Thursday, September 27, 2012

TRC report: Each side has its own version of 'truth'

I am not sure how many people have read the 276-page full report issued last week by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC) headed by Dr Kanit na Nakhon. But I am very certain that not many Thais appreciate the grueling task the commission had undertaken under very trying circumstances.

Most people probably like parts of the report that fit their own biases. That’s why most citizens would still be divided after reading the findings. They all wish the other portions of the report that aren’t very favourable to their side of the story should have been left out.

Basically, the report concludes that both sides of the May 2010 violent confrontation must share the blame for causing deaths and casualties in their street face-off. In other words, both the Abhisit government at the time and the red-shirt leaders who had engineered the demonstrations must be responsible for what followed.

A Dusit Poll found 53.7% of the respondents in support of the findings. But what irked the red-shirt leaders was the commission’s confirmation that reports of armed “men in black” shooting and killing government troops were true. They are still at large. Besides, the report also said that the armed men were close to the late Maj Gen Katiya Sawasdiphol and were provided assistance by red-shirt guards but no evidence was found to prove that they were also close to the red-shirt leaders.

On the other side of the scale, TRC also pointed an accusing finger at the government’s control command at the time for using real weapons against the demonstrators – and even if the troops were to claim that “men in black” were mingling with the protestors, that wasn’t a valid excuse for soldiers to fire live bullets on the demonstrators.

The report blames the government for its failure in using police to control the demonstrators, necessitating the deployment of military personnel. But the lack of an efficient monitoring system resulted in heavy losses on the part of the protestors.

Any neutral observer would think the TRC was trying really hard to walk a tightrope. It was never going to be an easy balancing act – and many members of the commission had known from the outset that whatever the conclusions of the panel, they were going to be the target of criticism.

Now the ruling Pheu Thai Party has demanded a new investigation into the 2010 violence, arguing that it is “dismayed” by the TRC’s report. The new committee would try to prove that the TRC was wrong about its findings about the “men in black” – and the trajectories of the bullets fired by security forces during the violence.

Former Premier Abhisit’s reaction to the report wasn’t all favourable either. He asked that the commission members provide more details of the findings to the public despite the fact that their term has ended.

Neither Premier Yingluck nor Abhisit could really challenge TRC’s findings. After all, Abhisit had appointed the commission in the first place. It was made clear from the beginning that the panel would be “independent” of any political influence. And when Yingluck took over as premier, she extended the commission’s term, confirming that her government would continue to respect the commission’s independent work to get down to the bottom of the stories behind the 2010 violence.

The premier did set up another committee to “follow up” on the TRC’s work. That panel was headed by her own deputy premier, Yongyuth Vichaidit, whose role was never really very clearly defined in the first place. Now, it would have to decide whether to “endorse” the Kanit Commission’s findings or not.

Before Pheu Thai Party’s spokesman went publicly to demand a new investigation committee on the issue, red-shirt leader Thida Tavornseth had made a similar plea. She had demanded that the government should not allow the TRC report to be translated for distribution abroad – and that a new panel should revise its content before publicizing it abroad.

Setting up a new commission to investigate the original commission’s findings certainly wouldn’t solve the problem – especially when the conclusions of the new panel have already by prescribed by the proponents of the new investigation committee. After all, if you don’t like the first report and demand a second report that you like, the other side will inevitably demand a third commission to produce another report to their liking. There could be no end to posing the question to fit the answer.

Perhaps, critics should heed the very reasonable piece of advice from the TRC Chairman Kanit himself: “Please read the full report in detail before making any comments, favourable or otherwise.”

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