schools, and universities and we need full gender rights. We need human dignity and respect. These things have to be fought for because no one is going to hand them down from above.