Embargoed for: 17 May 2010
Review: 230/10

Thailand: The international community’s silence in the face of a human rights catastrophe

I. Human rights implications of the clashes in Bangkok

As this Review is issued, the deadline for Thailand’s Red Shirts to clear the Ratchaprasong intersection, Bangkok by 3 pm (Thailand time) today has expired. The protestors are unarmed, though they have built barricades to prevent the army takeover. According to the latest reports available, the Univesity Student Council is setting up the rally at the Ramkhamheang University in Bangkrapi, Bangkok opposing the violence being used by the government and seeking resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

At least 37 anti-government Red Shirts protestors have been killed while hundreds have been injured since the latest crackdown started on 14 May 2010. The most prominent victim of the sniper killings – General Khattiya Sawatdiphol, 59, better known as Seh Daeng who was shot in the head on 13 May 2010 while giving an interview to a New York Times journalist died this morning. Since the Red Shirts protest began on 14 March 2010, at least 64 people have died and another 1658 people have been wounded.

If the military forcibly takes over the protest site at Ratchaprasong intersection, casualties will multiply.

There is complete ban on reporting on these events by the Thai language media. The government has closed down about a dozen satellites and cable television stations and 36 internet websites suspected of having links to the Red Shirts.

On 16 May 2010, the Thai government cut off water and food supplies to the protestors in Bangkok. There is an acute shortage of food and water in the protest camp. As the protestors include a large number of women and children, the UN International Children's Fund in Thailand has called on all concerned parties to ensure the safety and protection of children and women in and around the protest site.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have so far issued no statement expressing concern over respect for human rights.

The OHCHR has an office in Bangkok and must be well informed of the events. It contrasts worryingly with the statements issued by the Special Procedures expressing concern over “protests and reports of high numbers of arrests in the Tibet Autonomous Region and surrounding areas in China” on 10 April 2008. There is a real and ongoing concern over the selectivity of the OHCHR and the Special Procedures mandate holders.

II. Government not serious about dialogue

The Red Shirt protesters, among others, are calling for elections and the restoration of the 1997 constitution. In fact, such type of protests were first started by the Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to oust the People’s Power Party government.

On 25 November 2008, leaders of the Democratic Party under the guise of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) seized Government House, Parliament House, Don Muang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport, and clashed with the police and anti-PAD protesters. The seizure of these key sites continued for eight days until 3 December 2008. The siege ended after the Constitutional Court banned the People's Power Party. Several Members of Parliament belonging to the PPP were allegedly coerced to defect to the Democrat Party to facilitate Abhisit Vejjajiva becoming the Prime Minister.

The seizure of the Government House, Parliament House, Don Muang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport by the PAD activists completely isolated Thailand from the outside world. The protests by the Red Shirts at Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok do not appear to be on the same scale and it is far from clear that they require a military intervention either on 10 April 2010 or since 14 May 2010. A negotiated conclusion is clearly possible.

In fact, until the government sent in the Army on 14 May 2010, apart from the Ratchaprasong intersection, the rest of Bangkok was unaffected.

There are concerns over the intent of the government with regard to dialogue. After two rounds of talks with the Red Shirts failed to yield results, on 3 May 2010, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced a reconciliatory roadmap which included elections on 14 November 2010. The roadmap was tentatively accepted by the protesters. However, the Prime Minister then refused to discuss establishing accountability for the killings on 10 April 2010. There are powerful indications that there are figures within the government and outside opposed to a negotiated solution.

On 13 May 2010, the Prime Minister withdrew the roadmap and launched the current assault.

III. Violent crackdown

The Democratic Party government may clear the protest at Ratchaprasong intersection but it is likely to come at a very high human cost and sew further dissent. The Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights visited the protest site at Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on 30 April 2010. Given the layers of barricades laid down by the Red Shirts, forcible dispersal risks the lives of the protestors – a large number of whom are women and children.

ACHR underlines that the Government has a duty to protect the lives and property of the population and to maintain law and order. They also have the right to use force where necessary and proportionate to accomplish those ends and where other means are insufficient. The behavior of demonstrators during these protests has been on occasions violent and provocative.

But in order to respect and protect the right to life guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, law enforcement officials must act in accordance with international human rights principles and standards on the use of force. These principles and standards are set out in the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Given that there are clearly alternatives to violent suppression, the imposition of ‘free fire’ zones clearly violates the obligation on law enforcement officials to act according to the principles of necessity and proportionality. The principle of necessity requires that law enforcement officials use force only when strictly necessary, and this has not been ensured. In fact, the Asian Centre for Human Rights has received credible reports of the government using the armed-soilders and snippers to shoot unarmed protesters and ordinary people in the area surrounding Ratchaprasong.

V. International community must intervene for a negotiated solution

International concern about the situation in Thailand has been strikingly muted and mainly restricted to travel warnings. The UN Secretary General has expressed his concern. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected suggestions of UN mediation as interference in internal affairs. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had earlier already rejected the offer of mediation by President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor. The demand of the Red Shirts for UN mediation too was rejected.

The international community including the OHCHR and relevant Special Procedures mandate holders must raise concern over the use of excessive force by the Thai authorities and the risk of even wider human rights violations in Thailand. They must remind the Thai Government of its international human rights obligations. They must urge the government to return to negotiation able. It must not wait for a massacre.

The United Nations Human Rights Council on its part must hold a Special Session on the situation of human rights in Thailand. It must not be once again a victim of politicisation and selectivity.