(New York) – Bombings by alleged separatist insurgents at the largest shopping mall in Thailand’s southern border provinces appear intended to inflict maximum civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said today. The two bombings at a Big C shopping mall in Pattani town used a “double-tap” tactic long employed by separatist armed groups in the restive region. At least 61 people, including children, were injured.
Deliberate insurgent attacks against civilians in Thailand may amount to crimes against humanity.
On May 9, 2017, at about 2:10 p.m., a small bomb detonated near a food court inside the shopping mall, causing many panicked people to run outside into the parking lot. Shortly after, a larger bomb hidden in a parked pickup truck about 40 to 50 meters away from the mall exploded.
“The double bombing of a crowded shopping mall shows a vicious disregard for civilian lives,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Big C attack has all the hallmarks of separatist violence, attacks targeting civilians that may be crimes against humanity. The government should hold all those responsible to account.”
The pickup truck used in the attack was reported stolen earlier in the day. The owner remains missing and there is concern for his safety.
Since the escalation of their armed attacks in January 2004, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) insurgents have committed numerous violations of the laws of war. Of the more than 6,800 people killed in the ongoing armed conflict in Thailand’s southern border provinces, about 90 percent have been civilians from the populations of ethnic Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims.
On April 10, BRN issued a statement opposing a Malaysia-brokered peace dialogue between the Thai government and mostly defunct separatist groups in the loose network of Mara Patani (also known as Majlis Syura Patani).
The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, prohibit 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, have 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 civilian structures, such as schools.
Crimes against humanity consist of specific criminal acts committed on a widespread or systematic basis as part of an “attack on a civilian population,” meaning there is some degree of planning or policy to commit the crimes. Such acts include murder and “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.” International law protects “any” civilian population from attack, and there is no requirement that the victims be linked to any side in an armed conflict.
Liability for the commission of crimes against humanity is not limited to those who carry out the acts, but also those who order, assist, or are otherwise complicit in the crimes. Under the principle of command responsibility, government or armed group leaders can be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates when they knew or should have known that such crimes were being committed, but failed to take reasonable measures to stop them.
Although the insurgents have suffered major setbacks from government security sweeps in recent years, they still maintain a presence in hundreds of ethnic Malay Muslim villages. Insurgents point to abusive, heavy-handed tactics by government security forces to recruit new members to the insurgency and justify their acts of violence.
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 cannot be justified as reprisals for insurgent attacks on the 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 committed against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.
“The Thai government needs to respond to these brutal attacks by upholding the rule of law, ending abuses by its own security forces, and addressing long-held grievances in the ethnic Malay Muslim community,” Adams said. “If the government continues to shield its troops from criminal responsibility, it will only add fuel to extremist violence.”