Just who is the reconciliation process supposed to serve?
When the House's national reconciliation committee chaired by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin organised a seminar last week to discuss King Prachadibhok's Institute's research on national reconciliation, several politicians attended the event.
Two months after the riots, the Pheu Thai Party set up a mannequin depicting a soldier who ambushed red shirt protesters from the skywalk at the Ratchaprasong intersection on May 19, 2010. Nicha Thuwatham, wife of Col Romklao Thuwatham who was killed by unidentified snipers among the red shirts, says facts need to come before compensation.
One uninvited guest who is not a politician, Nicha Thuwatham, showed up to voice a minority opinion, noted Post Today.
Mrs Nicha is the wife of Col Romklao Thuwatham, posthumously promoted to general, who was killed by snipers among the red shirts on the night of May 10, 2010 at Trok Kok Wua, Ratchadamnoen Avenue.
It was the same night that Japanese photographer Hiro Muramoto was gunned down.
Mrs Nicha told the press that national reconciliation should be based on finding the real facts behind the tragic events. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), chaired by former attorney general Kanit na Nakorn, has been looking into the clashes.
The government was happy for it to carry on, even though the panel was formed under the Abhisit government. Mrs Nicha said the National Human Rights Commission also made a study into this issue and filed a report in July 2011.
She wondered why the House's National Reconciliation Committee would only discuss the KPI study, rather than consider the work of the NHRC and the TRCT as well.
Once the facts are established, the accused must face the judicial system to prove their innocence.
She also wondered why this government seems reluctant to do anything to advance the judicial process.
Mrs Nicha said that under the Abhisit government, the Department of Special Investigation concluded her husband was killed by the red shirts.
A press conference was held and the suspects were arrested. However, then deputy prime minister Sanan Kachornprasart used his position to bail the suspects, citing the need for national reconciliation.
When a new government was formed with Pol Gen Pracha Phromnok as justice minister, Mrs Nicha said that after six months, she received a two-line letter saying the DSI has yet to identify who gunned down her husband. "I was really surprised. Who can explain this to me," she said.
In her view, a double standard has emerged: while the red shirts' complaints against harsh treatment by security personnel have been put on the fast track, and will soon be heard in court, her case is still languishing.
Mrs Nicha believed national reconciliation should comprise finding the suspects, and filing court cases to establish their guilt or innocence.
Only then should the process of reconciliation and compensation begin.
Mrs Nicha said the TRCT and the previous cabinet insisted compensation would only be paid when it is proven that a wrong is not committed. She wondered why the government has rushed to pay compensation without first establishing the facts or waiting for final court rulings.
This government was right to offer initial compensation for funeral rites and repairs to damaged property, but in her view, damages should be paid only to the victims of violence, but not to those who carry out the violence.
The last step of national reconciliation proposed by this government is issuing an amnesty for the guilty who have been ruled as such by the court.
Mrs Nicha said national reconciliation as carried out by this government and parliament has been rushed.
The government has leapfrogged several steps by putting compensation first, while the House's National Reconciliation Committee is trying to use only favourable proposals in the KPI study, including that the legal process be abandoned and a blanket amnesty be issued for all.
Mrs Nicha said leapfrogging reconciliation steps will result in the process coming to a speedier conclusion, which which would help the wrong-doers. However, those who died in the clashes and the general public do not benefit.
No lesson is learned. There is no guarantee that such violence will not occur again as the perpetrators are not to be punished.
She also wondered if most people would accept such a hasty settlement or those who suffered the violence could so easily forget and forgive.
She concluded her presentation by asking if the the House's committee was speeding up reconciliation for the sake of those who died, and their kin - or for the benefit of a certain someone. Society must find an answer.
Not the final option
King Prachadiphok's Institute's secretary general Dr Borwornsak Uwanno said its national reconciliation proposal is an option, not a final solution which must be decided by society at large, reported Thai Rath.
Dr Borwornsak expressed his opinion during a "Freedom of Expression in Thai Society" seminar on Wednesday at Thammasat University, organised by the Dhammasakdi Institute for Democracy, the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), King Prachadiphok's Institute, Chulalongkorn University's Social Research Institute, and the Thai Journalists Association.
Dr Borwornsak said the media and society had selectively and superficially decided to highlight only certain points in their academic study without going deep into the details. If they read it thoroughly they would know that KPI's recommendations are only an option. The study went deeper than that, talking about the process of building national reconciliation.
Prof Dr Surayan Wankaew, of Chulalongkorn University, said the concept of reconciliation is good but when politicians debate the issue, the climate deteriorates rapidly. He would like both sides to try to reach an understanding.
Dr Surayan asked older and respected politicians on both sides to come together to create true and lasting national reconciliation.
Prof Dr Thanet Arphornsuwan believed higher education institutes or universities should have a role in promoting freedom of expression, but academics should present facts and avoid personal prejudice.
All academic works must be verifiable and presentable to the public and mainstream media outlets should have access to academic works.
Dr Gothom Arya of Mahidol University said academic freedom is the same as other human rights in that there is a limit to what can or cannot be done.
If academic expression does not transgress on the country's security and sovereignty, there should be no problem.
Dr Somkiat Tangkitvanich, of the TDRI, said the institute is a research organisation, not a university, so any staff speaking at a public forum will be seen to be projecting the TDRI's views.
Staff must be careful, unlike an academic who can speak in a personal capacity without reflecting the opinion of the university. However, an academic who expresses a political opinion must be extremely careful as he can be seen as siding with one faction against another.
Dr Somkiat said the political climate is opaque. Any political opinion can be easily interpreted as siding with a particular faction.
Prof Thirayuth Boonmi said he believes freedom of expression is an ideology. He would like to see Thais have real freedom of expression as they will feel that they have a stake in the future of the country.