Justice: The Jurist, AFP, SPIEGEL & WSJ on the Abhisit crackdown

The Following is from the Jurist:

[JURIST] Thailand’s “red shirt” [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pro-democracy movement on Monday petitioned [press release] the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to launch a preliminary investigation into whether the government committed crimes against humanity during the Bangkok protests [JURIST news archive] last spring. The application for petition [text, PDF] cites specific evidence developing a substantial basis to show that international crimes of murder, imprisonment and other severe deprivation of physical liberty, other inhumane acts, and persecution were committed in conjunction with the suppression of red shirt protests. Evidence obtained from multiple active-duty officers of the Royal Thai Army [official website, in Thai] recounts the planning and execution of the military response to the red shirts. The application also includes reports from Thai law enforcement officials knowledgeable of the official investigation conducted by the Thai Department of Special Investigations (DSI) into the killings of protesters. Representing the red shirts and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) [advocacy website], Robert Amsterdam stated:

This case represents a historic opportunity for international justice to confront governments who deploy their militaries to use violence against their own citizens. In light of repeated violent crackdowns throughout Thai history, this legal filing represents the first comprehensive attempt to obtain the facts and evidence of what happened during the 2010 massacres, let alone publish them before the public. What we have exposed is not just a botched security operation, but rather a determined policy of extermination and elimination of the Red Shirt movement by the military. These egregious violations require answers and accountability.

Amsterdam’s firm, Amsterdam & Peroff, LLP [law firm website] also represents former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], a figurehead for the democratic red shirts, who is currently living in exile after being ousted during a 2006 coup [JURIST report]. In August, the Supreme Court of Thailand [GlobaLex backgrounder] denied Thaksin’s appeal [JURIST report] contesting the seizure of his assets. In July, the criminal division of Supreme Court issued a new arrest warrant [JURIST report] against him and Thai police recommended terrorism charges [DPA report] against Thaksin and 24 others for their alleged involvement in the Bangkok protests.

In March, the red shirts began protesting the current Thai government [JURIST report] and called for elections. The conflict, leaving more than 80 dead, ended after nearly two months when protesters surrendered to police [JURIST report]. In May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacywebsite] expressed concern [JURIST report] about the treatment of anti-government protesters detained during the political violence. The group chided the Thai government for enacting an emergency decree giving Thai security forces broad power to arrest individuals without formal charges and hold them in secret detention. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official profile; JURIST news archive] promised an independent investigation [JURIST report] into the clashes between security forces and the red shirts. Abhisit discussed plans for reconciliation aimed at helping the country heal and pledged that due process of law would play an important role in the reconciliation, and that all people would be encouraged to participate in the democratic process. During their protests, the red shirts demanded that Abhisit resign and called for new elections. The Thai government implemented a curfew [JURIST report] in Bangkok and other areas of the country in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the red shirts announced an end to the protests. It was later lifted [JURIST report

The Following is from AFP:

Thailand‘s anti-government movement the Red Shirts has officially asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate possible crimes against humanity committed by the government, its lawyer said on Monday.

Robert Amsterdam, a London-based representative for the movement, filed the petition on Sunday relating to deadly street clashes in Bangkok during two months of protests last year, he told a press conference via videolink.

The application requested that ICC prosecutors “launch a preliminary investigation relating to potential crimes against humanity committed in Thailand in April and May”, Amsterdam said from Tokyo.

During the red-clad demonstrations in the capital — which peaked at 100 000 people calling for immediate elections — clashes between protesters and the military left more than 90 people dead.

Amsterdam cited in particular the alleged use of snipers and the firing of live ammunition by the army during the violence.

‘I am a Thai citizen, not Montenegrin’

Although Thailand has not ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC, Amsterdam argued that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was in fact a citizen of Great Britain where he was born, which is a signatory of the pact.

“I am a Thai citizen, not Montenegrin,” Abhisit later said, in a jibe at the Reds’ hero and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been given citizenship of Montenegro.

Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives abroad to escape a jail term for corruption, is also represented by Amsterdam.

The Red Shirts first urged the ICC to investigate the allegations in October, although the official complaint was filed on Sunday.

“We are appealing to international justice to put an end to Thai impunity,” said the acting chairperson of the Red Shirts, Thida Thavornseth.

“Our courts have failed to administer justice, and our government has failed to investigate the murders of more than 80 peaceful protesters,” she added.

‘Whitewash’

After an army crackdown that ended the protests in May, small bands of militant protesters set dozens of buildings ablaze across Bangkok, including a glitzy shopping mall in the upmarket commercial district.

An official Thai investigation into the deaths is under way, but the opposition has denounced the probe as a “whitewash”.

