A Time to Mourn
by Jennifer S. Pacursa1
There is time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven.
For the members of the Relatives Committee of
the May 1992 Heroes, May is a time to mourn. It is the month that changed
their lives forever and the nightmare began. For many mothers, fathers,
sisters, brothers, daughters and sons of the dead , disappeared and the
disabled , the 17th to 20th of May is too painful to remember and too hard to
Thirteen years ago, thousands of people marched on Ratchadamnoen
Avenue in Thailand to demand the non-elected Prime Minister General
Suchinda Kraprayoon to step down despite his earlier promise not to accept the
post. The roots of the demonstrations lay in a military coup on the 23rd of
February 1991 when a group of generals, including General Suchinda, overthrew
the democratically elected government of Chatchai Choonchavan. They formed a
National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC) and promised to hold elections after six
months. However, by November 1991, the military was rewriting sections of the
Constitution to give themselves a permanent powerbase.
Mass demonstrations took place in Bangkok throughout early May
until no significant progress in negotiations occurred. Demonstrators
gathered on the 17th of May, by 10 p.m. and the police had turned water
canons on the demonstrators who responded by throwing rocks. The police then
began beating demonstrators with their nightsticks. By midnight, General
Suchinda had declared the country in a state of emergency and the first
sound of gunshots were heard after midnight. For the next three days, the
Thai military fired their guns indiscriminately without any attempt to employ
This is evident in the video clip the AFAD secretariat had seen of
the May 1992 Event while making its video production. The unnecessary use of
force was cruel so that even wounded people were still beaten and kicked by
soldiers. The May 1992 footage given by the Relatives Committee to AFAD is
highlighted in its newly launched documentary film, Healing Wounds, Mending
Relatives Committee of the May 1992 Heroes
In the aftermath of the May 1992 Event, families were left on their
own to look for their missing members until they founded the Relatives
Committee of the May 1992 Heroes in July.
In an interview with Adul Khiewboriboon, Chairperson of the
Relatives Committee, he disclosed, “I joined the organization because on the
17th up to 20th of May 1992, I lost my younger son. And I have been working
with the organization to struggle against the government for three issues:
First is to ask the government to respond to the May Event. Second, we ask the
government to find the missing people for us, either dead or alive. Third, we
ask the government for compensation and to build a monument for the May
further said, “When we talk about the May 1992, we call this Black May. A
black, black day, this means that at that time, people felt that the government
was a dictator, especially those coming from the military. So people were
displeased by that and they wanted the government to change something,
especially the Constitution. The government at that time was unwilling to act,
so the people became very angry and people came and had a big demonstration
which is what led to what we call the Black May. Many people were killed on
that day between the 17th to the 20th of May 1992, more than a hundred. “
During the second congress of AFAD in 2003, AFAD members got the
chance to once again, meet the families in Thailand. Despite the eleven years
that had passed, the memories of the three-day event were still fresh in their
minds. The stories that I have read in the reports already have faces. I
personally met Khun Anya, Khun Adul’s wife who facilitated our
visits to the families. The visit to the houses of the families gave us
the opportunity to talk to Khun Nippon who lost his two children,
Khun Jumnong who lost his father and the two children who do not celebrate
mothers’ day, since they lost their mother during the massacre.
The group also went to the house of Khun Arunee Arsasuk.
With her petite frame, she kept on smiling to the delegates and kept on saying
sawadee . It was in that visit that Khun Arunee shared to
AFAD her pains of losing her son, the problems she is facing about her
house which is soon be taken away by the bank. Her son was the breadwinner of
the family. Despite her tragedy, she was still willing to share with the
group her skills in Thai massage which is now her livelihood. The delegates
happily lined up to experience her relaxing, healing touch. One year later,
she attended the first Asian Sharing of Experience of Families of Victims
of Enforced Disappearances in Jakarta last December .
At that time, Khun Arunee told us her experience fully, “
The police went looking for my son and they could not find him. They told me
he is definitely dead. They probably threw him somewhere. He cannot be
found. I was so mad...I wanted my child back. Where did they bring my son? I
was angry and mad...what was done was not right...Why is it, that instead of
being brought to a doctor, they threw him away? Why did they throw him?” A
long time had passed since the May 1992 Event, and when you see her, she is a
reflection of a woman at peace with the other victims, but if you look
closely into her eyes, one can see a woman in deep pain but still hopeful.
At the opening ceremony of the AFAD Second Congress in
Bangkok, Khun Somchai Homlaor , Secretary–General of Forum Asia said
“that the government had already set up a one committee chaired by former
Prime Minister Anan Panyarachun, with two sub- committees. The first is to help
the victims of the May 1992, and I am a member of this committee.”
