(New York) – Alleged separatist insurgents detonated a bomb in southern Thailand outside a school that killed a man and his daughter, Human Rights Watch said today. The deliberate attack on the school, a civilian structure, amounts to a war crime and denies children their right to education.
On the morning of September 6, 2016, apparent insurgents detonated a 20-kilogram bomb hidden in a motorcycle in front of Taba School in Tak Bai district in Narathiwat province. The blast occurred as parents were dropping off their children. Mayeng Wobah and his 4-year-old daughter, Mitra Wobah, died instantly. The blast also wounded at least 10 civilians, including teachers, parents, and police officers directing traffic. Thai authorities alleged that insurgents under the command of Romli Jehyi were responsible for the attack.
“Those responsible for bombing a school just as parents were dropping off their children showed incomprehensible brutality,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Calling this a war crime does not fully convey the harm done to the victims or the far-reaching impact such attacks have on children in the region.”
A peace dialogue between the Thai government and separatist groups under the umbrella of Majlis Syura Patani (Mara Patani) resumed on September 2. However, insurgents affiliated with Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-Coordinate) have not ceased attacks on civilians.
Human Rights Watch’s research has found that since the escalation of armed insurgency in January 2004, the BRN-Coordinate has targeted schools, teachers and other education personnel, which they consider symbolic of the Thai Buddhist state’s control of ethnic Malay Muslim territory.
More than 200 schools have been burned down or targeted in bomb attacks over the past twelve years of the armed conflict. At least 182 teachers have been killed, sometimes in their classrooms. Insurgents have also frequently ambushed Thai government security patrols trying to escort teachers and students safely to and from their schools. These attacks constitute serious violations of the laws of war, and may amount to war crimes.
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, prohibit attacks on civilians and civilian objects or attacks that fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians. Under the laws of war, police officers engaged in directing traffic and other ordinary policing functions are civilians. There is no justification under international law for 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. Of the more than 6,000 people killed in the ongoing conflict since 2004, approximately 90 percent have been civilians in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla.
Human Rights Watch has urged the Thai government to join the 55 countries that have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration – a voluntary commitment to take concrete actions to better protect students, teachers, and schools during armed conflicts.
This year’s United Nations secretary-general’s report on children in armed conflict noted the unlawful attacks in Thailand’s southern border provinces, but did not specifically list the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate as an abuser. 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. To help protect children in Thailand’s armed conflict, the secretary-general should immediately put BRN-Coordinate on the list of abusers.
Human Rights Watch also remains deeply concerned by violations of international human rights law and the laws of war by Thai government security forces and militias. Killings, enforced disappearances, and torture by officials cannot be justified as reprisals for insurgent attacks on the ethnic Thai Buddhist population and security personnel. This situation has been reinforced by an entrenched culture of impunity for human rights violations by officials in the southern border provinces. The government has yet to successfully prosecute any officials for human rights abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.
“Unlawful attacks and lack of accountability have become a common justification by both insurgents and Thai security forces to carry out more abuses,” Adams said. “This vicious cycle of atrocity and retaliation should immediately be brought to an end.”