In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Across regimes both dictatorial and democratic since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thai citizens have experienced a range of forms of extrajudicial violence at the hands of state officials, including torture, disappearance, assassination, and massacre. In nearly all cases, state officials have done so with impunity and escaped sanction and accountability. This impunity has been produced and sustained through the unwillingness of state officials to find their colleagues responsible, the intimidation of victims of violence and other citizens, and weak legal and other institutional structures. Impunity takes place in public and is pedagogical and meant to be witnessed, from the instance of state violence to the evasion of accountability and finally to the creation of evidence about impunity for it. Drawing on overlooked archival and other state documents, hundreds of newspaper articles, memoirs of civil servants and victims of state violence, and court observation to reveal previously-unexamined incidents, my forthcoming book, In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand, offers a new history of modern Thailand written through the lens of impunity complete with a new chronology, new actors, and new unresolved questions. Between the lines of the lives and deaths of victims of state violence and the dissimulation and denials of state officials, unexpected and surprising insights about violence, law, and human rights emerge. By placing the production of impunity side-by- side with the different challenges to impunity made by victims and survivors of state violence, occasional dissident civil servants, and, particularly beginning in the 1970s, the international and domestic human rights movements, the new history of modern Thailand found in In Plain Sight is not one of seamless state domination, but also records and takes account of the continual and courageous challenges made to it.

This seminar will begin with an overview of the book, and then turns to an in-depth discussion of the final chapter, “Who can be killed with impunity and who cannot be impugned.” To answer this question, I contrast the failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the April-May 2010 crackdown on red shirt protestors by Thai state security forces with the increasingly common prosecution of ordinary citizens for lèse majesté under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and consider what this means about the future of the polity in early-reign Rama X, coup era Thailand.