Law experts fault amnesty bills

Proposals 'fail to specify' grounds for pardon

Legal experts are warning the various amnesty bills before parliament fail to specify which offences would qualify for pardons and which would not.

Parliament will reconvene on Aug 1 and the amnesty issue is expected to be among several bills to be considered by lawmakers.

Law Reform Commission member Pairote Polpet said he believes only one of the bills has the potential to achieve reconciliation.

Mr Pairote said this is the bill drafted by the families of victims killed in the 2010 anti-government protests.

It is among seven bills drawn up by various groups and individuals aimed at granting an amnesty to political offenders since the September 2006 coup which unseated Thaksin Shinawatra.

Five of these bills have been submitted to parliament, but the so-called "people's bill" is not among them.

Mr Pairote said the various bills cover four criminal categories: actions causing deaths and injuries; actions causing damage to properties; terrorism; and lese majeste.

But he said the people's bill differs from the others in that it states clearly which offences could not be eligible for pardons. These include actions with an intent to harm others, and the use of excessive force by security officials.

"The bill largely focuses on the offences rather than the individuals," Mr Pairote said.

"It clearly says which offences can be pardoned and which cannot.

"The 'who' doesn't matter. If their actions fall into the 'no-amnesty' category, the offenders go to court.

"Take terrorism charges, for example. Both yellow shirts and red shirts have been charged with terrorism. The question is whether those acts were politically motivated," he said.

"Some argue the offence [of terrorism] is not pardonable, while others say it is as long as it hadn't killed anybody."

Mr Pairote said national reconciliation can be achieved through an amnesty only if its terms are clearly defined.

He said the government-related amnesty drafts, including Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema's bill, remain problematic even though they make protest leaders and authorities ineligible for pardons.

Section 3 of the Worachai bill seeks a broad amnesty for all four offences and Mr Pairote said this is likely to draw strong opposition.

He said he is not surprised that red-shirt leaders and Pheu Thai MPs object to the people's bill.

UDD chairwoman Tida Thavornseth has said the people's bill appears to be prejudiced against the red shirts.

The opposition Democrat Party, on the other hand, has thrown its support behind the people's bill but said it does not want those involved in corruption and lese majeste offences to be pardoned.

Gothom Arya, director of the Research Centre for Peace Building at Mahidol University, said it is important to agree on which offences can be pardoned. "If we can't agree on this issue, the amnesty bills will bring more conflicts," he said.

Somchai Homla-or, another Law Reform Commission member, said that judging from the contents of the amnesty bills, it will not be easy for the government to have its way.

Mr Pairote said the amnesty issue is a thorn in the side of the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

It cannot ignore the matter, as this would risk losing red-shirt support, but it risks strong opposition if it proceeds, especially with the Worachai bill.

"The question is if the Yingluck [Shinawatra] government is prepared to take a risk or not when it wants the 2-trillion-baht [infrastructure borrowing] bill so badly," he said.

A Pheu Thai source said the party is likely to stall deliberation of the Worachai bill and push on with the finance-related bills first. The amnesty bills have been moved to the top of the agenda when parliament reconvenes.

Bhumjaithai Party deputy secretary-general Supachai Jaisamut said he doubts the government is serious about pushing for an amnesty.

He said the atmosphere for an amnesty has soured somewhat in the wake of the controversial audio clip which purportedly recorded a conversation on the matter between Thaksin and Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa earlier this month.

While the budget bill debate is set for Aug 14-16, dates for considering other bills have not been finalised.

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Writer: Pradit Ruangdit
Position: Reporter