Thai military must halt reckless use of lethal force

Thai soldiers must immediately stop firing live ammunition into several large areas in Bangkok where anti-government protesters are gathered, Amnesty International said today. “Eye-witness accounts and video recordings show clearly that the military is firing live rounds at unarmed people who pose no threat whatsoever to the soldiers or to others,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Thailand specialist. “This is a gross violation of a key human right – the right to life.” “Deliberately firing live ammunition at unarmed people, whether they be protesters or otherwise and who pose no credible threat to anyone else, is unlawful,” said Zawacki. Since 13 May, when the government began “Operation Rachaprasong”, soldiers have fired rubber and live rounds in and around protest sites in several parts of Bangkok. The government claims that there are around 500 “terrorists” hiding among the protesters. At least 35 unarmed protesters have been killed. The dead include two medics who were wearing white medical uniforms with visible red crosses, shot on 15 and 16 May; and a 17-year-old boy, shot on 15 May. Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawatdiphon (known as “Seh Daeng”), a military advisor for the protesters, was struck by a sniper’s bullet on 14 May and died on 17 May. In addition, another soldier has been killed. Over 200 people have been injured, including several Thai and foreign journalists, and a 10-year-old boy. “The government cannot allow soldiers to essentially shoot at anyone within an area it wishes to control,” said Zawacki. The government’s Rules of Engagement, as articulated by its Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) on 14 May, state that live rounds may only be used as warning shots fired into the air, in self-defence, or when forces can clearly see those the security forces consider as “terrorists”. On 16 May, CRES declared several areas just adjacent to the protest site as “live fire zones”. Several eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that they witnessed soldiers shooting into the area using long-range rifles-at a distance from which the victims were not likely to present any danger. CRES Spokesperson Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said on 14 May that troops would keep a distance from the protesters, and would use live ammunition to stop people from coming closer. When shooting to stop protesters, troops would aim below the knee and fire only one bullet at a time. “This is unacceptable under international law and standards, which provide that firearms may be used only as a last resort, when a suspected offender offers armed resistance or otherwise jeopardizes the lives of others, and less extreme measures are not sufficient to restrain or apprehend the suspected offender. Outside of clear situations of self-defence, riot control should be performed by trained police using non-lethal equipment, not by soldiers using live ammunition,” said Zawacki.