President Barack Obama
White House, Washington, DC
via Mr. Danny Russell, Senior Director for East Asia, National
Dear President Obama:
On behalf of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, I would like to congratulate you on the convincing victory in the recent presidential election and to express our appreciation for your success during your first term in office in pursuing peace in global diversity and in increasing the sense of respect for human rights worldwide. We are very hopeful that more of the great things will be achieved in your next four years.
I would also like to commend you for paying close attention to Southeast Asia, as reflected in your upcoming visits to Thailand and nearby countries. Particularly, I would like to ask you to do whatever you can to push Thailand toward being an exemplary nation promoting democracy, enforcement of the rule of law at all levels, and respect for human rights as it was once regarded. Before the political turmoil that erupted in 2005, Thailand had been looked up to by nations worldwide as a most democratically peaceful country in Asia and a nation with high standards of judicial systems and with fine records of respect for human rights. However, the problems surfaced after the 2006 coup d’etat and have still been unresolved. Your words and actions will be closely noted and respected.
Human rights violations in Thailand have been subtly unique and, hence, fatally oppressive, sharply in contrast with the outlook that the ruling elites has tried to paint. We are hoping that this letter will either confirm what you have already learned about Thailand or add new details so that you will, in any possible way, assist Thais in pursuing a more fully democratic society and in fighting all forms of human rights violation.
Known as the “Land of Smiles,” Thailand offers many illusions, and its human rights problems can be neatly buried under the perception that Thais are happy with their lives and that peace still prevails despite the political turmoil that has not disappeared since its eruption in 2005 that led to the 2006 coup. The Thai monarch was widely regarded in the media, domestic and international, as the heart of unity among Thais and as the most revered and benevolent king on earth. The love for King Bhumibol is nearly a blind one, as virtually nobody dares to challenge it, nor can many Thais may publicly talk about it differently because the lèse majesté laws have been fiercely enforced by all governments since the 2006 coup, thanks also to the 2007 Computer Crime Act that has been effectively used along with the lèse majesté laws to suppress the freedoms among politically active Thais. Hundreds of civilian protesters have been charged and imprisoned without bails and unjustly. As of now, we still have at least 30 political prisoners in Bangkok jails alone. When we Thais step out of our own shells and now put on a new human rights-oriented lens, we have become equipped with the following refined set of knowledge or realization that we would like to share with you. It may not be substantiated with all specific details, but you can either find them in relevant reports by human rights agencies or ask us further for more specifics.In about 80 years of the so-called Thai “democratic” era since the June 24, 1932 revolution, Thais have witnessed more than 20 attempts by undemocratic and mostly military forces to topple governments and almost 20 successful acts of tearing and rewriting the constitutions without any participation or approval of the civilian Thai citizens. For all these attempts to become legitimate, King Bhumibol would have to endorse them all, and so he did. An interesting observation is that, after each act, the new government was, until recent years, always led by an undemocratically appointed prime minister who was closely connected or undoubtedly entrusted by the Thai king. Thus, more than ten of the 28 Thai prime ministers were ex-military generals and most of the rest were at least palace-friendly. Many of them would subsequently become members of the Privy Council, or the king’s personal consultants. With blind love that many Thais have been systematically culturally trained to hold for the monarch, we used to turn our blind eyes to many historical events, even thinking that King Bhumibol was dragged into politics by the army and top interest groups in order to settle the disputes or, as more often heard, to clean the mess that the army and the politicians created. We have now realized how wrong and ignorant we were.
