The Hidden Transcript of Amnesty
The 6 October 1976 Massacre and Coup in Thailand
Author: Tyrell Haberkorn
There were two, not one, amnesty laws passed in relation to the 6 October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University and coup in Thailand. The first amnesty law, passed on 24 December 1976, legalized the coup and prevented those who created the conditions for the coup and seized power on the evening of 6 October from being held to account. The second amnesty law, passed on 16 September 1978, freed eighteen student activists still undergoing criminal prosecution and dismissed the charges against them. Although neither amnesty mentioned the massacre, the urgency of producing and then safeguarding impunity for the state and para-state actors behind the violence at Thammasat was the absent presence in both laws. Combining a close reading of both laws with examination of archival documents about the drafting of the first amnesty law and court and other records related to the second, this article uncovers the hidden transcripts of both amnesty laws as a point of departure for examining questions about impunity, law, and history. First, what are the legal mechanics through which violent actors escape accountability? Second, what are the legal and political functions of amnesty when no crime has been committed? Third and finally, might accountability for past violence be possible, and if so, under what conditions? The answers to these questions illuminate how impunity was produced in the specific case of the 6 October 1976 massacre in Thailand as well as address broader concerns about impunity's role in state formation.