The 88-page report, "Examination for Policy Review on the UDD-led Demonstration 12 March-19 May 2010", appeared to absolve Democrat Party leaders Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban - prime minister and deputy prime minister at the time, respectively - of responsibility in the lethal turn of the protests. Instead, it placed blame on the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) for instigating violence which resulted in the military crackdown and more than 90 deaths.
Last week, dissatisfaction over the report boiled over into protests from UDD-aligned groups and others. The People's Power Alliance, a red shirt splinter group, brought more than 100 people to the NHRC office on Wednesday to present commissioners with resignation letters, along with an application for membership in the Democrat Party for NHRC chair Amara Pongsapich.
The group said they would give the NHRC until the end of this month to show responsibility for its ''misinformation'' on the 2010 red shirt demonstrations.
The following day, the Students' Federation of Thailand staged a protest rich in street theatre with scenes of the grim reaper pushing people to their deaths to highlight what they felt was hypocrisy in the NHRC report.
The students said the NHRC had shown double standards in siding with the Abhisit government and lending legitimacy to the military crackdown by blaming mysterious ''men in black'' for the deaths.
Among the report's defenders is Nicha Hiranburana Tuwatham, whose husband, an army colonel, was killed on April 10. Ms Nicha told Spectrum that she felt the NHRC report was supplemental to an earlier report by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand in its conclusions on the casualties of military officers.
''The two reports have emerged to shed light on the fact that the protesters violated the constitution and affected the rights of other people,'' said Ms Nicha. She added, however, that she had expected the NHRC to ''dig deeper''.
The report was controversial even before it was released because it was so long in coming, and some say the process of addressing the grave human rights violations surrounding the protests is an indication the NHRC is both cumbersome and inexperienced.
On May 12, 2010, the NHRC reconstituted three sub-committees that had been set up to study the violence which occurred on April 10, 2010. The three new task forces met 11 times but still could not come up with a finished report. The NHRC then hired outsiders to work alongside their internal staff in gathering more evidence and testimony. The new team spent an entire year before writing a report for initial consideration by concerned parties before forwarding it to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on July 17 this year.
In the report, the NHRC consistently refers to various sections of the 2007 constitution and related laws in justifying the acts of the Abhisit government, and particularly the actions of the Centre of Restoration of Emergency Situations (CRES), which was set up in response to the protests.
For example, on page 40 the report concludes that the government made the proper move to restore law and order by stopping the transmission of the pro-UDD PTV channel due to its repeated airing of ''hate speeches''. On page 42, the report says former deputy prime minister Suthep exercised proper authority in closing down websites that were destabilising national security. However, the report says that continuing to block the sites after the disbanding of the CRES was an inappropriate exercise of power.
In depicting the events at two locations near Ratchadamnoen Avenue on April 10, in which there were 890 casualties including 27 deaths, the report said the UDD-led protest was unconstitutional and violated the rights of the public and impeded the work of the authorities. At the same time, said the report, the men in black among the protesters ignited violence and used war weapons against authorities, causing deaths, injuries and damage to public and private property.
The report also said the UDD ''indecently used children and women as shields against the authorities'', and was also guilty of ''planning murder against the military with laser markings''.
Concerning the M79 blasts at Sala Daeng on April 22, 2010, in which one person was killed and around 100 injured, the NHRC blamed the police for doing too little, too late to prevent the incidents despite prior knowledge of the violent intent of the UDD.
Of the April 28 incident in northern Bangkok in which a military private was killed and at least 16 protesters were injured, the report spent several paragraphs saying that the fatal bullet could have come from any direction, not only military positions _ despite a prior court ruling that found that the death was the result of ''friendly fire'' as the authorities tried to disperse the demonstrators.
The Chulalongkorn Hospital siege on April 29 was highlighted as showing the government's failure to protect the rights of the patients and also the unscrupulous behaviour of the UDD protesters, who caused noise pollution and disturbed the ability of the hospital to treat patients.
IMPARTIALITY IN QUESTION
The NHRC report goes into detail on the period from May 13-19, in which most of the deaths and injuries occurred, and concludes on page 71 that the military had received clear orders permitting them to use real bullets to shoot into the air to stop/block/warn protesters and keep protesters at a safe distance.
