Mission of the Mahidol University Hotline Centre

The Mahidol University Hotline Centre was set up on May 22, 1992 amidst the confusion of the situation as well as the number of victims.  It is the first time in Thai political history that the centre of this nature could be set up to compile information about the dead, wounded, and missing from a military crack down.  However, this was not the first time that civilians were murdered by the security forces for the sake of 'national security'.  There have been two previous demonstrations for democracy (14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976) when the protesters were brutally killed.  What is left from these two incidents is the estimation of casualties and deaths, and the memory of the massacre of people by those in power by that time.  But there was no systematic estimation of the casualties, particularly of those that disappeared from the demonstration.  No effort had been made to gather the information of the possibilities of missing people from the 14th and 6th October tragedies which can answer whether there really are missing persons and if there are, how many are there.
Mahidol University Hotline Centre was set up for humanistic purposes and protection of the rights of the May casualties.  Therefore, a special effort has been made to systematically check validity and accuracy of data collected from various sources.  All figures and news released from the Hotline must be able to explain the methods used to obtain its number and incident.  The most vital aspect for the Hotline is, thus, the accuracy of our information.  We have been working without any preassumption of what the numbers of the May casualty should be because we want to 'let the facts tell the truth'.
The democratic political climate resulting from the protest during the 17-21 May 1992 has enabled the Hotline to work without any political sanction or any force or pressure from the government.  The Mahidol Hotline has become the only centre of proven information about the May victims.  Our tasks at an early period were:
1. Holding a seminar on how to organise an efficient field hospital for a future riot in the city.
2. Medical Study on the death and injury of the May victims.  This special task provides crucial information to understand the nature of the crack-down.
3. Receiving phone-in reports of the missing.  This is a major task and a sensitive one, as the nature of the work is a public service amidst the political tension and under the pressure of the inflicted people.
  3.1 The Eight Information-Gathering Centres
    The Jira Boonmark Centre run by NIDA's graduate students and the Chulalongkorn University Student Information Centre were the first two centres to be set up to receive phone-in reports of the missing.   After the Event, six others centre were set up to perform the same task.  They were the Relief centre for the Pro-Democracy Victims run by Foundation for Children; the Lawyer Council's Ad Hoc Relief Centre; the National Student Federation of Thailand's Centre; the Ramkhamhaeng University Information Centre; the Relief Centre of the Law Faculty, Thammasat University; and the Mahidol University Hotline Centre.  In order to obtain the most accurate information, all eight centres agreed to set up 'the Eight Information-Gathering Centres' on the Disappeared on June 6, 1992.  The Mahidol Hotline was assigned to be the coordinating centre of the collecting and cross-checking all eight centres responsible for information received through each centre by dBase program.
    Besides the eight centres, there are three governmental agencies under the Interior Ministry responsible for the missing issue.   While the cooperation among the eight centres ran smoothly and efficiently, the cooperation between the Eight Information-Gathering Centres and the Interior Ministry's agencies hardly existed.   At first the state agencies seemed to distrust and fear to exchange their information.   As a result the number of the missing, they released to the media was always different from that released by the Eight Information-Gathering Centres.   One reason was the lack of sincerity and commitment of the government at that time to deal with the missing issue.  This is clearly seen when the former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun made a joke about the missing persons during his speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club on July 1, 1992.   To protest the PM's indecent conduct and to request for a clear-cut measure to track down the missing, the Eight Information-Gathering Centres sent an open letter to the former Prime Minister Anand an July 3, 1992.  The open letter resulted in more cooperation from the state agencies.
  3.2 Main Tasks of the Mahidol University Hotline Centre
    In Brief, the activities conducted by the Hotline from the beginning up to now can be concluded as follows:
    (a) Collecting data on missing people, deaths and the casualties.
    (b) Interviewing eye-witnesses and those involved in the demonstration or the families and friends of the May casualties.
    (c) Disseminating the updated number of the May casualties to the mass media and interested organizations.
    (d) Working closely with several human rights NGOs and the Committee of the May Heroes' relatives in particular.
    (e) Participating in various governmental committees working on tracing the missing people. This helps in strengthening effectiveness and coordination between tide Hotline and various organizations as listed below:
      * better collaboration with government and non-government organizations and the families of the May casualties.
      * speeding up the coordination for more accurate information about the missing.
      * gaining more details of those reported missing but had returned home.
      * closely watching the government's activities on investigating the missing.
IV. The Injured, the Dead, and the Missing
Since the Mahidol University Hotline Centre has begun its operation up to November 16, 1993, the number of the victims from the May Event can be categorized as follows:
- 44 were dead:
1 were already identified and laid claim by their family.  3 are unidentified, and for whom a funeral rite has been arranged by Mahidol University on 22 October 1993.
- 670 were injured according the latest data collected by the Mahidol University Hotline Centre on November 16, 1993, of this total, 8 have become handicapped and 1 suffers from mental illness.
- 80 are still missing from the total number of 2,080 cases reported to bemissing.  39 are evaluated to disappear in the May Event.  41 are evaluated as missing but non-related with the Event.