The mostly poor and working class Red Shirts have shown increasing strength in recent months, holding rallies in Bangkok twice a month that have attracted tens of thousands of supporters. — Sapa-AFP

The Following is from SPIEGEL

Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam represents the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This week he is filing a complaint with the ICC in the Hague, saying he can prove the government in Bangkok committed crimes against humanity. He spoke to SPIEGEL about the challenges of building his case.

SPIEGEL: You are filing a complaint with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague this week. You say you are able to prove that the Thai government committed crimes against humanity when it violently clamped down on demonstrations in April and May 2010. But you are not an independent investigator. You act on behalf of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Does this compromise the credibility of your investigation?

Robert Amsterdam: I don’t deny that there are political overtones, but unfortunately Thailand today is highly polarized. And I can assure you: Only with the backing of a powerful figure such as Thaksin was it even possible to gather the amount of evidence that we put together during the last eight months. We have a reasonable basis to argue that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva personally ordered the military to assassinate the Red Shirt leaders. When that plan was botched, he authorized the army to brutally clamp down on unarmed demonstrators. Not only did he approve of the firing order, he even deployed snipers against them. Many NGO’s have tried to put this evidence together, but they failed early in the course.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Amsterdam: Thailand may be the country of 1,000 smiles, but it has now become a life threatening experience to speak up there. Even representatives of human rights organisations must remain very careful, if they and their families need to continue to live in Thailand. And finally: A thorough investigation gets costly if it includes independent foreign expert witnesses. Under present Thai conditions, nobody else but us was able and willing to piece together the evidence.

SPIEGEL: It will be easy for Abhisit to argue that your ICC complaint is just a PR stunt.

Amsterdam: I would doubt that. We’ll put the evidence out there for the prosecutor at the ICC as well as for other interested countries and NGOs. We have hundreds of affidavits. The most impressive of these originate from some of the closest aides to Abhisit himself, others from well placed high ranking officers. The picture that you get after reading this evidence is crystal clear: Abhisit gave a carte blanche style order to the military to massacre civilians with the only goal of eliminating the Red Shirt opposition.

SPIEGEL: How did you find those witnesses?

Amsterdam: Inside the Thai military there is a formidable watermelon-contingent: Green on the outside, red inside. Others were simply horrified about what happened and felt compelled to contribute to the investigation. Some people have risked their lives to get in touch with us.

SPIEGEL: Have you paid any witnesses?

Amsterdam: No.

SPIEGEL: Did you go to Thailand yourself to speak to the witnesses?

Amsterdam: I was in Bangkok during the May massacre. Ever since, I’m barred from entering the country. My picture has been posted in the immigration booths at the airports — not because I committed any crime, but because the government apparently wants to take revenge on me for representing Thaksin. But we do have partners who are able to go back and forth and secretly meet with informants. Their job has become increasingly difficult. In part, they are surveilled in Bangkok. Witnesses have been threatened not to speak with us. This is hardly the kind of behaviour you would hope to see from the country that currently serves as president of the UN Human Rights Commission.

SPIEGEL: Some of the accounts are detailed reports right from the center of power. It seems it would be easy to identify some of them, especially “Witness 22.”

Amsterdam: That’s the reason why his account is actually an amalgam of the testimony of a number of people. Every one of them would be prepared to make an appearance in The Hague, if needed. But until then, we have to protect their identities.

SPIEGEL: Why did you not try to involve independent Thai institutions?

Amsterdam: We approached a number of them but nobody dares to cooperate. Thailand today is some sort of Burma with luxury hotels. The military is the dominant force. A very large number of civilians live in acute fear. People disappear. Again and again, bodies are found with hands bound and bullets in their heads. Hundreds are in jail without formal accusations. The media are strictly controlled. Thousands of websites with content that’s critical of the government are blocked.

SPIEGEL: But your move in The Hague will most likely end in vain. Thailand has never ratified the Rome statute and thus is not subjected to the rulings of the ICC.

Amsterdam: That’s doesn’t make our endeavour easier, but it’s not legally hopeless either. First of all, this evidence represents the best documentation on human rights abuses in Thai history. That’s something in itself, and it will lead to tremendous pressure on the government. But as to Abhisit, we are optimistic that at least he himself might indeed stand trial at The Hague.

SPIEGEL: How?

Amsterdam: We believe that Abhisit is a British subject.

SPIEGEL: The Prime Minister of Thailand?

Amsterdam: He was born in 1964 in the English city of Newcastle. That makes him a British national unless he has formally renounced his British citizenship later on, which we do doubt. The UK had better sort out quickly whether Abhisit is indeed a British national.

SPIEGEL: What exactly do you accuse him of?

Amsterdam: According to international law, he bears the ultimate responsibility for everything that happened in the name of the government in April and May. Remember: Those were almost incomprehensible scenes — soldiers shooting indiscriminately at demonstrators and innocent bystanders alike.

