July 30, 2007
Mr. Richard Scudamore
The Premier League
Re: Purchase of Manchester City Football Club by Thaksin Shinawatra
Dear Mr. Scudamore:
Human Rights Watch is an independent, non-governmental human rights organization based in New York, with offices in many other cities, including London.
We believe that an assessment of any prospective team owner should at least include an assessment of the individual's human rights record, his or her record on corporate responsibility, and whether there are credible allegations of corruption or other issues that might call into question whether the person is truly "fit and proper" for ownership. Such criteria should examine the individual's record globally and not just in relation to UK laws. (We take no position on international ownership.)
In the case of Mr. Thaksin, we have condemned the coup that ousted Mr. Thaksin from power last September and continue to be critical of the military-backed government. However, our research and that of other credible organizations shows that Mr. Thaksin’s time in office from 2001 to 2006 was characterized by numerous extrajudicial executions, “disappearances,” illegal abductions, arbitrary detentions, torture and other mistreatment of persons in detention, and attacks on media freedoms.
The most disturbing period of Mr. Thaksin’s rule was his “war on drugs,” in which Thai security forces routinely committed serious violations of human rights. By his government’s own count, more than 2,275 people were killed in the three months after the campaign was launched on 1 February, 2003. There is little doubt that Thailand was facing a boom in the use of methamphetamines at the time, but instead of responding with legal measures, Mr. Thaksin unleashed his security forces in a violent campaign against alleged drug traffickers and sellers. He issued cash incentives to police and local officials to remove thousands of drug suspects from government “blacklists.” Many on the blacklists, which were issued to local government and police, were killed. In a speech announcing the campaign, Mr. Thaksin borrowed a quote from a former police chief known for having orchestrated political assassinations in the 1950s: “There is nothing under the sun which the Thai police cannot do,” Mr. Thaksin said. “Because drug traders are ruthless to our children, so being ruthless back to them is not a bad thing. . . It may be necessary to have casualties. . . If there are deaths among traders, it’s normal.”
The gravity of the situation prompted the US State Department to report in 2004 that Thailand’s human rights record has “worsened with regard to extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.” The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, expressed deep concern at the high number of deaths in the “war on drugs.” A similar alert was raised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on July 28, 2005. A Human Rights Watch report, Not Enough Graves: The War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights, documented shocking details of extrajudicial executions of drug suspects in Thailand (the report can be found at http://hrw.org/reports/2004/thailand0704/).
Mr. Thaksin was equally brutal in addressing the insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly ethnic Malay Muslim southern border provinces. His heavy-handed counterinsurgency policy, which emphasized the unnecessary or excessive use of force and encouraged grave human rights violations, lead to the deaths of hundreds of ethnic Malay Muslims and injuries to many more. A Human Rights Watch report, “It Was Like Suddenly My Son No Longer Existed”: Enforced Disappearances in Thailand’s Southern Border Provinces, detailed 22 cases of unresolved “disappearances” in which the evidence strongly indicated that the Thai military forces and police were responsible (the report can be found at http://hrw.org/reports/2007/thailand0307/).
Amidst these widespread abuses, Mr. Thaksin failed to address seriously the cultureof impunity that prevailed in the country during his government. In March 2004 Somchai Neelapaijit, chairman of Thailand’s Muslim Lawyers Association and a prominent critic of government human rights abuses, was abducted from a busy street in Bangkok. He has never been seen since and is presumed dead. Under strong public pressure, five police officers were belatedly arrested in connection with the abduction, but only one was convicted of the lesser charge of assault. In his 3 concluding remarks, the judge criticized deficiencies in the police investigation and work of the prosecutors. Mr. Thaksin publicly stated that government officials were involved in Somchai’s abduction and killing but took no action to bring the perpetrators to justice, even though it is widely believed that their identities, and that of their superior officers, are known to the government. Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelapaijit, told Human Rights Watch that Mr. Thaksin had informed her that her husband was taken to Ratchaburi province after being abducted. It is unclear how Mr. Thaksin learned of this information, but it is clear he did not act on it (for more on this case, see the Human Rights Watch statement at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/03/11/thaila12876.htm).
In all these cases, as well as many other state-sponsored violations of human rights brought to his attention, Mr. Thaksin made no apparent effort to pursue serious investigations to bring those responsible to justice.
Based on his record, Mr. Thaksin does not appear to us to be “fit and proper” under any reasonable definition of that term. His past actions should lead to him being subjected to investigations by impartial police and prosecutors, not welcomed into the club of owners of the most popular football league in the world.
We understand that you may not follow the political or human rights situation in Thailand. But in light of all the publicity about Mr. Thaksin’s record in office, a quick Web search of “Thaksin and human rights” or “Thailand and human rights” would have uncovered a wealth of relevant information, including the Human Rights Watch reports noted in this letter.
We hope you would agree that the integrity of the Premier League depends in large part on the integrity of its owners. The rules concerning who is “fit and proper” should ensure that serious human rights abusers are not among the league’s owners.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We would be happy to discuss this further at your convenience.
Human Rights Watch