In early 2011, less than a year after the terrible violence that shook Bangkok - violence which occurred after the unelected Thai PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, sent armed soldiers against unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirt protesters - Human Rights Watch Asia Director, Brad Adams, popped up at a meeting held in the UK Parliament.
There Adams accused the Red Shirts of starting the fires that engulfed small parts of downtown Bangkok – many of which began only after the Thai Army had moved into and secured the areas where the fires occurred.
Adams was emphatic as he spoke to British lawmakers stating, without equivocation, that
“There was a plan to burn Bangkok and that was executed by the Red Shirts”
(see this youtube clip from 1min 35secs - the date at the beginning is wrong, it should say 2011 not 2001).
|HRW Brad Adams speaking at meeting at UK Parliament|
Yet, as has since transpired, Adams had no firm evidence to back up his claims and that he deliberately distorted the truth in order to keep in place what appears to have been HRW’s own, secret, anti-Thaksin – and by proxy – anti-Red Shirt agenda. Of course the consequences of Adams’ misrepresentations had a real-life impact on the human rights of ordinary, innocent Thais who’d only been attempting to secure the kind of democratic rights Adams himself enjoys in his home country, the USA.
As yet, despite almost three years of investigation and 100s of arrests, not one single Red Shirt has been found guilty of setting fire to any buildings in Bangkok (some Red Shirts, based on flimsy evidence, have been found guilty of arson by single judge, no jury, courts in other parts of Thailand - but these cases are now under appeal) and, more recently, two Red Shirts accused of setting the largest of the fires at the Central World shopping centre have been found completely innocent of all charges related to that act. These individuals were, however, held in prison for almost 3years, stripped of their basic dignity and rights and their families suffered great hardship as a result.
So why the silence from Adams? Surely he should now apologise directly to the accused given that he had publicly attempted to pass off unsubstantiated unproven allegations as fact, thereby abusing his position as a trusted source on human rights matters? Why wasn’t Adams able to allow the Red Shirts to be judged solely on the actual evidence placed before a court? Has he never heard of sub-judice and prejudice? Or does a right to have a trial free from such prejudice only apply to those Adams deems fit? Adams false comments to the British parliament must go down as an appalling abuse of office by an international human rights director and he must be held accountable for that. Or, at the bare minimum, exposed to the full glaring light of the truth.
HRW’s record in Thailand is questionable at best and disgraceful at worst. The Wikileaks cables revealed HRW’s Thai staff to be self-confessed anti-Thaksin activists, who supported the illegal 2006 coup and who refused to support Thai trade unionists being harassed with Thailand’s draconian lese majeste laws. Wikileaks also revealed the close contact between the US mission in Thailand and HRW (the US have long supported, armed and provided intelligence and training to the most extreme rightwing elements of the coup/massacre-loving Thai Army) with HRW staffers visiting the US embassy on over 60 occasions.
When you add in Adams’ disingenuous and deliberate misrepresentations then you have to question why Adams is still in post. He, ultimately, is also responsible for the shameful behaviour of HRW in Thailand and given that his actions have been part of the mood music that diminished the basic human rights of ordinary Thais the only honourable thing is for Adams to resign. That, however, is doubtful - Adams is more likely to have further falsehoods to distribute and trials to prejudice in the future. In the meantime those interested in protecting human rights in Thailand and Asia would do well to be suspicious of the motives of HRW's regional director.
In the video of Adams speaking at the UK Parliament he states that "we should go after everybody and not take sides". Unfortunately the Wikileaks cables reveal that HRW almost certainly DID take sides and that's why, ultimately, anyone seeking the truth must go after HRW as well. It was in this spirit that this article was written.