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Rule of Lords: The Murderous Thai Police
Officers of the Kalasin District Police Station in northeastern Thailand are alleged to have abducted and murdered dozens of people in the last few years. The actual number could exceed 100; many more bodies have been found, but were not properly examined and documented before being cremated.
Among the victims, Kietisak Thitboonkrong and Krischadol Pancha disappeared from the police station within days of each other in July 2004, shortly after the official close of the first "war on drugs" declared by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Kietisak was 17, Krischadol, 15. Both had been accused of robbery and brought to the police station. Both were granted bail and the grandmother of each had come to the station to collect the boy but was told that he had been released and to go and wait.
Neither ever came home. Kietisak was found in a neighboring province, tortured to death and strung up in a bad attempt at a simulated suicide. Krischadol was not found.
The evidence against the police in Kietisak's case is compelling. When the National Human Rights Commission investigated, it found that he had called his relatives a number of times on a phone borrowed from a visitor to the station long after the police said he had been released. According to his grandma, his voice was shaking as he begged her to come to the station and get him before it was too late. Perversely, he had already been told of his fate.
But at the station, officers denied that he was being held. Later, when confronted with the phone evidence, they changed their story to claim that one who thought he had absconded brought him back, but released him again immediately after the telephone calls. They also allegedly warned the phone's owner to say nothing or she would "hang like that kid."
Despite the commission's inquiries, and the passing of Kietisak's case to the high-level Department of Special Investigation, not one police officer from Kalasin has so far been prosecuted. According to earlier reports, the department has concluded that a minimum of six police could be implicated in the killings, but as of mid-2007 it was still collecting evidence. The police have for their part conducted internal inquiries. Predictably, these found nothing to link any personnel to any crime.
The defining characteristic of the victims in Kalasin was that they were all ordinary people accused of petty offences. This is also the characteristic of most victims of human rights abuse in Thailand. They are the country's "bad persons." Easy come, easy go.
Violent death, Thaksin once said, "is not an unusual fate for bad persons." And indeed, the radical dividing of society into categories of good and bad is what made Kietisak and Krischadol vulnerable.
Being guilty, or presumed guilty, of some wrongdoing, they were deserving of whatever they got: not worthy of sympathy, let alone the same rights as everyone else. All agree that the killer of a child should be prosecuted; few feel the same way about the person who hangs a young lout like the fruit of a strange and bitter crop.
This problematic division between good and bad is not organic. It has arisen not from religious or cultural tradition, or by chance. On the contrary, it is the artifact of bygone nationalist elites; but one which is increasingly used as a rhetorical device of authority, and also, it seems, by authorities with dubious ends.
The division shares the same roots as the Culture Ministry's gloss on etiquette which commentator Chang Noi brilliantly described in a recent article. But unlike that, its persistent deployment has little to do with nostalgia for an idealized past and much more to do with the desire for a controlled present.
Its consequences too are far less hilarious and far more tragic than those resulting from mistaken etiquette, not only for the individual victims but also for the country as a whole.
When people are classed as sociadlly undesirable, what is implied is that the normal rules don't apply to them. In Thailand, this extends so far as to mean that whatever happens to them doesn't matter, as the police in Kalasin have apparently proven time and again. Ultimately, this places everyone in jeopardy. Good versus ba is no a path to safety; it is a road to wreck and ruin.
(Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission with over 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at http://ratchasima.net)
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