4.1 Demographic and Socio-Economic Characteristics of the May Event's Victims
Most victims were single men. While a little over 80 percent of the dead and the injured were single, the percentage among the missing was 62 percent.  The average age of the missing was 30.2 while that of the injured and the dead were 28 and 26.2 respectively.  The average years of schooling of the dead and the injured was around 10 years compared with only 5.8 years for the missing with whom 74 percent having only primary education or less.
As for occupation, 55 percent of the missing, 43 percent of the wounded and 25 percent of the dead were blue collar workers, such as wage labourers, petty traders and street vendors.  Eighteen percent of the wounded had their own business; and 16 percent of the missing were unemployed.  For those who were not working but studying, the highest proportion was found among the dead (16 percent) whereas it accounted only 8 and 5 percent for the injured and the missing respectively.
Over 85 percent of the victims had their workplace or school located in Bangkok.  The majority of the casualties also had their domicile in Bangkok; that is, 61 percent for the wounded, 41 percent for the dead and 45 percent for the missing.  For those whose domicile was outside Bangkok, most of them were from the Northeastern part of Thailand.
The above data indicate that the victims of the May Event were mostly male single labourer in their working age.  In other words, they were low-income persons.  That is, most victims were not the 'middle-class' whose majority comprised the mass rally, as the papers dubbed them 'mobile-phone mob' or 'yoghurt mob'. However, it is noticeable that percentage of the 'middle-class' among the injured was higher than that among the dead and the missing.  Then it seems that some 'middle-class' were willing to be hurt but not to die for their cause.
4.2 The Causes of the Violence
Obviously a very large number of the injured -- 670 cases -- points out an intense degree of violence occurred in the May Event.  The Violence stemmed from 2 causes. First, the decision of the authority to use the 'Phan Piree Pinart (Enemy Destroyed Plan)' to disperse the peaceful rally.  Such plan allowed the military and police forces to use lethal weapons to suppress the protesters. Second, the lack of medical unit preparation to cope with the riot situation.  According to the seminar on the preparation of field medical unit for city riot held by the Mahidol University Hotline Centre on June 15, 1992, the major problems which hindered the rescue of the wounded were as follows:
* An order by Interior Ministry prohibited all hospitals under the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to send out medical unit and personnel to rescue the injured outside the hospitals.
* The lack of safety for the medical personnel as seen in one incident when policemen fired at Siriraj Hospital's ambulance to obstruct the rescue operation.  The worst incident was when several doctors who worked at the emergency unit set up in the Royal Hotel's lobby was beaten up by soldiers even though they had already shown their physician I.D. card. Such violent actions completely violate international principles that highly regard the safety of the medical unit, even in the battle field it must be honoured by adversary's side.
4.3 How the Protesters are Injured
Information from the Public Welfare Department's report3 on the 124 cases of the injured victim in the May Event shows that:
* The injured were harmed by two major means, namely shot (80 cases), beaten up (37 cases), and other means (7 cases) such as shrapnel, gasoline scald, barbed wire cut.
* Most shot victims were shot at their legs (19 cases), while the beaten-up were mostly hit at their heads (10 cases). Three victims were severely hit until they became unconscious.
The above picture of the injured reflects the inhumanity of the authority who saw their fellow Thai protesters as enemies who deserved to be cracked down violently by military forces.   Wounded legs, to some extent, point out that people were shot when they tried to run away from the suppression scene.  According to epidemiological study4, 18.6 percent of the wounded were just standing still before they were shot.  This shows that the protesters were unarmed civilians who rallied peacefully.  Moreover, the crack-down scene shows that the firing range was unlimited; soldiers fired into the crowd at random.  This is why as high as 23.7 percent of the wounded were not pro-democracy protesters, but people who were on the way home, who were just driving past by, on who went out for dinner.
4.4 When, Where, and How the Dead were Killed
The study of autopsy reports of 39 victims by the working group led by Doctor Withoon Ungpraphan5, which was one of special tasks of the Mahidol Hotline Centre, revealed that:
On May 18, 1992
16 Victims were killed in the early morning, among this.
12 died on the way to the hospitals.
4 died in the hospitals.
They were mostly shot in the back, while running away.
On May 19,1992
16 Victims were killed, among this.
12 died on the way to the hospitals.
4 died in the hospitals.
They were mostly shot in their head and neck at long range possibly by sharpshooter soldiers.
After May 19, 1992
7 Victims were killed. among this:
4 died in the hospitals.
3 bodies were found and sent to the hospitals.
Sixty nine percent of the dead died before reaching the hospitals.
All victims were shot dead by lethal weapons.  The autopsy reports indicated that 25 victims were shot by high-speed M16S, 3 by automatic gun.  And at least 2 victims were shot at point-blank range: one right in the forehead, the other around the waist in the back.
3 Listing of the injured who claimed financial assistance from the Government, unpublished document, Department of Public Welfare, Ministry of Interior.
4 The House Medical Doctors from Seven Institutions, An Epidemiological Study  on the Dead and the Injured who Received Medical Treatment in Hospitals due to Pro-Democratic Demonstration during 17-20 May 1992, unpublished manuscript, June 1992.
5 Withoon Ungpraphan, A Study on Autopsy Reports from the Dead Occurring Because of the May 1992 Incident, unpublished manuscript, July 1992.

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