A salute to the TRC's courage

In a highly divisive environment, if you do something that invites criticism from all conflicting parties, it means you must have done something right.

This is the case with the Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Its fact-finding report which was unveiled to the public on Monday has attracted criticism from all parties involved in the conflict that led to the military crackdown in 2010.

The report found the military guilty of using excessive force. It also criticised the Democrat government for failing to strictly monitor ground operations to prevent abuse of power.

The protest leaders are faulted for failing to keep the demonstration non-violent. The judiciary is also criticised for creating a widespread public impression of not being a neutral party.

The politicians are seen as abusing the lese majeste law for political gain. And the mass media is chided for instigating violence through biased news reporting, hate speech and political propaganda.

The TRC has also sent a clear message that, despite the seemingly placid political atmosphere at the moment, the situation remains tense as many factors that contributed to the 2010 violence are still in place.

That is why the commission has also issued a list of recommendations for the government to prevent future clashes and pave the way for political reconciliation.

Among the recommendations: Avoid instigating animosity and hatred by selectively using the findings for political gain; use the concept of "transitional justice" to accommodate reconciliation; refrain from abusing the amnesty law for personal gain; and stop pushing for controversial amendments to the charter.

It also recommends keeping the judiciary neutral; a revamp of the judicial system; reform to end economic disparity; patience with the conflicts that come with democracy; respect for human rights; and sticking to non-violence at demonstrations.

Probably more important are the TRC's calls upon the military, the media, and other parties concerned with amendments to the lese majeste law. The military, to start with, must let elected civilians run governments and stop using coups to meddle in politics.

The mass media must stay neutral, refrain from reporting half-truths, and give more space to moderates instead of allowing themselves to be megaphones for extremists and propaganda. The government must also stop censoring the media and interfering in its operations.

One of the most politically sensitive recommendations involves proposed changes to the lese majeste law. Apart from calling on all parties to stop abusing this law as a political tool to hurt their enemies, the TRC also urges the government to foster better public understanding about the constitutional monarchy's role in a democracy.

More specifically, the disproportionate penalties imposed for lese majeste offences must be revisited, as must some judges' open-ended interpretations of the law. The problematic clause that allows just about anyone to file lese majeste charges against anyone should also be amended.

Although the Yingluck government is not legally bound to implement the TRC recommendations, it certainly should. The TRC has shown the moral courage to confront many difficult and sensitive issues to come up with political solutions. Now it is the Yingluck government's turn to do what needs be done to prevent Thailand from ever plunging again into the abyss of political violence.