Thai protesters seek international court inquiry on violence

Posted at 01/31/11 10:34 PM

BANGKOK - Thailand's "red shirt" protest movement petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday to investigate whether the government and military were guilty of crimes against humanity and the premeditated murder of civilians during the suppression of protests last year.

A law firm that also represents fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said in a 136-page report snipers were told to assassinate protest leaders and troops authorized to "shoot anything that moved" during the unrest in April and May in which 91 people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded.

It said an international investigation was necessary because the Thai judiciary was either unable or unwilling to prosecute government officials and military personnel.

"The 'investigations' launched by Royal Thai Government are guaranteed to result in a complete whitewash of the entire incident," London-based Amsterdam & Peroff said in the report.

The report draws extensively on the testimony of an unspecified number of unidentified officers in Thailand's military, which it merges into a single witness statement "to make it more difficult for the Thai authorities to identify them".

It says that most of the violence that erupted in April and May last year after anti-government red-shirt protesters occupied strategic swathes of downtown Bangkok was deliberately provoked or initiated by the military to create a pretext to crack down violently and try to kill the movement's leaders.

But authorities said protest leaders were trying to provoke violence in the hope a crackdown would eventually lead to the fall of the government and they blamed the violence on armed elements within the red shirt movement.

Mysterious gunmen dressed in black with their faces covered in hoods and balaclavas were seen moving among the protesters and firing in the direction of troops.

The government says the shadowy gunmen were terrorists who were allied with the red shirts and responsible for most of the deaths during the clashes.

Explosive claims

Some of the most potentially explosive accusations said to come from sources inside the military are that journalists and medical workers were specifically targeted to prevent evidence of killings from being recorded, and that soldiers posing as medical workers took away dead bodies to two hospitals where incriminating evidence was destroyed by way of cremation.

The report also cites an army source as saying a fire that destroyed Southeast Asia's second-biggest mall, Central World, during a wave of arson attacks on May 19 was the work of the military who set it ablaze in a plan agreed with the government to discredit the red shirts.

The law firm alleges that grenades that killed some soldiers during protests on April 10 may have been thrown by other soldiers to either provoke a violent response from troops or because of rivalries within the military.

The government blamed the grenade attacks on the unidentified black-clad militants who authorities linked to the red shirts.

A Japanese cameraman working for Thomson Reuters, Hiro Muramoto, was among those killed on April 10. He was shot.

The law firm said military snipers atop building in strategic locations fired at civilians to spread chaos and try to provoke a violent response from the protesters.

"There is no question that the Thai army illegal deployed snipers who shot at demonstrators from long range, notwithstanding the absence of any legitimate threat," Robert Amsterdam, who leads the law firm that produced the report, told a news conference in Tokyo.

The government swiftly rejected the accusations.

"They are basing it on false witness testimonies and I don't see how the ICC can accept the case," said Sirichok Sopha, an aide to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. "The government's investigation is ongoing."

But the report will further inflame tension at a time when renewed mass protests by both the red shirts and the royalist "yellow shirt" movement that opposes them are already worsening political instability. A general election is due to be held this year, making the atmosphere even more combustible.

There is widespread doubt, however, that the ICC has any jurisdiction in Thailand, which is a signatory of the Rome Statute that created the court but never ratified it.

Amsterdam told the news conference the ICC may have jurisdiction because Abhisit was believed to hold British as well as Thai citizenship. But an aide to Abhisit said he did not have British citizenship.

The British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit has appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into the unrest, which peaked on May 19 when the military used force to disperse thousands of the red-shirted protesters who had occupied parts of Bangkok for 10 weeks demanding elections.

It has produced no findings. Results of a separate investigation by the Department of Special Investigation, a branch of the government, has not been publicly released, although preliminary findings seen by Reuters suggested soldiers likely caused some civilian deaths on April 10 and May 19.

The red shirt leadership dismisses the investigations as cover-ups, but analysts doubt their case will make headway at the Hague, where the ICC is investigating charges of atrocities in the Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and Kenya.

"Legally it's hard to see the case to the ICC going very far. But the petition reinforces the red shirts' narrative both domestically and internationally, and it is vastly different from the government's account," said Prinya Thewanaruemitkul, a law professor at Thammasat University.

But he said it was unlikely that the government would be destabilized by the accusations.