A leading human rights watchdog yesterday accused Thailand’s army chief of trying to intimidate investigators probing the military’s role in a deadly crackdown on opposition protests in 2010.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also criticized ThaiCommander-in-Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha for suing a lawyer of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for accusing the army of killing “Red Shirt” protesters.
Calling on the government to rein in Prayut, HRW said he had pressured the justice ministry’s Department of Special Investigation over its probe into the 2010 unrest.
The department, Thailand’s highest criminal investigation body, has so far ordered inquests into the deaths of 19 of the victims, and said it wants to question soldiers in connection with the military operation.
“Abuses by soldiers took place in full view of the Thai public and the world’s media, yet the Thai army chief is now trying to intimidate investigators and critics into silence,” HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said.
There have been no prosecutions over the killings despite an election pledge by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra — Thaksin’s sister — to seek justice for victims.
HRW’s investigation concluded that the military used “excessive and unnecessary lethal force.”
Prayut denies army abuses and has filed a defamation case against Thaksin’s lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, for accusing the Thai military of killing civilians in a speech in May.
Refuting HRW’s accusations, an army spokesman told media there “is no way that we can interfere” in the investigation.
“How can the army intervene with ongoing cases? The army has no authority to do that,” Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said.
Also yesterday, the rights group blasted the Bangladeshi government’s “cruel” restrictions on humanitarian aid to Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
Dhaka last month ordered three international charities — Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Muslim Aid UK — to stop giving aid to the Rohingya because it might encourage a fresh influx.
Bangladesh is already home to about 300,000 Rohingya and the country’s border forces have turned back scores of boats carrying hundreds more.
“The Bangladeshi government is trying to make conditions for Rohingya refugees already living in Bangladesh so awful that people fleeing brutal abuses in neighboring Burma will stay home,” HRW refugee policy director Bill Frelick said.
The group said Dhaka had signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which prohibits the country from denying those within its borders, including refugees, access to food and healthcare.
The three charities provide water, healthcare, sanitation and other basic aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Aid workers have said the conditions in the makeshift camps for Rohingya are among the worst in the world.
The Rohingya people are Muslims seen as illegal immigrants by Buddhist-majority Myanmar and viewed by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.