Khun Somchai added, “They would like to set a date for a ceremony
every year to commemorate the May 1992 Event. I proposed to call the 17th of
May a commemoration day- a day of remembrance when people can gather together
to fight for justice.” Until now, however, no agreement has been reached by
The other sub committee is to search for the disappeared where
Khun Krongkarn Suebsaiharn, Secretary-General of the Relatives Committee of
the May 1992 Heroes, is a member. Their function is to investigate, search and
trace clues left behind by those who disappeared.
The demand for the return of the dead, the missing, or the
information needed to find them has never been met by the Thai government after
the May 1992 Event. The armed forces use national security as an excuse to
conceal all information about the whereabouts of the remains.
The Pardon Provision
In the end, the people won, yet with much bloodshed. On the 24th
of May, Prime Minister General Suchinda Kraprayoon resigned from his post,
but before he left the government, his last act was to ensure the passage of
an executive decree pardoning themselves for the crimes of Black May. Earlier
on the 23rd of May, he issued a sweeping Amnesty Law which applied to both
the demonstrators and the armed forces. The decree remains valid to this
day, and has been upheld by the Thai judiciary.
To this day the Relatives Committee campaigns against the
amnesty bill, saying that the bill provides impunity to the perpetrators of
Black May. They further explain that it is unconstitutional as there was no
meeting of the cabinet to officially endorse it. The cabinet members were only
told about the provision via facsimile with the condition that any rejection
should be done before noon the following day. In the history of Thailand,
people fought for democracy manifested in two earlier uprisings, on October
14, 1973 and October 6, 1976.
Human Rights in Thailand
which is not usually considered a major human rights violator in Asia, once
again became the focus of international attention. This occurred when human
rights violations became excessive in the southern state of Pattani and
Narathiwat late last year .
Lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit was then one of the human rights
lawyers who actively defended the people suspected of a raid on a military
camp in Narathiwat. He earned the ire of the authorities when he disclosed
the torture of his clients.
365 days after the disappearance of the missing lawyer Somchai
Neelaphaijit, civil society in Thailand continues to ask , Where is Somchai?
The search continues. His wife Angkhana Wongrachen said, “Somchai did not
attempt to make guilty people innocent but he endeavored to ensure that all
people accused of a crime had the opportunity to have a real examination in
court. He wanted all accused people to be given justice.”
Days before the anniversary of her husband’s disappearance, she
confided “What we are afraid of is fear. We don’t want to be so afraid that we
do not think about the future, we don’t want to be so afraid that we cannot do
anything. We are lucky that all of the children are strong and we will get
through this period. I still believe this is the hardest part of our lives, one
that only a few people must face. This will pass.”
A Long Crusade
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary
Disappearances (UNWGEID) for the first time will hold its 75th session outside
their headquarters in New York and Geneva.
It will be held for the first time in Bangkok , Thailand on May
26 to June 3, 2005. It is a form of recognition that the region has the
highest number of cases submitted to the Working Group with most cases of
involuntary disappearances coming from Nepal. The UNWGEID will also hold a
workshop with other human rights NGOs in the region.
When they were informed of this development, the Relatives
Committee and Ms. Angkhana still hope to retrieve any information about their
loved ones. Despite the long wait, they were optimistic that justice would
not be elusive forever, that their quest for truth , justice, redress and
collective memory will finally be answered.
Yet all these things remains to be seen. Prior to the launching of
the book and video project of AFAD, a local staff and a Thai Embassy
official based in Manila called AFAD office four times asking for the
manuscript of the book, saying “they would like to read it before AFAD could
publish the book. “ The said official attended the launching and once again
asked for the manuscript . But she was politely told by one of the AFAD
secretariat members that the book is already published and she can purchase
a copy of it, which the officer did.
May 2005 marks the 13th anniversary of the May 1992 Event . The
families again are made to remember a painful past that leaves dark stains
in their lives.
***The information contained in this document is derived from the
reports of Amnesty International –Thailand, Forum Asia, Human Rights
Defenders and interviews of the members of the Relatives Committee of the
May 1992 Heroes.
was a freelance research-reporter and a college instructor at a Protestant
school in Cagayan de Oro before joining the AFAD secretariat in Manila,
Philippines. She is an alumna of Silliman University with a Bachelor’s degree
in Mass Communication and has earned her MBA at Xavier University specializing
in production and program development.
is a Thai word that signifies respect to a person.