Towards an Accounting of Late Cold War Human Rights Violations in Thailand

Towards an Accounting of Late Cold War Human Rights Violations in Thailand

The 6 October 1976 massacre and coup not only ended the nearly three years of prior open politics, but was also the beginning of an extended period of arbitrary detention and torture of citizens who came to be seen as dissident “dangers to society,” Communists, or and those who simply ran afoul of state officials. While evidence prior to the 6 October 1976 massacre and coup supports the idea that the definitions of ‘human’ and ‘human rights’ in use by the state did not account for the violations of the rights of certain citizens deemed to be enemies, communication among different ministries about torture and detention following the massacre and coup indicates that there was a new awareness inside the state that this was no longer tenable and new strategies of engagement needed to be found. This paper begins by drawing on state archival documents, primarily a series of exchanges between embassies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Department of Corrections, to trace the anxiety felt inside the state and the forms of bureaucratic obfuscation that emerged. Then, as a response to what the state documents do not reveal, drawing primarily on the materials of new human rights organizations in Thailand, including the Coordinating Group on Religion in Society and the Union for Civil Liberty, and solidarity and diaspora groups, such as the Union of Democratic Thais and the Thai Information Center, supplemented by newspaper reportage, the paper then creates an accounting of the rights violations that took place during these years. These two accounts of rights violations during the post-6 October 1976 period, and the deep gulf between them, offers at once a history of the emergence of the domestic and international human rights movements and the unavoidable questions of evidence and politics which are inseparable from its writing.

About the Speaker

Tyrell Haberkorn is a fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change. She writes about state violence, human rights, and dissident cultural politics in Thailand and is currently completing a book about the history of impunity for state violence since the end of the absolute monarchy in Thailand. She is the author of Revolution Interrupted: Farmers, Students, Law, and Violence in Northern Thailand (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011) and Voices of a Free Media: The First Ten Years of Prachatai (Bangkok: FCEM and Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2014), and is one of the editors of Reflections of the Past: Selected Poems from Sattrisan Magazine, 1970-1976 (Silkworm Books, 2013). In addition to her academic work, she is a frequent contributor of translations of writing by political prisoners, cultural commentary, and poetry to the online newspaper Prachatai. Her research has been supported by grants from the Australian Research Council, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, the Association for Asian Studies, the Einstein Forum, and the ANU Research School of Asia and the Pacific.


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