Op-Ed: A ‘truth’ for the sake of Thailand’s reconciliation does little

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 30, 2012

Last week, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) presented its final report of their investigations of the violent clashes between the authorities and the red shirts during the 2010 anti-government protests. At least 92 people were killed and thousands injured. The overall outcome was that they find faults at both sides. However, it does very little to move the country forward to the much-yearned for national reconciliation.

Right from the outset the commission was met with skepticism and rejection, especially from the red shirts, since it was established shortly after the protests during the Abhisit administration and the fear of bias was strong. Even if an investigation would have been set up by the succeeding Yingluck government, any inquiry that would be set up by any government would be regarded as partisan in this current political climate.

The real problem of this panel is not what is being pointed out by the report or whether or what the motives of the nine commissioners were, but rather the toothless nature of the panel. It was given virtually no powers and access to forensic and official information in order to conduct proper investigations regarding the violent clash of April 10, 2010, and the bloody crackdown that ended on May 19, 2010.

And so the actual report was criticized and rejected by both sides, neither fully acknowledging the claims by the TRCT that there were mistakes done by them in order to prevent violence. However, the emphasis of the alleged link of a black-clad militia group to the red shirt leaders, especially to the late rogue Major General Khattiya”Seh Daeng” Sawatdiphol – who denied any involvement with them, but confirmed their role during the April 10 clashes shortly before he was assassinated from a sniper who the TRCT concluded must have shot from a building under control of the army – all without proper evidence, which begs the question where the priorities of the commission lie.

The personal opinion of TRCT chairman Khanit na Nakhon (which has been wrongly reported as an official statement of the commission by a few outlets) that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra should “sacrifice himself” and keep out of politics underlines one major misunderstanding and the ultimate blind spot of many political actors: the notion that Thaksin is the root of all evil problems ignores the long-term effects of his (in no way altruistic or goodie-goodie) policies that lead to the political awakening of the population outside of Bangkok.

On the other hand, there were many solid and legitimate findings and recommendations made by the TRCT report, such as the call for amendment of the draconian lèse majesté law and the call to the armed forces to restrain themselves from taking political sides. But those are just non-binding recommendations and it has to be seen if anyone would take these to heart and implement actual change. Furthermore, this report does not give more clarity for the victim’s families, which is unfortunately more the rule than the exception in Thailand, as political events that have turned violent in the past have never been properly investigated.

This country has a very long history of impunity where the state perpetrators have never been held accountable for their decisions and their consequences – many of them resulting in deaths. Whether it was the attacks on democracy activists on October 14, 1973, the Thammasat University massacre of October 6, 1976, the Black May of 1992 or the recent military coup of 2006, the events of modern Thai history have left gaping wounds in the nation’s fabric and those responsible have never been brought to justice. Instead, for the sake of national ‘reconciliation,’ the anger has been attempted to be quelled with the ever-repeating mantra of forgiving and forgetting – only for the next tragedy to strike and many to ask how it could happen again.

Reconciliation cannot happen without understanding or even be ready to acknowledge what brought us here to the first place, that competing narratives and opinions about our past, present and future exist, that ‘unity’ should not require surrender of differences and that the ‘truth’ can no longer be claimed by just a few. That is the main point of this column: it’s not so much what the ‘truth’ is here presented by the TRCT, what is crucial for this country is how the ‘truth’ is being handled and implemented by the stakeholders and by the common citizen in order to move Thailand beyond the current power gridlock.

The full TRCT report in Thai can be downloaded in PDF form here and the English-language press release here.