(New York) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces should immediately end deadly attacks oncivilians, Human Rights Watch said today.
In February 2013 alone, insurgents have committed several deliberate attacks on civilians that amount to war crimes. On February 10, insurgents fired assault rifles at ethnic Thai Buddhist villagers in Pattani province’s Nong Jik district, wounding four, including a 4-year-old girl. On February 5, insurgents in Krong Penang district of Yala province stormed the hut of four Thai Buddhist fruit traders, tied them up, and fatally shot them point-blank in the head and body with assault rifles and pistols. On February 1, insurgents attacked a group of Thai Buddhist rice farmers in Pattani province’s Yaring district, killing two and seriously wounding 10 others.
“There is no possible justification for shooting civilians point-blank with assault rifles,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The insurgents’ vicious campaign of violence and terror against teachers and the civilian population both violates international law and undermines their cause.”
Human Rights Watch expressed heightened concern about new abuses. After a failed attack on a Thai military camp in Narathiwat province on February 13 that left dead insurgent commander Maroso Chantrawadee and 15 other militants, the insurgents issued a written warning against Thai Buddhist teachers and other civilians to avenge their losses. The leaflets, found in Narathiwat’s Bacho district on February 14 said, “We will retaliate in every way for our losses. … From now on, we will attack and kill Buddhist Thai teachers and Buddhist Thai people. We will attack Buddhist Thai community...One Muslim life must be repaid with 10 Buddhist Thai lives.”
Since last December, insurgents have murdered three teachers from government-run schools in Pattani and Narathiwat provinces in front of their students. In response to the insurgent attacks, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung proposed to enforce a curfew in all areas where insurgents are active. While the security problems in Thailand’s southern region are very serious, imposing a broad curfew may create an environment that facilitates abuses by state security forces, Human Rights Watch said. Existing laws, including martial law and the emergency decree enforced in the southern border provinces since 2005, have led to insufficient government control over counter-insurgency operations and inadequate legal avenues for victims of abuses to gain redress.
“Any government curfew should be strictly limited and outline concrete safeguards against abuses,” Adams said. “A broad-reaching, open-ended policy to restrict freedom of movement may worsen the situation on the ground and alienate the Muslim population.”
Since January 2004, Thailand's southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have been the scene of an armed conflict in which civilians have frequently been targeted. Of more than 5,000 people killed, about 90 percent have been civilians from both the ethnic Thai Buddhist and ethnic Malay Muslim populations.
The Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani insurgents in the loose network of BRN-Coordinate (National Revolution Front-Coordinate) are guided by a combination of extremist ethnic Malay nationalism and Islamist ideologies. They assert that Thailand’s southern border provinces should be liberated from ethnic Thai Buddhists to create what they call Patani Darulsalam (Islamic Land of Patani). The insurgents use a campaign of violence and terror to oppose what they contend is an ethnic Thai Buddhist occupation. In this context, they do not tolerate the presence of the non-ethnic Malay Muslim population, and aim to drive out all Thai Buddhists, keep Malay Muslims under control, and discredit the Thai authorities.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned laws-of-war violations by the separatist insurgents in the southern border provinces. The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, prohibits attacks on civilians or attacks that fail to discriminate between military personnel and civilians. Claims by insurgents that attacks on civilians are lawful because they are part of the Thai Buddhist state or that Islamic law as they interpret it permits such attacks has no justification under international law.
The laws of war also prohibit reprisal attacks and summary executions against civilians and captured combatants, mutilation of the dead, and attacks directed at civilians and civilian structures such as schools. Since the escalation of their military operations in January 2004, the insurgents have committed numerous such violations.
Violations of human rights law and the laws of war by government security forces and militias remains a grave concern. Killings, enforced disappearances, and torture cannot be justified because they are in reprisal for insurgent attacks on Thai Buddhist civilians and security personnel. Such violations have been exacerbated by a culture of impunity for security personnel implicated in abuses in the southern border provinces. The government has yet to successfully prosecute any officials or security force personnel for human rights violations against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.
“The government has promised to hold its forces accountable, but it continues to shield troops and police in the south from criminal responsibility,” Adams said. “This will just boost extremism by the separatist insurgents and deepen the cycle of atrocities.”