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Is Thaksin Shinawatra abusing the International Criminal Court?

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image Thomas Schmid (Dukas)

Has the man lost his marbles or does he just think he’s really smart? All of Thailand’s dailies splashed it over their front pages recently: Thaksin Shinawatra intends to sue current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for “crimes against humanity” in connection with the 91 deaths during the so-called redshirt protests in Bangkok in April and May this year. At least that is what Thaksin’s somewhat controversial US-based lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, has announced. According to Amsterdam (who wants to sue in The Hague; can you recognize the irony?), the indictment has been drafted and submitted to the ICC. Thaksin doesn’t sue as an individual but represents the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorshipt, a.k.a. Redshirts.
One wonders what right – also from a moral point of view – Thaksin has to attempt such a lawsuit, especially if one remembers the unsavory incidents that occurred during his own tenure as prime minister and resulted in the deaths of far more potentially innocents. There is for example the “War on Drugs”, which was propagated and driven by Thaksin and cost some 2.500 deaths within a few months. Many of those people were allegedly executed extra-judicially by the police, because the former prime minister had vigorously pushed for “results” and threatened police commanders with serious disciplinary measures if such “results” would not materialize within an impossibly tight deadline. If a police commander wanted to keep their post, they were practically forced to deliver such “results” at any cost.
The “Krue Se” incident is another example that Thaksin is walking on thin ice when it comes to accusations of “crimes against humanity”. The police besieged a mosque in Thailand’s southern province of Narathiwat, in which alleged Muslim insurgents had holed themselves up. After the storming of the mosque, some 40 bodies were counted. Critics again accused the police of extra-judicial killings, because no exchange of gunfire had taken place during the siege itself. Yet another incident that happened only shortly after the mosque siege in the same province, resulted in some 80 deaths. The Army had rounded up “suspected insurgents” in Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district. They were tied up before being crammed into the backs of trucks like cattle, and in several layers. The suspects were to be transferred for interrogation to an army camp some 5 hours drive away. After arrival a large proportion of the arrested were discovered asphyxiated.
Even during Thaksin’s own term as prime minister none of these cases was investigated. None of the persons responsible was indicted. Instead, the ex-prime minister gave himself oblivious to criticism by organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, if not even blatantly defiant. “The United Nations are not [Thailand’s] father,” Mr. Thaksin announced. He repeatedly described himself as beacon and protector of “true democracy” and didn’t shy away from comparing himself with Mahatmah Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
As the redshirt protests in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand gained momentum and the protesters occupied and hermetically sealed off entire streets in the capital, Thaksin was already on the run for almost two years from a court sentence of two years imprisonment imposed for corruption in a land deal by his former wife. Further corruption indictments against the former prime minister are currently lingering in the courts. In inflaming speeches that Thaksin delivered to his supporters via video links from constantly changing localities around the world, he encouraged them unmistakably to oppose – if necessary, violently – the government of current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. He repeatedly declared that he would immediately return to Thailand to “stand side by side” with his redshirt supporters if the situation intensified. Intensify it did when the Army - after several warnings to the protesters to clear an occupied inner city business district - moved in on 19 May 2010 after several deaths had already occurred among protesters, soldiers and innocent bystanders alike. As heavy street fighting between the advancing troops and “peaceful and unarmed” protesters ensued, Thaksin was photographed by paparazzi shopping in a Paris luxury boutique together with at least one of his daughters. The photos were published not only in all major local newspapers but also distributed worldwide on the Internet.
And now the fugitive honestly intends to sue the “inhuman” government of his ideological opponent Abhisit Vejjajiva on an international level; a government that indeed has shown almost ‘inhuman” patience with the redshirts? Certainly barely any democratic government anywhere in the world would condone that a protest movement of whichever conviction occupies and seals off a major business district in the capital for almost three months and practically erects a state within the state. If Mr. Thaksin had during his own term shown the same sensitivity as the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, he probably would still be in power – despite escalating cronyism and almost institutionalized corruption.

A death toll of 91 is lamentable under any circumstance, especially when that toll is the direct result of violence and not due to a natural disaster. But it must not be swept under the carpet that among those dead there also were army personnel and innocent bystanders. It can (and must) be doubted that Thailand’s security forces willfully targeted their own and non-involved civilians just to create a justification for cracking down on the redshirts. But it is exactly this absurd scenario that is currently being touted by some redshirt leaders, several of whom are on the run just like their mentor.
It has to be expected that the indictment submitted to the ICC in The Hague probably also includes this accusation. What Thaksin is effectively trying is to put prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on the same level with other genocidal dictators like Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir or Liberia’s Charles Taylor. But in this context it has to be noted that the fugitive ex-prime minister has changed his tactics several times over the past few years. The indictment is just yet another manifestation. Nothing seems more important for Thaksin than to regain his self-awarded status of “Thailand’s savior”. His main hope for returning to power are the country’s poor and underpriviledged who already helped him to achieve a landslide election victory in the year 2000 because they believed in his promise to “rid the country of poverty within two years”. Thaksin was in office for almost eight years before he was ousted by a military coup in September 2006, without poverty having been eradicated. Although he introduced some beneficial projects like a healthcare scheme that allowed cash-strapped citizens to received medical treatment for a very small fee, his measures were primarily of a populist, vote-grabbing nature by showering communities with state funds. But much of this money went into the deep pockets of village headmen and other “influential persons”, as Thailand’s press enjoys to describe the country’s extensive phalanx of corrupt-to-the-bone individuals.
One can wonder if the Abhisit Vejjajiva government will now move to file a counter indictment against Thaksin in The Hague. The balance is 91 dead against approximately 2,700 dead, many of them slaughtered by over-zealous police in an attempt to stick to Thaksin’s impossible deadlines. Who has committed the larger “crime against humanity”?
The ICC will of course accept and examine Thaksin’s indictment. That is its duty. But it can be expected that it will be rejected unless Thaksin can clear himself of his own sins past. He is neither a Mahatmah Gandhi nor a Nelson Mandela. The former was assassinated for his peaceful messages of co-existence, the latter spent 26 years in jail for his conviction of racial equality – and could not even go shopping in a Parisian luxury boutique.

– Thomas Schmid is MDTimes correspondent
in Thailand

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