Human rights groups across the world have condemned the actions of the Thai government in seeking to repress public dissent, as anti-government protesters in Bangkok defied orders to leave their fortified camp in the country's capital today (17 May 2010).
Peaceful demonstrators, a majority of whom are women, went on applauding speakers on stage in the centre of their huge camp as a deadline imposed on them to leave passed.
The BBC reports that soldiers have been shooting live rounds to keep protesters at a distance as one government minister said the operation to "seal the area" would continue.
Violence since Thursday 13 May has now left 36 dead, and some 250 injured. One of those killed is the rebel Thai general, Khattiya Sawasdipol, who died on 10 May, five days after being shot in the head - allegedly by a government sniper.
The general, better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), was hit from a distance by an unidentified attacker as he spoke to reporters about his backing for the protest movement.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the Thai government should immediately revoke the designation of neighbourhood areas as "live fire zones" being used to justify the unnecessary and unlawful use of lethal force.
On 14 May the Thai government's Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) set out three rules governing the occasions when the army and police may use live ammunition: as warning shots to deter demonstrators from moving in closer; for self-defence; and when forces have "[a] clear visual of terrorists." The third rule appears contrary to international rules governing the use of lethal force during policing operations.
"By setting out these ‘live fire zones', the Thai authorities are on a slippery slope towards serious abuses," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"It's a small step for soldiers to think ‘live fire zone' means ‘free fire zone', especially as violence escalates. These are city neighbourhoods, and the government should remember that ordinary people live there, not only protesters."
In a CRES statement placed on the Thai government website from a press conference, CRES spokesperson Colonel Sanserd Kaewkamnerd was quoted as saying that having "clear visual of terrorists" permits government authorities to fire live ammunition at protesters.
There is no guidance for security forces to determine whether a person is a "terrorist," says Human Rights Watch, raising serious concerns about countenancing use of lethal force beyond United Nations rules, which require that a person must pose an imminent danger to others' lives in order to use such force.
The NGO said that in protecting public safety, Thai authorities are obligated to use lawful means, including force proportionate to the level of threat or legitimate objective.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that all security forces shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.
Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, the authorities are supposed to use restraint and act only in proportion to the seriousness of the offence. Lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The Basic Principles also call for an effective reporting and review process, especially in cases of death and serious injury.
"The Thai government needs to be absolutely clear about its rules on using force and ensuring that soldiers and police on the streets strictly follow those rules," said HRW's Adams.
He added: "The army and government should show they will hold to account anyone in the security forces or administration responsible for serious abuses."
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for all sides to show restraint, and urged both the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the "red shirts," and the government to immediately resume negotiations for a peaceful political resolution to the crisis.
"No one benefits when Bangkok's diplomatic quarter and up-scale tourism areas become shooting zones," said Adams. "This is the moment when both sides need to step back, de-escalate the violence, and negotiate in good faith for a political solution."