Looking at the current 2007 constitution, one shall understand that all clusters of articles added to the previous and more democratic one (that of 1997) were added or amended to make sure that the king’s power would not be touched, that the people’s powers are well controlled by the new independent (practically undemocratic or appointed) judicial and investigative bodies, and politicians, and that progressive Thais aiming to establish true democracy will not be able to accomplish anything structurally substantial. All these acts of undermining the natural growth of Thai democracy are, when considered deeply, detrimental and in violation of many basic human rights. For instance, we have legally voted as it is our legal right to vote, but our governments can be easily nullified by military forces that eventually become legitimate with the royal signature. During and after each of these acts, we are normally forced to live under martial laws that directly violate our rights to free travel, academic freedom, and non-violent assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of press, security, and fair and transparent trial if bails are at all granted, just to name a few. With irrational love, we seldom felt that the Thai King had anything to do with anything of such abusive nature, as Article 8 in the recent constitutions essentially states that the king can do no wrong, which, in Thailand, it actually means that the King can do anything, but he cannot be mentioned negatively, sued, nor charged by anyone or any institution.In light of the above scenario, we have also learned that there have been massacres so apparent to the naked eyes of the world and yet, surprisingly, few of the people involved in these massacres have been tried and virtually none prosecuted. In addition to the absence of any proper trial, after all the massacres King Bhumibol always granted amnesty to all parties, letting the killings of innocent Thais who fought for their rights and for a true democracy be forgotten and buried under the royal ink and the royally undemocratic traditions. To date, as many as over ten thousand Thais have been killed or severely injured or disappeared in the violent military and secretive acts against Thai citizens in 1973, 1976, 1992, 2008, and 2009. Sadly, none of the military officers involved was held accountable for the murders they had committed. In the most recent tragedy during April-May 2009, the royal Thai military officers under the Abhisit Administration even used snipers to shoot at unarmed protesters and barbarically killed almost a hundred unarmed civilians, including foreign news reporters and voluntary nurses on duty, while over 2000 protesters were badly injured and a few have recently deceased as a result of the assault. Now, more than three years after the tragedy, no legal actions are bearing the expected fair results. Worse, there is an attempt by the redshirts-supported government of Miss Yingluck Shinawatra to pass an act to grant amnesty across the board without any required pursuit of justice and truth about the murder and the excessive violence against civilians. When asked about the progress of the cases, the current government always claims that there are things that cannot be done easily because their authority is suppressed, and politically active Thais know very well that the charges would involve the military officers, the Abhisit administration, and the people above the first two groups who must have issued the license to kill.
When justice is too hard to find in the Thai judicial system, mainly because it is known to be strictly directed by influential people that cannot be touched, the Yingluck administration could either pass the case on to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or at least secure a preventive measure against future massacres of civilians by agreeing to ratify with the ICC’s Rome Statue so that no murderous orders or unlawful commands by anybody in Thailand will again be issued and regarded as a license to kill without any consequences against the people involved. Thailand is not as burdened with the need to reserve its rights to military self-defense as the U.S., such ratification will only benefit its future. Yet, the Yingluck government has been reluctant to move forward with either of the two possibilities simply because it is trying to prolong its tenure by protecting the army from being prosecuted and by expressing its unwavering loyalty to the monarch and family whom many Thais believe were involved in the killings. It is known among us that the Yingluck administration fears being toppled by another royally endorsed coup if it dares to seek justice via the ICC against the former PM Abhisit because it may potentially lead to prosecution of the military officers and hence the people above them, who will inevitably order a coup to stop the justice process from reaching them. To this end, it is understandable why the Yingluck administration has not been able to improve Thailand’s records of human rights violations, as also indicated in reports by international human rights agencies.The mess associated with the structural influences rooted from the propagandized blind love for the monarch that has undermined Thai democracy as described above knows no ends. More and more Thais who share the aforementioned knowledge are now burning to discuss the perpetual problems, name the concerned factors and causes, and find solutions that the real causes. Unfortunately, they are not legally allowed to do so, as the Thai lèse majesté laws are very strict by nature of its existence in the Thai culture and very harsh and inhuman in the ways in which they are enforced, hence in violations of the universal human rights. Because anybody can sue anybody else for insulting the king and the royal family members, many Thais who have information about the perceived wrongdoings by the king, the queen, and the royal family in Thailand’s structural problems have been politically threatened and violently treated by royalist Thais. Once an incident is reported to the police, it is expected to be the case that all police officers would not dare to stop it from being further pursued for fear of being labeled as ‘disloyal’, and the same can be said for the prosecutors and the judges involved in the subsequent protocols. Thus, a case once started may result in the charged person being imprisoned for at least three years and up to 15 years for each act on each occasion. Hence, the Thai lèse majesté laws basically violate the very basic human rights to freedom of speech and, given the enforcement in the Thai context, the rights to free trials, bails, and proper treatment as a presumed innocent person.
