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No one may talk about the king and the king's not talking

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya touched the third rail of Thai politics in a speech in Washington on Monday: 

“I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how it would have to reform itself to the modern globalised world,” Kasit Piromya, the foreign minister, told a seminar in the US.

Criticizing the monarchy in Thailand carries some stiff sentences,  and while Kasit wasn't foolhardy enough to go that far, the government is already distancing itself from his comments. 

But the incident also brings up another questions, where has King Bhumibol Adulyadej been for the last few weeks? As the Financial Times reports, his stature has certainly not diminisehd amid the chaos in Bangkok: 

Even the red-shirted anti-government protesters who are presently demonstrating in the streets of Bangkok and who are often criticised by their opponents as a republican fifth column, halt their protests twice a day, at 8am and 6pm, to stand at attention and listen to the royal anthem as it plays over the city-wide public address system.

The king generally reluctant to get involved in politics -- which is a good thing -- but he has occasionally intervened in tims of political crisis. With the crippling protests in Bankok showing no signs of abating and few credible political leaders to help resolve the situation, this might seem like a perfect time for His Majesty to step in. 

The bigger longterm issue, which Kasit seemed to be hinting at, is that that the 82-year-old monarch's health is fading and his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn reportedly doesn't have the same credibility. Given the current state of Thai politics, it might be time to make some institutional changes so that these deus ex machina interventions are no longer necessary. 

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Argentine courts to give Spain a taste of its own medicine

Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzon has made a name for himself by prosecuting human rights abusers around the world -- including former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet -- using universal jurisdiction to get around national amnesties. But Garzon is now himself being charged with abuse of power relating to an investigation of murder's and disappearances under the Franco regime. His supporters are now fighting back:   

Lawyers representing Argentine relatives of three Spaniards and an Argentine killed during the 1936-39 war will ask the federal courts here Wednesday to open an investigation, and hope to add many more cases in the months to come.

So Garzon's supporters now hope to launch the same investigation - citing the same principles of international law - from Buenos Aires. And while Garzon limited the scope to crimes committed until 1952, the Argentine rights groups hope to address any state terror in Spain from 1936-1977, when its democracy was restored.

Attorney Carlos Slepoy, a specialist in human rights law, told The Associated Press the plaintiffs are invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction, which provides that genocide and crimes against humanity "can be prosecuted by the courts of any country.

 

The choice of Argentina is interesting since it was Garzon who led the charge to prosecute military figures there for crimes committed during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

Garzon is currently being charged with violating a 1977 amnesty law designed to help Spain move on from the Franco years. I don't know nearly enough to weigh in on the legal questions involved here, but politically it doesn't look very good that Spain was willing to let Garzon prosecute abuses in other countries for years, but became uncomfortable with his tactics as soon as he started poking around in his own country's dirty laundry. This type of challenge should have been expected. 

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