Khon Kaen - At an event marking one year since the dispersal of public demonstrations in which 92 people were killed and over 2,000 injured, speakers from four major non-government groups gathered yesterday to assess the progress of recent reports into the outbreak of violence during April and May 2010.
Speaking to recent public releases from Human Rights Watch (HRW), the People's Information Centre (PIC), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) lawyer and activist Robert Amsterdam, speakers who'd gathered at Khon Kaen University's newly reformed Centre for Rule of Law and Human Rights had intended to assess the challenges and opportunities facing their respective investigations.
Instead, members of the audience sought this opportunity to express publicly many of their own experiences, fears and concerns to emerge following the aftermath of last year's violence. Question time was then extended to allow individuals to express their personal stories. "I was there, when it happened," began one man. "I was convicted during that time, and I just wanted to say this," began another. One woman had "seen it on TV, and it had me thinking," while most stated simply: "I saw these things for myself."
Nittaya Pachuai, mother, housewife and fruit juice vendor, rose from the audience to speak of her ongoing grief. "I want to talk about my husband," she said. "He was just a normal guy… But he loved to see the righteousness in the society, and this caused him to lose his life. On May 14 last year he was driving his taxi when he saw people crossing the street - because, of his goodwill - he stopped to ask the people what they were running from: they didn't stop to answer. My husband fell down. He hadn't died yet. He was helped by some people. He asked them: 'Can you drive me to the hospital?' He was thankful for their help."
"But by the time I could contact them," she said, "the official was trying to contact me so I could receive his body."
In the audience, among them a diverse mix of local and foreign university students, academics, village leaders and other interested parties, an aggrieved 73-year old local retiree spoke of his growing anger. "Who also ordered this massacre? Since we cannot say or pinpoint any perpetrators, you can't tell anything to the people whose families were murdered! You can't reconcile! Unless the people responsible apologize for what they did!"
Nittaya too said she felt that "from then to now, justice has not been received. Who shot my husband? I don't know. But the bullet - two bullets - were coming from very high up. They hit him in the chest."
"We were together for seven years," she said. "I just wanted to say that such events should not happen to anyone; that the happiness should be gone from any family. I hold the government accountable for this." Having felt a need to speak publicly, she travelled overnight from her home in Ubon Ratchathani with her two small children in order to attend. "I lost the leader of my family and the person who would take care of me. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye."
Later, as the subject of the day's events shifted towards questions of historical and judicial precedence, most said they felt it important that investigations into the violence should continue. "If the investigation of the incident seems to be stuck, and doesn't have much progress," one man warned the panel, "then you are now degrading, not upholding, the standards of democracy."
As Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree of the Centre of Human Rights Studies and Social Development at Mahidol University sees it, the impact of such violence on individuals could be mitigated by means more persuant to justice; most notably, an "accountability that means the end of impunity". She argues that, in Thailand, a longstanding historical precedence of amnesty exists and has been extensively used to prevent the prosecution of responsible groups and individuals.
"In the 1970s, there were student uprisings," said Dr. Sriprapha. "And from that moment onwards there hasn't been 'truth finding' - the perpetrators from that point on have been granted amnesty. This cycle of impunity and amnesty means that this is a failure on part of the state, and therefore means further human rights violations for the victims."
In his remarks, Director Vasan Panich expressed his concern that without accountability, these events would only serve to reinforce past mistakes. He'd hoped "that the last year's incident wouldn't reflect the past three political crackdowns... That there would be some facts that would be open to the public." Instead, the investigations into the violence demonstrated that "there are still many issues that the people are questioning."