Jonathan Head for the BBC:
It would be fair to say expectations of Thailand’s “Truth for Reconciliation Commission” were never high. It was set up in a highly-charged atmosphere of mistrust.
Its nine commissioners were given limited powers, and have been unable to get access to important official and forensic information. Crucially, so much of Thai society is still polarised over the events of 2010 that any attempt to apportion blame would have provoked uproar.
So we are left with a report that tells us very little about why what started as a mass protest against the government of then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva became so bloody. We don’t know who gave what orders to the soldiers who turned parts of Bangkok into a free-fire zone. We don’t know who was commanding the mysterious “black-shirt” gunmen accused of bombings and arson attacks. There is some truth in this report, but not nearly enough for reconciliation.
It leaves the families of the victims without the comfort of clear answers – and it follows a pattern in Thai history, of crucial events left unexplained. There were dozens of victims of political violence in Bangkok in 1992 and in 1976. Their deaths too were never properly investigated.
Thomas Fuller and Poypiti Amatatham in the New York Times:
An independent commission set up by the Thai government to investigate deadly clashes in Bangkok two years ago warned Monday that conflicts in Thai society were still simmering and that the country risked another “escalation to violence.”
The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand released a 351-page report that laid blame for the more than 90 deaths in Bangkok in 2010 on both the powerful military and a shadowy group of militants, known as black shirts, who hid among protesters.
“We found the use of weapons of war by officials to control the crowd,” Somchai Homlaor, a member of the commission, said at a briefing in Bangkok on Monday.
The black shirts “cooperated and gained support” from some protesters, Mr. Somchai said, and had sophisticated weapons.
The report painted a picture of a society filled with mistrust of major institutions. The handling of political cases has “thrown the entire justice system into doubt for the general public,” the report said.
The commission made wide-ranging recommendations that it said would help speed up reconciliation and urged the military and its leaders to “strictly refrain” from involvement in politics.
Its position between the two highly polarized sides also left it without political backing and marginalized its influence.
“Each person or each side has their own sets of truth. By using facts based on scientific evidence, we hope (the report) can bring those views to the same understanding, more or less,” said Somchai Homla-or, the commission’s chief investigator.
The report blamed both sides for failing to avoid the use of deadly force.
The commission called the military crackdown “deplorable” but confirmed that an armed group that has become known as the ‘men in black’ was linked to protestors.
TRCT said the violent demonstrations should be seen as a “a reminder of what (Thailand has) lost, what (Thailand needs) to do to stop history from repeating itself”.
its chairman, Kanit Nanakorn, has asserted Thailand’s future now depends on the ousted prime minister, who still remains influential in the nation.
“For the country to be peaceful, as a chairman of TRCT, I believe that this is up to… Thaksin Shinawatra’s sacrifice in stopping every political role,” he said.
Somchai Homla-or, who heads the TRC’s fact-finding sub-committee, said the commission probing the bloody events between March and May 2010 found connections between the “men in black” and security guards of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship in at least two clashes with authorities at Kok Wua intersection near the Democracy Monument and the Pratunam area on April 10, 2010.
Many of the “men in black” were found to be close to Maj Gen Khattiya, but “we do not have evidence to conclude whether they had a connection with UDD key figures“, said Mr Somchai.
The commission stopped short of declaring that the deaths of protesters and a nurse at Wat Prathum Wanaram on May 19, 2010 were due to shots fired at them by soldiers. The deaths were “possibly” due to the soldiers shooting into the temple, it said. A group of armed protesters also fired from the temple or in front of the temple at the soldiers stationed on the BTS track, it added.
BP: Seriously, given what we know about the temple deaths and the multiple journalist reports from those within the temple, it is very difficult to reconcile that with what the TRC says (or more correctly doesn’t say) here…
Tulsathit Taptim in The Nation:
It will most likely turn out to be the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand’s (TRCT) swan song. Nobody can actually benefit from the detailed chronology of events, the added and well-researched witness accounts, the intriguing information picked up by the social media, as well as how the conventional media saw the unfolding violence. The country’s political divide has been romanticised and idealised, so much so that as the TRCT tries to tell the story as it happened, the panel will not be making any friends.
Finally, Michael Vatikiotis in WSJ:
The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand issued its final report Monday on the political violence in 2010, and while it is a reasonably fair and balanced account, it doesn’t resolve responsibility for the 91 protesters killed in the streets of Bangkok between April 10 and May 19. …
Crucially, the report also presents a set of recommendations aimed at addressing the root causes of the 2010 conflict. The authors placed emphasis on the conduct of the security forces and the impartiality of the justice system.
To be sure, many of the recommendations are too broad to realistically address the root causes or lend impetus to reconciliation. But some of them focus on key areas that need addressing, including access to justice, manipulation of the stringent lese majeste law and the use of the military to manage protests.
Despite its flaws and the ongoing conflict, the TRCT is the only effort so far to lay the foundations of reconciliation in a highly polarized and volatile situation. The key challenge will be to implement its recommendations as soon as possible and prevent the report from being further politicized.
BP: The red shirts were generally not happy with the report – see here and here. The thought of reading the report given its length and that it really doesn’t tell us much more than what we knew before. Does better than previous reports really count?