The proposal by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission to abolish terrorism laws is well intentioned and deserves close attention. TRC chairman Kanit na Nakorn, in a letter released last weekend, essentially called for an end to the prosecution of accused terrorists. He believes that an end to terrorism laws will end all terrorism cases, and this in turn will help to end divisions in society.
There is some truth to this, but Mr Kanit's suggestion of doing away with anti-terrorism laws needs rethinking.
First, without considering the reconciliation factor, the current laws against terrorism leave much to be desired. Their enforcement, to say the least, is capricious, illogical to most and unfair as well. Almost all current cases being prosecuted under anti-terrorism statutes are purely political, and stem from two major incidents of civil strife.
Yellow shirt members of the People's Alliance for Democracy face prosecution for terrorism for the 2008 sit-ins at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports. Red shirt members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship have been charged as terrorists over the 2010 clashes in central Bangkok.
The violence and uproar caused by these radical movements is indisputable. Yet it is at least questionable if not obvious that neither of these incidents are terrorism. It is a supreme irony that the world's best and best-accepted definition of terrorism was written by a Thai. This definition, produced for the United Nations by statesman and ex-premier Anand Panyarachun, contains two parts. The first is that the terrorists must be trying to intimidate ("terrorise") the government or population. The second is that the actions of the accused terrorists must be, in Mr Anand's words, "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants".
By this definition, neither yellow shirts nor their red-clad counterparts can seriously be considered terrorists. Both groups certainly intended to put pressure on the government to change its policies, but it takes some imagination to consider they were attempting to intimidate either the government or the country. Nor is there serious evidence that either group planned or intended to directly harm bystanders.
Mr Kanit and the TRC, then, have a serious point. But the group's fight, it seems, is with the current law and the manner in which it is applied. Surely the TRC cannot be seeking to abolish all anti-terrorism laws. That would be a serious mistake. Thailand, like any civilised country, must be able to defend itself against real terrorism, such as that of the last eight years in the deep South.
Regarding the prosecution of UDD and PAD leaders, the TRC chairman deserves a hearing. The very enforcement of so-called anti-terrorism laws is hardly logical. Accused terrorists are summoned for questioning _ witness the shambolic arrest of ex-senator Karun Sai-ngam last weekend.
Or they are arrested and granted bail. Public opinion holds that terrorists are dangerous individuals who should not be on the streets for months or years awaiting trial.
The coloured-shirt leaders may be legally responsible for causing civil strife, but terrorism seems an odd charge under a decidedly imperfect law. Mr Kanit's proposal to drop such charges in the name of reconciliation may appear radical to some, but it deserves close and serious debate.