The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Lawyers Council of Thailand are pressing the government to ratify the convention on the International Criminal Court so deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra could be tried for crimes against humanity over his controversial anti-drugs campaign.
The council and former lawmakers accused the Thaksin administration of having blood on its hands for waging its so-called war on drugs which killed more than 2,000 people, most of them drug traders and traffickers.
The government must bring Mr Thaksin to justice or the Sept 19 military coup which swept it to power would amount to nothing but a public deception, they said.
Somchai Hom-laor, chairman of the council's human rights committee, said evidence came to light supporting the belief that state officials were responsible for the deaths of 2,500 people in the anti-drugs campaign. The death toll was recorded from two phases of the campaign, the first from February to April 2003 and the second in 2005.
Officials were obeying a Thaksin policy which included a well-organised plan to issue a "licence to kill" with approval from Mr Thaksin, the then interior minister Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, and the then interior permanent secretary Sermsak Pongpanich.
"They all signalled policy approval for the killing," Mr Somchai said at a discussion yesterday organised by the Press Association of Thailand.
The government and the coup engineers, the Council for National Security (CNS), had no choice but get to the bottom of the drug-related killings and punish officials who perpetrated them, both for disciplinary and criminal violations, he said.
The policy-makers, including Mr Thaksin, could end up facing charges of crimes against humanity.
"Saddam Hussein [the former president of Iraq] was charged with committing crimes against humanity for the killing of 170 people. In that case, the 2,500 deaths we witnessed here must constitute crimes against humanity," he said.
The Attorney-General's Office should handle the issue should it become a case, as that agency answers to obligations governed by an international court agreement. But first, the government must ratify the convention on the International Criminal Court.
Thai courts of justice must then formally acknowledge the legal interpretation of the definition of crimes against humanity for the admissibility and adjudication of such an offence to be established in Thailand. Without acknowledgment by the court, there was no chance of prosecuting Mr Thaksin.
Mr Somchai said the Thaksin administration did not bother to ratify the convention. If the present government went ahead with the ratification, it would effectively restrict Mr Thaksin's mobility.
The former prime minister, in self-imposed political exile overseas since the coup, has travelled from China to Indonesia on a diplomatic passport he has used since he was in power. "Signing the convention would prevent Mr Thaksin from popping up here and there, especially in European countries which are signatories to the convention," he said.
Mr Thaksin could be brought to trial if he landed in the wrong country.
Mr Somchai said restoring the rule of law required reforming the police force and subjecting police criminal investigations to scrutiny by the court.
Wasant Panich of the NHRC said the drugs war policy was clearly a mistake, for which Mr Thaksin must be held to account. He cited the discovery of an official letter sent to people in Samut Sakhon's Ban Phaeo district at the height of the campaign, warning them to report to a local drugs war centre or their "safety could not be guaranteed".
Mr Wasant added that a letter allegedly signed by an interior permanent secretary at the time was distributed to provincial governors outlining three ways to cut the number of drugs traders and producers. The suspects could be "arrested, face extra-judicial killings, or lose their lives for any reason".
He said the blacklist of drug suspects took only 15 days to compile. The perceived haste raised concerns that some may have been wrongly targeted.
The NHRC received 40 complaints related to the drugs war deaths. Not a single culprit in those cases was ever caught.
Former senator Kraisak Choonhavan said the campaign was the most blatant form of human rights violation. He was surprised the government and the CNS did not feel compelled to highlight the issue as one of the reasons for toppling the previous administration.
"We can't possibly create a new society if the coup-backed government doesn't lift a finger to deal with the drugs war killings of the Thaksin era," he said.
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