HRW report vs HRW News Release

Last week HRW issued its annual report on human rights around the world, Thailand was included. HRW News Release was immediately quoted on every blog that cares, notably Political Prisoners and Prachatai. The news release was even carried by Reuters.

That news release caused quite a stir, with government spokesman accusing HRW of being influenced by Thaksin, and that, in turn, was picked up by all the bloggers, too. It was on Tumblers that I finally saw the direct link to the report itself (Thailand on page 355), and that’s when my alarm bell started ringing.

The controversial news release deviates from the report on several key issues and spins it in a clear anti-government direction, cherry picking on some findings and ignoring others.

To begin with, news release is headlined “Thailand: Serious Backsliding on Human Rights”. Nowhere in the report there’s support for this headline. The summary for Thailand only says that pledges were largely unfulfilled. That doesn’t mean backsliding at all.

Then they start with a byline (or whatever it’s called in journo jargon):

“Unchecked Abuses by Security Forces, Crackdown on Internet Critics, Forced returns of Refugees”.

The summary in the report itself starts with something entirely different:

“Political instability and polarization continued in 2009 and occasionally resulted
in violence when anti-government groups, affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra,
clashed with Thai security forces.”

HWR thought red clashes with the army deserved to be mentioned first, news release ignored them. Then follows the chapter on political violence and it begins with the same motif:

“Episodes of political violence involving supporters of former prime minister
Thaksin broke out throughout the year…”

Then the paragraph on Songkran starts with:

“Street battles erupted in Bangkok on April 13 when UDD protesters…attacked approaching soldiers with guns, petrol bombs, and other improvised weapons. UDD protesters also threatened to blow up trucks with liquefied petroleum gas near residential areas and hospitals…”

and concludes with:

“At least 123 people were injured, including four soldiers wounded by gunshots.”

The report also mentions that; “while most gunfire was into the air, some soldiers fired assault rifles directly at the protesters. ”

News release avoids these nuances: “Soldiers used tear gas to clear protesters and fired on protesters with live ammunition” and it doesn’t mentioned wounded soldiers at all.

No wonder the government was incensed, not by the report itself, which they probably didn’t even see at the time, but by the news release that was played up everywhere, and now it is clear that the news release distorted the actual findings.

The news release states that “The government’s double standards in law enforcement worsened political tensions and deepened polarization.” – there’s nothing like that in the report itself. It only mentions that “there has been no independent and impartial investigation” and there’s a “growing public perception that the PAD is immune to legal accountability.” The report doesn’t state that it was a cause for worsening tensions, that interpretation is just not there. I might add that there’s no real accountability for red leaders for Songkran either and, incidentally, the report doesn’t mention double standards, too.

On the South the report starts with:

“There were fewer reports in 2009 of abuses committed by security forces in the
southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla, as the gov-
ernment appeared to take seriously the human toll and the cycle of violence that
such abuses contribute to.”

The news release somehow turned it into:

“Abhisit’s administration has allowed the military to continue to operate with impunity”, and “the government also failed to establish effective civilian control over the military and was unable to scrutinize the enforcement of abusive special security laws by the military”.

While these arguments might be valid on their own, they are just not there!

Who wrote this stuff? There are quotes from Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, but the news release itself is unsigned.

Why did HWR allow an official news release that deviates so far from the original report? Is it because it was written by someone sucking up to clearly opinionated Brad Adams while the report was prepared by lowly staff without any political agenda?

To me, this is unacceptable.

PS. I’m not going to comment on the rest of the report or the news release which deal with mostly with LM, Rohingyas, and Hmong.