Thailand’s Truth for Reconciliation Commission Issues Final Report
By Kathleen Rustici and Alexandra SanderSep 19, 2012
On September 17, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) released its final report on the April-May 2010 political violence triggered by protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also known “red shirts.” Those protests devolved into violence, killing 92 and injuring upward of 2,000 individuals. The TRCT, established by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and supported by current prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was mandated to investigate and determine the root causes of the 2010 political violence and to provide recommendations for reducing future conflict and promoting reconciliation.
The release of the TRCT’s 351-page report comes on the heels of continuing political tension between the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the opposition Democrat Party, heightened by the National Assembly’s decision in early August to table a charter amendment bill that would pave the way for redrafting the constitution when the current session opened. The current constitution was written by the nonelected government that followed the 2006 coup, which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the older brother of the current prime minister. Much of the political contention in recent years stems from unresolved issues between political factions going back to the 2006 coup. One of the major goals of the TRCT is to resolve these underlying tensions so that the country can move forward.
Q1: What is the TRCT and what has it accomplished?
A1: The TRCT was established by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and mandated with investigating the 2010 political violence, researching potential root causes, and recommending an appropriate way forward. The commission was made up of Chairman Kanit na Nakorn and eight additional commissioners. The period during which the commission was set to investigate political violence was fixed at two years, from July 17, 2010, to July 16, 2012. In addition to compiling a final report, the TRCT released intermediate reports detailing their progress every six months.
The TRCT encountered major challenges in carrying out its mandate as political conflict continued, although not actively violent, and the commission was not granted subpoena power, making it difficult to collect complete information. The Bangkok Post reported on September 17 that TRCT chairman Kanit “insisted that the major task of his commission was not to bring the wrongdoers to justice but to find out the truth of the events during the April-May 2010 protests so the public will be informed in order to ensure that incidents of this kind are not repeated.” It also emphasized that the TRCT was designed to elicit truth for reconciliation and not truth and reconciliation, meaning that the commission is facilitating reconciliation by providing an objective understanding of the 2010 violence.
Q2: What are the final report’s findings and how are they being received?
A2: The TRCT’s final report seems to give a balanced treatment to both sides involved in the political violence two years ago—alleging that both the UDD and government security forces, including the military, were responsible for escalating the situation. It is worth noting that the TRCT’s report, contrary to earlier assessments, concludes that the “men in black,” a militant offshoot of the “red shirts,” existed and “played a crucial role in the Kok Wua Intersection bloodbath on April 10, 2010…and were involved in incidents leading up to the infamous May 19 crackdown,” according to a September 19 report by The Nation. The report also criticizes the Thai military for its use of live fire and the government for failing to control actions taken by the military to control the protest. Lastly, in its recommendations for pursuing reconciliation and preventing future conflicts of this nature, the report tackles highly controversial issues like the polarizing influence of the media, ousted prime minister Thaksin’s continued involvement in Thai politics, the 2012 amnesty and charter amendment bills, and increasingly harsh enforcement of the lèse-majesté law banning any insult to the monarchy.
In the end, the objective, comprehensive, and critical report released by the TRCT may not satisfy either side involved in the 2010 political violence. But it is a groundbreaking report for Thailand, given its objectivity and criticism of the political rifts that have rocked the country over the past decade. It is clear that Kanit na Nakorn and the commissioners took their duty to uncover the truth of events and its impact on reconciliation seriously, and the resulting report leaves no group without some of the blame in the events of 2010. Indicating the scope of the problem facing Thailand’s reconciliation efforts, the English-language press release accompanying the report said, “The conflict problem has become a deep-rooted chain of issues that affect the country’s core economic, social, and political structures.” While many in the media have praised the report, it will likely draw criticism and raise hackles for calling out groups and individuals for the role they played in Thailand’s political crises.
Q3: Is the outlook for reconciliation in Thailand improving?
A3: While political violence in Thailand has abated significantly since the 2010 protests, the core issues that contribute to political polarization in the country remain unresolved. Earlier this summer, four amnesty bills targeting political violence in Thailand and a charter amendment bill generated enough controversy to draw the Constitutional Court into the mix, which could have resulted in the dissolution of the ruling party. Although the court ruled that the proposed charter amendment bill was not unconstitutional, the National Assembly tabled consideration of the amnesty and charter amendment bills for the time being.
Prominent Thai scholar Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University, notoriously critical of reconciliation, has dubbed the current era the “twilight” of Thai politics, saying that change for the better is on the horizon but that the path will be long and painful. The TRCT report’s recommendations could provide a roadmap toward meaningful and lasting reconciliation, but the execution of the recommendations is out of the commission’s hands.
Q4: Given the report’s recommendations, what are the next steps for reconciliation?
A4: The TRCT does not have the power to enforce its recommendations, so reconciliation is in the hands of Thailand’s political institutions and its people. The TRCT recommended that the Yingluck government reconsider the increasingly harsh punishments dealt out for offenders of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law and that the law eventually be amended. Since Yingluck came to power last year, the number of lèse-majesté cases has dramatically increased. The TRCT also recommended that the government “not [accelerate]” efforts to rewrite the constitution and emphasized the need for public participation in any efforts to redraft that document. The commission argues that efforts to foster reconciliation must not be politicized if reform is to be effective and institutionalized and that any long-term reform efforts be open to public input. Given the tumultuous politics of Thailand in recent years, whether these recommendations will be taken seriously remains uncertain. Yingluck, for her part, hedged on September 19, saying only that her government would consider those recommendations deemed “useful.”
Kathleen Rustici is a research associate, and Alexandra Sander a researcher, with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.