First doused with gasoline, then set alight, six schools were engulfed in flames in Thailand’s southern province of Pattani on Sunday. Flames consumed textbooks, furniture, classrooms, and dreams. It’s highly unlikely these schools will be repaired in time for the new school term in early November.
Attacks on schools and teachers have become a regular part of the separatist insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces. More than 300 government schools have been attacked in the past decade, and at least 175 teachers, predominately but not exclusively ethnic Thais, have been shot in their classrooms, in their lodgings, or on their way to or from school.
The insurgents have killed more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians, including children. 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.
The Patani Independence Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani) in the loose network of the separatist National Revolution Front-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi, or BRN-C) target schools because they are considered to be a symbol of government authority and Buddhist-Thai culture. Sunday’s attack is thought by the Thai army to be retaliation for a recent raid on a separatist stronghold, in which a brother of BRN-C’s local commander was killed.
Yet it was only in a report this July that for the first time the UN seems to have finally noticed that the BRN-C is committing violations against children, stating that the group continued to recruit and use children. But this annual report on children and armed conflict by the UN secretary-general failed to name the group as also being responsible for attacks on schools and teachers, despite that fact that these reports have referenced attacks on schools in the area by “armed elements” since 2007.
Seven years later, with hundreds of schools attacked and almost two hundred teachers killed, the UN is still not saying what is really happening to teachers’ safety and children’s education in Thailand’s south.
The secretary-general’s annual report is one of the most effective ways that the UN has to push for real improvements in the behavior of parties to armed conflict toward children. The report lists those groups that have been documented committing serious violations of international humanitarian law against children. Once a party to an armed conflict is placed on this list, it triggers increased response from the UN, including intensified engagement by UN agencies in the affected country and potential Security Council sanctions. For government armed forces or non-state armed groups to be removed from the list, the UN must verify that parties have ended the abuses, primarily with time-bound action plans.
It’s critically important for the UN to give the full picture as it reports on abuses against children during war and presses all parties to halt them. How many schools will be torched before Thailand’s children and teachers get the attention they deserve?