Updated: September 13, 2011 09:32 AM GMT
In a general election on July 3, Thailand found itself with a government with a majority and no need of the conventional coalition. One was formed anyway, with at its heart the Pheu Thai party filled with cronies of an exiled ex-prime minister. It is too early to make definitive comments on the new government’s economic policies, but what I can see now is that certain political moves it plans to undertake might lead to injustice and human rights violations. It cannot be denied that the Pheu Thai party led by Yingluck Shinawatra is the successor of the Thai Rak Thai party led by her brother, the popular Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a coup in 2006 and later convicted of corruption, and who remains in exile. As prime minister, Thaksin embarked on a much-publicized “all-out war” on drugs that resulted in the killing of more than 2,000 suspected drug dealers, many of whom could not be identified. This was a huge human rights violation. This war on drugs was driven by political expediency that disregarded due process of law and human rights. The new Yingluck-led government has said it will also embark on a major drug-suppression drive. This is worrisome, especially when a former brother-in-law of Thaksin is expected to be appointed as the new national police chief. Even though drug dealers commit crimes, the government has no right to kill them. The drug problem is a structural problem that can only be solved by providing everyone with a livelihood and educating young people with values. Many young people become drug dealers as an easy way to earn money.
National ReconciliationThe new government has said it is determined to work for national reconciliation as well as the rehabilitation of all parties affected during several years of political divisions. In the aftermath of a crisis such as last year’s “red-shirt” protests in Bangkok and the subsequent military crackdown in which at least 91 people died and more than 2,000 were injured, those in power usually issue an amnesty. Actually for true reconciliation, we need to accept the truth of what happened, and those who have done wrong need to be made accountable through due process under the law. Giving amnesty results in no investigation and destroys the rule of law. The people want justice rather than amnesty. In addition, the reconciliation process now seems difficult because the ruling Pheu Thai party wants to build good relations with the military for the sake of its own security. Every government has tried to please the military in order to avoid a coup.
Revising the ConstitutionThe government has vowed to revise the constitution by the end of the year. The current constitution was drafted after the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, and many articles seem disadvantageous to the present Pheu Thai party. The government has not given a clear picture on how or what it wants to amend in the constitution, so there is concern that proposed revisions would be for personal benefit. Actually, there are many loopholes and weaknesses in the constitution, particular in the process of justice, as it does not deal with how to make the government accountable for its actions. However, in revising the constitution there should be a proper study process by experts from various fields, to develop a constitution that is appropriate for Thai society and that truly promotes human rights.
Role of ChurchI was surprised that the Church was silent and did almost nothing during last year’s violence in the capital. The Church can be at the forefront in appealing to society’s conscience on human dignity and values. For example, we support cracking down on drug abusers and traffickers, but this needs to be done following due process and in a way that protects life. In national reconciliation, the Church should do all it can to stop violence, both physical and verbal. Our present society is divided at all levels. At the grassroots level, the Church can take various actions such as organizing forums and facilitating discussions for all sides to seek solutions to problems and reduce conflicts. Moreover, the Church can promote respect for diversity among students in Catholic-run schools. Sarawut Pratoomraj is a lawyer and senior program director for the International Commission of Jurists