Before she concluded her speech, Ms. Priscilla Hayner, senior adviser to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, mentioned the discussions of the current Amnesty Bill backed by the Pheu Thai-led government which promises to lift responsibility for political violence during the military crackdown in 2010 for everyone except the leaders of the protests and the commanding authorities at the time.
“As in many things, it may be an error to judge an Amnesty proposal too narrowly by comparing it against established international legal guidelines. This would risk missing or misunderstanding the local context. However, I would suggest that any proposal for Amnesty should abide by some basic principles. It should be respectful of victims. It should not be seen as serving specific political interests and it should be attentive to fair process. Both the process of constitution in crafting the amnesty and the process of exactly how that amnesty would be applied and implemented,” she said.
“While an amnesty may wave criminal responsibility for certain specific crime, it should never take away the rights of victims to know the truth. This suggests that investigation may have to continue even if there is an amnesty that was put in place. In most national contexts, there are certain acts which can reasonably receive amnesty or pardon. The controversy around an amnesty bill in Thailand, including the fact, that many victims’ families have expressed concern or in some cases, strong opposition, to the proposed amnesty should give us pause. As an international looking in, I know that the hard work on this issue must be done by nationals here in Thailand but I would only hope that the basic principles that I have outlined here could be met,” Ms. Hayner added.
It is obvious from her comment that the biggest concern Ms. Hayner has was the rejection of the bill by a group of victims’ families that was led by Mrs. Payao Akkahad, the mother of a 25 year old volunteer nurse, Kamolkade Akkahad, who was killed inside Phrathum Wanaram temple in May 2010.
Prior to the reconvening of the parliament last month, relatives of those who were arrested in 2010 argued that the bill should be processed quickly to dissolve the conviction of their loved ones because some of them have been in jail, without bail, for three years but on the other hand, some questions were raised by families of the victims killed in 2010 (Mrs. Payao’s group) whether the bill would hold the military responsible for their atrocities.
One piece of information that Ms. Priscilla has overlooked is that there was another group of victims’ families, led by Mr. Bunjerd Funggrinjun, relative of Mr. Therdsak Funggrinjun, a 29 year old who was shot in the chest and later succumbed to his wounds at Rajavithi Hospital in May 2010, who also came out, but this time to voice their support for MP Worachai Hema’s Amnesty Bill instead.
At the Q&A session, when asked by a UDD representative whether the Amnesty bill, currently being discussed in the parliament, can promote reconciliation, Ms. Heynar further criticised the amnesty bill by calling it too vague as it does not specify which crimes or actions were covered by the bill. She also implied that prisoners who were convicted of arson should not receive amnesty because it does not abide by the international standard.
In response to this comment, Dr. Weng Tojilakarn, Pheu Thai MP and co-leader of the UDD, voiced his concern about the validity of Ms. Hayner’s comment whether it was only her personal opinion, or not. “If it was not her personal opinion, then she would be lying,” he said.
“If arsonist should not be pardoned according to the international normalcy, then how come in Rwanda (where Ms. Hayner had worked), both Hutu and Tutsi prisoners were all pardoned for their involvement in the crime of arson? Ms. Hayner comment is considered dangerous because it could easily mislead people due to her way with words and the fact that she singled out the crime of arson above the act of murder. Looking back to the case of Rwanda, if she said that “arsonist” in Thailand should not receive amnesty but “murderer” in Rwanda should, doesn’t this mean that Ms. Hayner condones the act of murder?” Dr. Weng questioned. “Based on the severity of the crime and her previous logic, should the tyrant who ordered the killing of civilians receive amnesty as well? Is that what she means?” Dr. Weng added.
“When I was released from jail, I met with Ms. Hayner and she asked; if the amnesty is to be granted for everyone without exception would I accept it? I said no, because if amnesty is to be granted for everybody then the culprits behind the murder of civilians would also be pardoned for their crimes too and in the future, a new tyrannical group will once again emerge to order the killing of the people. In my life I have seen this atrocity seven times already and there shouldn’t be the eighth. Ms. Hayner heard this and she was stunned,” said Dr. Weng.
Dr. Weng also questioned the host for inviting a Democrat Party representative (Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)) to provide an opinion on the matter of reconciliation during the Q&A session without the presence of the opposition and for inviting Ms. Priscilla Hayner to the forum.
“Is she here to provide support for the falsified report of the TRCT (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand)? The fact of the matter is that the court’s findings on Wat Phrathum case were completely against the lies that were put out by the TRCT and Somchai Homlaor. Does Ms. Hayner know this?” asked Dr. Weng.
“Mr. Surin may say that he is not a representative of the Democrat Party but you should remember that it was the Democrat-led government that backed him for the position. Apart from this, Mr. Surin’s ideas are no different from the ideology of the Democrats, therefore, Mr. Surin’s comment is a Democrat Party’s comment,” said Dr. Weng.
“Mr. Surin used the opportunity that was given by the host to criticize the government in front of the whole world. He disparaged the government for being too hasty in pushing for amnesty and suggested that it should be put on hold for the reconciliation process while publicizing the view of the Democrat Party to the public. These comments that were directed at the amnesty bill are exactly the same recommendations that the Democrats party had put forth in the past months. How come the host did not bother to ask for the opinion of the opposition on this matter?” Dr. Weng questioned.