SPIEGEL: It happened in self defence, according to the Thai army.

Amsterdam: But the government was never able to produce a single conclusive piece of video evidence of a demonstrator engaging in any kind of sufficient aggression.

SPIEGEL: What did Thailand itself do to investigate these events?

Amsterdam: Nobody within the military has been charged with anything. Investigators were even barred from summoning any Thai soldiers for questioning. Meanwhile, the harassment of the opposition continues. Hundreds are in jail. Nineteen leaders of the Red Shirt movement are indicted of terrorism. They might face the death penalty.

Interview conducted by Marco Evers and Thilo Thielke

The Following is from the Wall Street Journal:

BANGKOK—Former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyers Monday said they have filed a petition to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands to investigate the way Thailand’s security forces suppressed massive street protests in the Thai capital last year. The move could embarrass the country’s army-backed government and further fray nerves in a country still coming to terms with the extent of last May’s violence, in which 91 people were killed and hundreds more injured.

It’s unclear whether the court will accept the petition; Thailand isn’t one of the 144 members of the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Some analysts portrayed the petition as a way to seek to invigorate a fresh round of antigovernment protests in Bangkok or otherwise generate publicity for Mr. Thaksin, a former prime minister deposed in a 2006 coup.

The petitioners, though, argue that the ICC can still launch an inquiry because they say Thailand’s current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is a British citizen, and Britain is a member of the court. Mr. Abhisit, who was born in Britain, where his parents were working as doctors, Monday told reporters he holds Thai nationality. Officials in his office said separately that he holds no current ties to Britain, and that when he studied at Oxford University, he did so as an overseas student.

A spokeswoman at the ICC said the court generally doesn’t comment on individual petitions.

Acting on behalf of the opposition United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD, Mr. Thaksin’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam drew parallels between the antigovernment protests in Bangkok last May and the current unrest in Egypt, where street protesters are rallying against the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

“We can see they are reading from the same script,” Mr. Amsterdam said in a videoconference call from Tokyo. “This case represents a historic opportunity for international justice to confront governments who deploy their militaries to use violence against their own citizens.”

The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 as a permanent tribunal to prosecute human-rights violations and war crimes when national judicial systems are unable or unwilling to investigate these crimes. So far, the court has indicted 16 people from northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, the Darfur region of Sudan and Kenya.

The UDD’s efforts to add Thailand’s government to that list is partly an attempt to highlight the lack of progress of Thai investigations into last year’s violence. Mr. Abhisit’s government created an independent commission to examine the causes of the bloodshed, but its members have complained that police and army officials have been slow to cooperate. Officials at the security services couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Thailand’s equivalent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, meanwhile, is still investigating the military’s role in the bloody crackdown.

“We are appealing to international justice to put an end to Thai impunity,” said UDD leader Thida Thawornseth, the wife of detained protest leader Weng Tojirakarn, who is one of 19 activists being held on terrorism charges.

Thai government officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the petition filed with the ICC. Mr. Thaksin, a powerful businessman who now lives overseas to avoid imprisonment on a 2008 corruption conviction, also couldn’t be reached for comment. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Last year’s protests triggered the worst political violence Thailand has seen in decades. Funded in part by populist-minded Mr. Thaksin, demonstrators garbed in red massed in Bangkok to press for new elections and urge Thailand’s armed forces and powerful elites to give up their political roles here. Tens of thousands of “Red Shirt” protesters attended the rallies which lasted for more than two months and turned the city’s commercial hub into a city-within-a-city, protected by sharpened-bamboo stockades and rubber tires.

As the demonstrations dragged on, they became increasingly violent, and the army began to take a more active role in pinning down the protesters. Some neighborhoods were cordoned off with razor wire and designated live-fire zones before the protests were finally broken up on May 19 amid bitter street clashes. During the aftermath, arsonists set shopping malls and the country’s stock-exchange headquarters on fire.

The impact of the clashes continues to roil the country. Some opposition activists castigate local authorities for quickly prosecuting protest leaders while allegedly dragging their heels on the investigation in the military’s role in the bloodshed. Red Shirt protesters still regularly take to the streets of Bangkok in preparation for new elections, which Thailand’s constitution states must be called by the end of this year. Recent weeks have seen a pick-up in protests.

Mr. Abhisit has indicated that a fresh vote could be held as soon as the first half of this year, and his government has outlined a series of new, populist-style spending plans to win over Mr. Thaksin’s supporters.

One thought on “Justice: The Jurist, AFP, SPIEGEL & WSJ on the Abhisit crackdown

  1. Being an sympathizer of the suppressed grass-roots Thai, i’ll send the signal to thai red-shirt to look out for Spiegel, in particular, for the harsh interview overly critical of Mr.Robert.

    Live long, the will of the people!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s