The Bangkok Post has distinguished itself from its English-language competitor for publishing a diversity of political views in its editorial pages. The paper’s daily editorials are often well conceived and fairly argued.
Such is not the case of its 1 November 2010 editorial which employs muddied reasoning, stoops to personal attacks, and places unwarranted faith in the justice system which has historically failed to counter impunity.
The editorial suggests that the submission of charges by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) against the Abhisit Vejjajiva government with the International Criminal Court (ICC) is “a shocking misuse of the justice system” and that “right-thinking people” should “denounce this blot on justice.”
But is this attempt by the UDD to bring to justice the perpetrators of the April-May violence of this year as outrageous as the Bangkok Post would suggest? Is it possible for “right-thinking” people to suspect that nothing will come of the toothless, semi-independent truth and reconciliation commission set up by the government? Are there solid, historical reasons to believe that the country’s judicial system will fail to address impunity?
The editorial argues that the ICC’s “major flaw” is that it requires the court to “seriously” consider “even this wild allegation” made “by an uninvolved, third party who was on the other side of the world when the UDD rallies took place.”
Four components of this argument deserve attention.
First, it misunderstands the mission of the ICC. The editorial argues that the ICC was created to bring to justice “the most reprehensible dictators.” Actually, just regular ol’ dictators fit the ticket. The ICC states it was “established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.” It is up to the ICC to see whether government actions in April-May of this year constitute “most serious crimes.”
The Thai government so far has seemed to show that the 91 deaths early this year were not “the most serious crimes.” Almost a half a year later, the government has yet to make public details from the autopsies of those killed. The incidents of April-May and the continued use of repressive media laws should be of “concern to the international community.”
Second, the editorial, incredibly enough, cites the examples of countries like the United States, Iran, the Philippines and China as having opposed the ICC’s broad mandate. No wonder. The United States continues to defy the international community’s concern about “enemy combatants” held at Guantanamo Bay; Iran, the Philippines, and China are all securely in the bottom 15 per cent of nations in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.
Third, the editorial casts aspersions against the “tasteless” Robert Amsterdam, former prime minister Thaksin Shinwatra’s lawyer and UDD legal advisor, for his “wild” and “odious effort” to harm “the country’s name and reputation.”
The presence of personal invective often signals a lack of substance and clear thinking. The charges submitted to the ICC are not a mere artifice of a political game manipulated by Thaksin and Amsterdam. The views in the UDD document reflect the suspicions and concerns of a broad swath of Thai society.
Fourth, the editorial shows dismay that a “sitting prime minister” could be accused by an “uninvolved third party” at the ICC. Actually, the editorial is quite wrong–distance is important. The problem is not that an uninvolved third party is lodging the charge, but that this entire matter should be handled by a neutral body. That is why the UDD demanded that the sitting prime minister step down so that a fair inquiry could be made. Given the Thai court’s recent record, is it completely unreasonable to wonder whether the courts can play the role of an “uninvolved third party”?
Historically speaking, UDD supporters have good reason to fear that the government’s present efforts will result in a whitewash of the April-May events. Only the massacre of May 1992 have ever been seriously investigated. The resultant 2000 report was pointless; no court has ever revoked the self-administered amnesty taken by perpetrators.
No Thai security personnel or leaders have ever been tried for the deaths of protesters in 1973, 1976, or 1992. For that matter, no official has been tried for the extrajudicial killings of as many as 3,000 persons in Thaksin’s War on Drugs.
When security forces were tried for the killing of as many as 80 Tak Bai protesters, the court last year absolved state officials of any responsibility. A Bangkok Post editorial at the time stated that such a ruling was “out of tune with democracy and public expectation. The government or security forces cannot credibly absolve themselves to avoid responsibility.”
With no examples from history, it is difficult to believe that the Thai justice system or reconciliation effort this time will magically result in a challenge to this long history of entrenched impunity.
Overall, the editorial displays utter incredulity that Thailand could be compared to a country like the Sudan, and calls the UDD efforts with the ICC a “farce.”
But it could also be argued that a sober, clear-headed view of the situation in Thailand is what is needed. The editorial states that there can be “healthy disagreement over the clashes in April and May.” But can there, when the government is working at full throttle to suppress opposing views?
If the Bangkok Post does not want Thailand to be compared with dictatorships, then it should be fighting more heartily for press freedom. The reality is that Thailand’s position has dropped to its lowest in a decade, ranking 153rd out of 178 nations (and sharing the bottom 15 per cent with the Sudan).
Hasn’t the reputation of the nation been harmed because of actions of the government, rather than by those who try to expose such actions?
Many red-shirt leaders turned themselves in so they could have their day in court to prove their innocence. Why is a case with the ICC so frightening? After all, the innocent have nothing to fear.
Dr. David Streckfuss is a writer residing in Khon Kaen.