(Bangkok) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces should immediately end attacks on teachers and other civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Since January 2014, insurgents have killed three ethnic Thai Buddhist teachers in the conflict-ridden region.
“Separatists need to stop attacking those who are educating children,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Separatists in southern Thailand are committing war crimes when they kill and maim teachers and other civilians.”
Under the laws of armed conflict, which are applicable in the fighting between the insurgents and Thai government forces in southern Thailand, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes.Thai authorities should investigate and appropriately punish security forces committing abuses during operations in the south.
On March 20, insurgents shot dead Somsri Tanyakaset, 39, a teacher at Kok Muba Friendship School in Narathiwat province’s Tak Bai district, while she was on her way home. On March 14, insurgents shot 43-year old Siriporn Srichai while she was riding a motorcycle to work at Tabing Tingi Community School in Pattani province’s Mayo district. The assailants then poured gasoline on her body and set it on fire. A leaflet saying, “This attack is in revenge for the killing of innocent people,” was found nearby. On January 14, two days ahead of the National Teacher’s Day, insurgents shot Supakrit Sae Loong of Ban Nibong School in Yala province’s Kabang district while he was riding a motorcycle from school back home.
Separatist forces have killed at least 171 teachers and torched or detonated bombs at more than 300 government-run schools in 10 years of insurgency in the southern border provinces.
The Patani Independence Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani) in the loose network of the separatist National Revolution Front-Coordinate (BRN-Coordinate) have ambushed teachers while traveling to and from their schools, and killed them in their classrooms and lodgings. The insurgents say that they target teachers in retaliation for violence committed by Thai security forces and pro-government militias against ethnic Malay Muslims. Insurgents also attack teachers and government-run schools as a part of their campaign to eradicate symbols of the Thai state and drive the Thai Buddhist population out of what insurgents claim is Malay Muslims land.
During the decade of armed conflict, insurgents have killed more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians. Some insurgent cells have merged with underground cartels involved in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and human trafficking across the Thai-Malaysian border, adding to the thriving criminality in the region.
Insurgents have argued that Islamic law permits attacks on civilians in certain circumstances. However, the laws of war, which are binding on non-state armed groups as well as national armed forces, prohibit all intentional attacks on civilians, including reprisal attacks. The insurgents have also been responsible for other laws-of-war violations, including the summary execution of captured civilians and combatants, mutilation or other mistreatment of the dead, and deliberate attacks on civilian objects, such as schools.
Thai security forces have also been implicated in extrajudicial killings and other abuses against suspected insurgents or their alleged supporters in the ethnic Malay Muslim community. Instead of seriously investigating alleged abuses, the government has repeatedly extended the state of emergency in the south, which provides near-blanket immunity to military personnel and police for actions they take in the line of duty. The use of these extensive powers to shield officials who commit rights violations has generated anger and alienation in the ethnic Malay Muslim community.
The Thai government should launch credible and impartial investigations into alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights law by security personnel from regular and voluntary units in the region. Inquiries by the police and the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center into rights abuses have proceeded very slowly and shown few concrete results. Officials often fail to keep the families of victims apprised of any progress in the investigation, compounding the families’ frustrations. While financial reparations were paid to some victims’ families, offering money to families of victims should not be considered a substitute for justice.
“The government needs to ensure that Thai security forces protect public safety with full respect for human rights,” Adams said. “Shielding abusive security personnel from prosecution will only boost insurgent extremism and intensify the atrocities.”