Among Thais, criticizing the king and the royal family does not only qualify one for harsh treatment in the judicial system and subsequent extended imprisonment without bail nor proper and fair trials, it can also lead to social sanctions and violent acts by royalist Thais worldwide. Dr. Vorajet Pakeeratana, a Thai university law professor was beaten by two radical young men for proposing that the Article 112, which is a main substance of the lèse majesté laws, be amended. He has still more recently been bullied or threatened by some unknown Thais. As I am writing this letter, the well-known professor, Dr. Somsak Jiamdheerasakul, has just been informed that he will be charged for having insulted the monarch while he was publicly sharing his academic knowledge to the public. Even in the United States, royalists who are members of the PAD (yellow shirts), who seized government house for months and occupied international and domestic airports in Thailand in 2008 and have been released on bails because they are labeled “royalists,” staged their protests against Dr. Thaksin in San Francisco and Lost Angeles in rude and verbally violent manners with a claim of protecting the king. Of course, you should also know very well about the case of the recently released Mr. Joe Gordon, a U.S. citizen who was imprisoned and abused in the Thai systems merely because of his involvement in translating and posting the content of a book globally published by Yale University, “The King Never Smiles.” That is, the violations of basic human rights were even extensively possible against a U.S. citizen exercising his rights in disseminating knowledge endorsed by a well-respected publisher on the American soil!!Irrational love for the Thai king and his family and the hate-oriented nationalism in Thailand are essentially the results of prolonged, one-sided propagandas, and they can be very dangerous and even fatal as evident in the 1976 incident, where many individuals and organized Thais were encouraged to go out to the streets and kill students in Thammasat University based on a fabricated claim that those students were Viet Gong communists entering Thailand to destroy Thai democracy and the monarchy. The mainstream media then all did their job in the name of love for the Nation, the Religion, and the Monarchy. Sadly, Thai mainstream media were and remain loyal to the royal family and do the best they could and can to pamper the royal family and to paint the picture of democratically conscientized, progressive Thais as bad or violent people who are less human and who deserve to be treated as such. This has been a subtle cultural problem that may one day develop to be a cause for targeted mass killings as in the most tragic genocide of Rwanda. Please note that the plan to use forces in Thailand is still active and that the blind love may again be used to trigger hatred and murderous actions.
As mentioned at the beginning of this letter, we would like to inform you that Thailand is not as good, peaceful, and democratic as it seems on the surface and that the Yingluck administration has much to do to qualify itself as a government of the Thai people, by the Thai people, and for the Thai people an as a government strictly enforcing democratic principles and respect for universal human rights. You cannot always believe what the Thai governments and the mainstream media report. You cannot even trust all the information in reports by the current Thai Commission for Human Rights because its current officers were handpicked by the royalist coup leaders. The Thai Alliance for Human Rights is a new kid on the block in the neighborhood of human rights activists, but we truly wish to give voice to the suppressed voices of Thais who are fighting the status quo and are doing so nonviolently and with respect for human rights of others around them. We are informing you so that you will do what you can in your power to pressure or collaborate with the Thai government and concerned agencies to ensure respect for human rights in Thailand and beyond.
Thank you for your kind attention, Mr. President. We wish you safe and fruitful trips to and from the U.S.-Thailand and the lovely Southeast Asian countries. We also hope to hear back from you.
Snea Thinsan, Ph.D.
Executive Director/ Founding President,
Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR)