Thai authorities should promptly and transparently investigate a spate of killings of Malay Muslims in the southern provinces. The government's failure to prosecute those responsible for such killings has fed a deadly cycle of reprisal attacks by alleged government forces and secessionist insurgents. Since May 2013 at least six Malay Muslims, some suspected insurgents, have been killed by gunmen possibly linked to the security forces.
The killing in southern Thailand goes on but officials do little to bring those responsible to justice, especially when the victim is a Malay Muslim. The failure to prosecute these killings is interpreted in Muslim communities as a government attempt to cover up for the security forces and protect them from criminal responsibility.
On August 14, gunmen killed Abdulrofa Putaen, a prominent Malay Muslim teacher and leader, in Yarang district, Pattani province. Authorities in the past had accused him of taking part in the separatist insurgency and having close ties to the separatist Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C) movement. Abdulrofa told his family and friends that he was fearful for his life, especially after the killing of his wife's uncle, Isma-ae Pa-omanee, an Islamic religious teacher in the same village, on June 25.
There have been several other recent killings of Malay Muslims who had previously been charged with insurgency-related offences. On July 27, gunmen shot and killed Islamic religious teacher Ahama Dorloh in front of his house in Yala province's Betong district. On May 10, gunmen armed with AK-102 assault rifles - standard weapons of the Interior Ministry's Volunteer Defence Corps militia - shot and killed suspected insurgent Lukman Dorloh and his 12-year-old brother, Muhammadpusao Dorloh, as they were travelling in a pickup truck in Pattani province's Kapo district.
The victims' families and communities, together with local human rights groups, have called on the Thai authorities to investigate these cases and hold perpetrators to account.
These killings have prompted fears among the Thai Buddhist population about possible retaliatory attacks by insurgents. On August 19, insurgents shot and killed Athikom Tiwong, a teacher from the government-run Ban Prajan school in Pattani province's Muang district, as he was travelling on his motorcycle along the Pattani-Yala highway. Leaflets were found at the scene linking the attack with Abdulrofa's killing. The leaflets also threatened more attacks against Buddhists to avenge the killing of Malay Muslims.
Successive governments have failed to bring to justice government officials responsible for rights abuses. There have still been no successful criminal prosecutions of any member of the Thai security forces for rights violations in the southern border provinces.
In May 2012, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told Parliament: "To bring back peace, security,and safety to people in the southern border provinces, the government will … ensure that justice is provided fairly and evenly."
Building trust with the Muslim community requires that the government respond to killings with the aim of finding the truth. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said justice is key to ending the killing in the south. Now she should turn her words into action.
In responding to scores of killings over the past nine years, inquiries by the police and the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre have proceeded very slowly and shown little concrete result. Officials often fail to keep the families of victims apprised of any progress in the investigation, compounding the family's frustrations. In some cases, such as that of Abdulrofa, financial reparations were paid to the victims' families. But offering money to families of victims should not be considered a substitute for justice.
The extensive powers and near-blanket immunity provided to state security forces who commit rights violations has generated frustration, alienation and anger in the Malay Muslim community.
The laws of war prohibit attacks against civilians, including reprisals. The insurgents in the loose network of the BRN-C use state-sponsored abuses and heavy-handed counter-insurgency tactics to recruit new members and justify their campaign of violence and terror, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives since January 2004.
Past abuses provide absolutely no justification for retaliatory attacks against civilians. The situation in Thailand's South is a tragic replay of abuses and violence committed by both separatists and Thai security forces.