(New York) - Two years after the Thai army raid on Krue Se mosque in Pattani, which left 32 insurgents and three Thai security officers dead, the government has yet to initiate criminal investigations into the events, Human Rights Watch said today.
An independent judicial inquiry into the events at Krue Se and 10 other armed clashes the same day is necessary to provide justice for the victims of human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. This would also address the wider problem of impunity for government forces in the south, and function as a confidence-building measure for the Muslim community.
“The Krue Se raid stands as testament to the failure of Thailand’s leaders to make justice a priority in the south,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities have ignored the recommendation of the fact-finding commission to start judicial proceedings against those responsible.”
On April 28, 2004 Islamic insurgents launched well-planned and almost simultaneous pre-dawn attacks on 11 government locations and security checkpoints in Pattani, Yala and Songkhla provinces in southern Thailand. Thai authorities reported that 107 insurgents and five members of the security forces had been killed. These were the bloodiest clashes since a new wave of separatist insurgency was launched in Thailand’s Muslim-dominated region in January 2004.
Viewers in Thailand and abroad watched a live broadcast from Tambon Tanyongluloh in Pattani province, where assailants attacked a police and military checkpoint and then seized Krue Se mosque. The army and police surrounded the mosque and made various attempts to enter it, but were met with gunfire. Tear gas was used to no avail. Finally, after a nine-hour siege, the army launched a final attack. All insurgents inside the mosque were killed.
A commission appointed by the government found that the violence was started by the insurgents, but that security officials acting under the orders of Gen. Pallop Pinmanee had used excessive force and heavy weapons disproportionate to the threat posed by the assailants. The commission, citing United Nations standards for the use of force and firearms, concluded that, “Because the deaths of the insurgents were inflicted by actions of state officials who claimed they were fulfilling their official duties, the process of verifying this must be conducted through the justice system.”
Human Rights Watch has obtained an unabridged copy of the July 2004 “Independent Commission of Enquiry into Facts about the Krue Se Mosque Case” – only a censored version of the report had been released to the public. The report names the responsible military and police officials at the scene. In addition to the above, it concluded that:
- All those killed in the mosque were insurgents and none were “innocent”.
- The security officials were faced with a highly dangerous and volatile situation, but were not properly trained or prepared to handle such an incident.
- The insurgents were not as heavily armed as the military claimed.
- The crowd of civilians that gathered near the standoff at the mosque did not pose a threat to security officials.
- Gen. Pallop had ignored a directive from Chavalit to resolve the situation by surrounding the mosque and entering into negotiations.
The commission noted that “the tactic of laying siege to the mosque, surrounding it with security forces, in tandem with the use of negotiation with the assailants, could have ultimately led to their surrender.”
After the raid, Gen. Pallop was ordered by Deputy Prime Minister Yongchaiyudh to leave the south immediately, for disobeying orders not to storm the mosque. He subsequently tendered his resignation, but Chavalit and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra rejected the offer. Gen. Pallop remains on active duty as the Deputy Commander of the International Security Operations Command. No military or police official has been disciplined or prosecuted for the events at Krue Se or elsewhere on April 28, 2004.
“The report is a serious and balanced description of events, though because of political pressure it was overly cautious in determining individual responsibility for abuses,” said Adams. “The report called for justice to be done to help repair relations with the local population. This has not happened.” The report offered no opinion about the veracity of widespread allegations that security forces executed some insurgents who had survived the final government assault on the mosque. Human Rights Watch said it is particularly important that an independent judicial inquiry address this issue.
When the commission’s report was released, the prime minister said mistakes needed to be used as “a lesson” to avoid making the same mistakes again. “The Krue Se incident could be taken as a lesson in training our officials to look for more peaceful methods,” Thaksin said. Yet he also said he would not blame officials in charge under such tense circumstances, sending a signal that officials should not undertake serious investigations. Lessons were not learned quickly enough. On October 25, 2004, Thai security forces brutally cracked down on demonstrators in Tak Bai district, Narathiwat province. Seven protesters were shot dead, and at least 78 others were suffocated or crushed to death as they were being detained and transferred to detention facilities.
Human Rights Watch also pointed out that although there were 11 armed clashes in three provinces that day, the Thai government has only appointed a commission to investigate the Krue Se incident. There have been no investigations into the scores of deaths in the other 10 cases, to establish the responsibility of the insurgents or the government for possible abuses.
Lawyers for relatives of the insurgents told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors have used delaying tactics to avoid serious investigations or bringing charges against military and other officials. Soldiers and police officers summoned in civil suits have not appeared, claiming that they had to work on other assignments or had been relocated to other provinces. Public prosecutors have delayed proceedings, using excuses such as not having documents ready.
In an attempt at reconciliation, the government has offered compensation to the families of all who died at Krue Se, including the insurgents. Human Rights Watch commended this move, but pointed out that compensation was not a substitute for serious investigations and appropriate prosecutions. Many state officials – in Bangkok and in the southern border provinces – have suggested to Human Rights Watch that financial compensation is sufficient.
“If crimes have been committed, financial compensation alone does not equal justice,” said Adams. “There is now a widespread frustration among Muslim communities in southern Thailand that the security forces can operate with impunity and that the authorities try to buy their way out of legal accountability.”
To avoid a repetition of the events at Krue Se, Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to ensure proper adherence to and training in the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials – which require, whenever the use of force is unavoidable, that law enforcement officials act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense with an objective to minimize damage and injury.
After the Krue Se incident, in 2004 the Thai National Security Council published a list of measures it said should be taken to address the resentment in the south against injustice and human rights abuses by Thai authorities. They conceded that government abuses were among the factors fueling an increasingly brutal insurgency in the southern border provinces. Militants have carried out a string of bombings, the beheading of Buddhists, attacks on teachers and civil servants and arson of schools.
Among the measures were:
- State officials must endeavor in any way they can to build trust among the locals and officials, and among the locals themselves. They should encourage people from different religions to live together in peace. They should revamp the bureaucratic system in the region and include mechanisms to facilitate the understanding of the differences in ideas, religion and culture in the area.
- The state must ensure that it will provide security as well as justice for the people in the area.
- In particular, state officials must treat suspects or anyone connected with criminal proceedings in a fair and transparent manner.
- Officials who are problematic must be removed or transferred.
- The state must give clear progress reports to the public on cases that are related to the problems in the south, such as that of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit.
- Victims from the violence, be they state officials or local citizens, must be compensated by the state.
“The Thai National Security Council’s proposals are very sensible,” said Adams. “It is time for them to be implemented.”