The report says: ''The authorities' clashes with armed men among the protesters caused damages and casualties to the people and officers, with 404 injuries and 51 deaths.''
The report also says it was necessary for the government to step up security measures to counter the UDD ''movement'' in retaliation to the military's actions to break up the protest. The report said this movement was exemplified in the arson of Bangkok shopping malls and provincial halls.
Of the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram as security forces finished clearing red shirt protesters from the Ratchaprasong intersection area on May 19, the report said that constant clashes between authorities and armed groups mingling among protesters and running in and out of the temple led to exchanges of gunfire which resulted in the deaths. This is in contradiction to the ruling earlier this month by the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court that said government security forces were responsible for the deaths.
Kittisak Prokati, a Thammasat University law professor, said the NHRC had misplaced its emphasis when investigating the violence. He said the NHRC should have first considered how demonstrators' rights were violated by the state before investigating how the public's rights were affected by the protests.
The latter was a legal offence, he said, but the state's actions against the demonstrators were a violation of their rights. ''We need to check if the government used excessive force,'' said Mr Kittisak.
Pornpen Kongkachonkiat, of the Cross Cultural Foundation, said the heavy criticism and calls for the resignation of NHRC members was yet another mark against the seven-member body since they took up the job four years ago.
''They used incorrect wording in the report and based [their conclusion] on details from the officials' side. In giving their assessment, they should project a balanced picture,'' said Ms Pornpen, adding that most of the commissioners do not have a background of human rights activism.NHRC CHIEF DEFENDS REPORT FOLLOWING PUBLIC BACKLASH
The first chairwoman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Amara Pongsapich, talks to Spectrum about the movement to oust her and her fellow commissioners from their posts. The NHRC's recently released report of its investigation of the crackdown on the 2010 political protests has incensed the Pheu Thai Party and red shirt groups. The critics say the NHRC chief is trying to whitewash the then Abhisit Vejjajiva government's actions in the crackdown.
Q: Why was the NHRC report on the April-May 2010 protests released a year after the report of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT)?
A: We've been criticised all along about the delay and we've apologised for it. After the first draft of the report was reviewed, we set up a sub-committee to amend it and the rewriting process needed time and retouching.
The commissioners signed up to endorse the report on June 26 and sent the report to the prime minister, a required procedure, on July 17.
Q: Why did the NHRC not hold a press briefing but distribute the report on its website instead?
A: We've been criticised too much already and do not want to be bothered any more.
Q: Your report is alleged to rely on documents and testimonies from the authorities?
A: Not true. Our informants were both authorities and people who were affected by the protests, such as the injured and passers-by. But of the 1,000 people we contacted, only 184 turned up.
In the coming weeks, we will publish all details including lists of orders issued during the protests and related testimonies. It will not be disseminated, but could be accessed upon request.
Q: The report seems to take sides with the then government's dispersal instead of looking into the alleged human rights violations.
A: We don't have a specific agenda. The state has a duty to protect the rights of the people but the protesters have a duty not to go beyond what the law permits. Making demands to the government is OK but were their actions legitimate?
People have the right to stage peaceful demonstrations according to the Constitution's Article 63. When the government curbed the demonstration, we checked whether its actions were excessive and whether retaliation was proportionate or not.
Q: Why has the NHRC blamed the armed men in black instead of also elaborating on human rights violations [by the authorities] as the TRCT report did?
A: We did not commission foreign ballistic reports [like the TRCT did] or check weapons proliferations routes, etc. We also did not specify that the men in black had a role in the Wat Pathumwanaram deaths. We referred to their presence during certain attacks such as during April 10 and May 13-19 in general.
Q: But critics say the report is not thorough and detailed, while its timing has also been questioned.
A: Some incidents or individuals are involved in lawsuits now, so by law the NHRC has no authority to give any insight or advice on those matters.
The report just happened to be coincidentally released at the same time as the parliamentary consideration of the amnesty bill. It has perhaps been politicised by the critics.
Q: There's also a demand for your resignation. Are you worried?
A: Not worried, but disturbed and bored. Anyone wanting to impeach us needs to follow the proper process, Get an adequate number of signatures. It's the Senate that voted to install us, so it's up to them to kick us out.