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Thai crime scene investigators inspect the site of a bomb explosion in Yala, southern Thailand, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. ©2020 AP Photo
(Bangkok) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand unlawfully targeted civilians in a bomb attack outside the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC) in Yala province, Human Rights Watch said today. At least 25 people were injured in a “double-tap” bombing, a tactic long employed by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist group.

On the morning of March 17, 2020, a small bomb detonated in front of the SBPAC while officials were meeting regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. The explosion caused no casualties but immediately drew reporters, onlookers, and security personnel to the scene. Then, a second, larger bomb hidden in a pickup truck nearby exploded at about 10:30 a.m., injuring at least 25 people, mostly onlookers and reporters. The blast damaged the administrative building and private and government vehicles parked in the area.

“A ‘double-tap’ bombing outside a government building has no aim but to cause the greatest loss of human life,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “In carrying out this attack during a meeting to address COVID-19, separatist insurgents have again demonstrated cruel disregard for the lives of all civilians.”

This bombing was the first time insurgents targeted the SBPAC, an inter-governmental agency that coordinates civilian affairs, public administration, and humanitarian work in the restive region. The attack appeared to be a response to a dialogue between the Thai government and moderate BRN leaders in early March to establish the foundation for a peace process. Radical separatist elements considered the dialogue a tacit departure from the BRN’s goal to liberate Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces from the Thai state.

International humanitarian law or the laws of war, applicable in Thailand’s southern border provinces, protects civilians and civilian structures from attack. Government agencies not participating in military operations are civilian objects, and not subject to attack under the laws of war.

Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians are war crimes. All those responsible for planning, ordering, or carrying out such attacks should be appropriately brought to justice.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned the numerous laws-of-war violations by the BRN in the southern border provinces over the past 16 years. Of the more than 7,000 people killed in the ongoing armed conflict, about 90 percent have been civilians from the populations of ethnic Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims in the Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces.

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. 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.

“The Thai government should thoroughly investigate the attack on the SBPAC and bring all those responsible to justice in compliance with human rights law,” Adams said. “As long as Thai security forces are shielded from criminal responsibility and long-held grievances in the ethnic Malay Muslim community are ignored, the insurgents will use the situation to try to justify unlawful attacks.”

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