(New York) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces targeted a school and a hospital in renewed attacks, Human Rights Watch said today. Deliberate attacks on civilian structures are war crimes.

Family photo of police medic Capt. Sineenath Kongput, who was seriously wounded in a car bombing in Thepa district, Songkhla province,  Thailand, on January 8, 2019.  

© Private

On the morning of January 8, insurgents detonated a bomb outside Thairath Wittaya School 52 in Pattani province’s Yarang district, severely wounding a 12-year-old student, Nuriman Naesae, and a soldier assigned to guard the school. The same day, insurgents detonated a car bomb in Songkhla province’s Thepa district, seriously wounding a police medic, Capt. Sineenath Kongput. Thai authorities alleged that insurgents under the command of Bukhori Lamso were responsible for the attack.

“Insurgents in southern Thailand attack schools and medical clinics to maim and terrify Buddhist civilians, control the Muslim population, and discredit Thai authorities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Whatever the rationale, targeting civilians is morally indefensible and a war crime.”

Insurgents in southern Thailand attack schools and medical clinics to maim and terrify Buddhist civilians, control the Muslim population, and discredit Thai authorities.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On December 28, 2018, insurgents stormed Kalisa Hospital in Narathiwat province’s Ra-Ngae district, and used it as a stronghold to attack a nearby government security post. Before retreating, the insurgents tied up a doctor and other hospital staff.

Since the outbreak of armed insurgency in January 2004, ethnic Malay Muslim insurgents affiliated with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) have targeted numerous schools, killing and wounding students, teachers, and other education personnel. The insurgents consider school officials to be symbolic of the Thai Buddhist state’s occupation of Malay Muslim territory. They have frequently targeted security personnel assigned to provide students and teachers safe passage to and from school, or protecting the school grounds.

Public health services in the southern border provinces – where the number of doctors and nurses per capita is among the lowest in Thailand – have also been affected by the violence. The Public Health Ministry has reported that more than 100 public health volunteers and hospital staff have been killed and injured since 2004, and at least 28 community health centers burned down or bombed. Many community health centers have reduced their working hours and started closing their gates early to avoid attacks by insurgents after dark. Doctors have become less willing to visit patients outside hospitals, leaving public health work in the villages to paramedics and public health volunteers.

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. Anyone who commits serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent is responsible for war crimes.

There is no justification under international law for insurgents’ claims that attacks on civilians are lawful because the victims 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 Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces.

At the same time, Thai government security forces and militias commit violations of the laws of war and international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture cannot be justified as reprisals for insurgent attacks.

This situation has been exacerbated by an entrenched culture of impunity for abuses by officials in the southern border provinces. The government has yet to successfully prosecute any officials for crimes against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency. Human rights defenders and lawyers have faced intimidation, threats, and criminal libel charges after alleging abuses by Thai security forces.

“Violence has disrupted the lives of ordinary people in southern Thailand in almost every way,” Adams said. “Both insurgents and government forces have cited unlawful attacks and lack of accountability to justify carrying out more abuses. This vicious cycle of atrocity and retaliation needs to stop.”