Don't let Tak Bai justice die

Don't let Tak Bai justice die

Security officers arrest and detain more than 1,200 protesters in Tak Bai, Narathiwat on october 25, 2004.BANGKOK POST.
Security officers arrest and detain more than 1,200 protesters in Tak Bai, Narathiwat on october 25, 2004.BANGKOK POST.

Fifteen years ago today, 85 Muslim men died as a direct result of what appeared to be atrocities committed by security officers against protesters in Tak Bai, Narathiwat. It was a horrific tragedy. Sadly, no one has been brought to justice yet, and the statute of limitations for prosecution will expire in five years.

On Oct 25, 2004, more than 1,500 protesters gathered in front of Tak Bai police station, demanding the release of six detained village defence volunteers.

The methods employed by the police and army personnel to disperse the crowd were not only inappropriate but also brutal. Live ammunition was fired at the protesters, killing seven of them. Then, army conscripts and rangers, who were inexperienced in dispersing protesters, were ordered to arrest, detain and transport 1,292 protesters to a military camp in Pattani. The detainees were loaded and crammed into military trucks, being piled up as many as five layers deep for the journey, which took several hours. Seventy eight men were found dead in the trucks.

A fact-finding committee set up by the Thaksin Shinawatra government found that army commanders failed to supervise the operations, which resulted in the deaths and injuries. A number of the detainees lost limbs. It also named three senior army officers for having failed to properly monitor and supervise the transportation.

Despite an "apology" later from the Surayud Chulanont government and compensation given to victims and their families, no one was held to account for the brutal acts against the protesters.

A police investigation into the dispersal concluded that those responsible for the seven deaths could not be identified. Prosecutors then decided not to pursue the case.

In the deadly transportation of protesters, prosecutors sought an inquest at the Songkha Provincial Court. In 2012, the court ruled that the 78 men died as a result of suffocation and appeared to justify the necessity behind the actions of the police and military personnel. The police wrapped up their probe based on the inquest ruling and prosecutors, again, decided to not pursue the case.

These decisions amount to a denial of justice for the victims and their families. Prosecutors could have pursued a trial to allow due process to take its course. The inquest merely concluded the cause of death. But it did not prevent prosecutors from filing a criminal case against the police and army personnel responsible for all those deaths and injuries. There was evidence which could have helped give justice to these people. This included the conclusions of the fact-finding committee which pointed to negligence on the part of senior military officers who failed to supervise the transportation of the protesters.

Without a trial, justice will remain elusive for the victims and their families. Additionally, the failure to prosecute those responsible for the tragedy will continue to foster an ongoing culture of impunity in the deep South where nearly 7,000 lives have been lost since violence flared in early 2004.

The Tak Bai massacre is just part of many incidents of abuse against local Muslims meted out by security officers in the South. Others include unjustified killings, alleged enforced disappearances and torture. The state's reluctance to deliver justice to victims of these abuses has fuelled the insurgency in the region.

Prosecutors must proceed with prosecuting those responsible for the Tak Bai massacre before the statute of limitations expires in October 2024.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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