Updates from Southern Thailand is a monthly newsletter produced by the Reclaiming Rights program of Nonviolence International Southeast Asia (NISEA). The newsletter Charged! intends to inform the international community about current news on the conflict and human rights situation in the three southern-most provinces of Thailand – Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.
The origins of the current violence in Southern Thailand lie in historical grievances stemming from discrimination against the ethnic Malay Muslim population and attempts at forced assimilation by successive ethnic Thai Buddhist governments in
Bangkok for almost a century. The Sultanate of Patani which includes present-day Patani, Narathiwat, Yala and parts of Songkhla province was annexed by the Royal Thai government in the early 20th century. Since the annexation, armed groups calling for independence have operated in the region. Their activities have ebbed and flowed over the last 100 years, but with the turn of the 21st century they increased dramatically.
The violence in Thailand’s southern, mainly Malay Muslim provinces has been steadily escalating since early 2004, exacerbated by the disastrously heavy-handed policies of then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. There are several explanations, none mutually exclusive, for why violence has escalated but the most plausible are the disbanding of key government institutions, and the fear and resentment created by arbitrary arrests and police brutality, compounded by government failure to provide justice to victims and families of abuses. Measures by the previous government to curtail militant violence have deteriorated human rights conditions within the region as indiscriminate processes of investigating acts of violence helped transform single incidences of violence into an expanding web of violence and retribution.
A state of emergency was declared in July 2005 which has had dire consequences on the human rights situation in the 3 provinces. The decree allows for detention without charge or trial for up to 30 days and legal immunity from prosecution for law enforcement officers. Under the emergency decree, hundreds of people have been arrested as suspected militants completely stripped of all their rights. Some have been detained without access to lawyers or their families and are kept in secret locations. Allegations of torture have surfaced and people continue to disappear. The military also admitted using blacklists of people to be killed.
Civilians increasingly fall victim to this web of violence between militants and security forces. Security forces are no longer able to protect civilians and have themselves become perpetrators of violence and human rights violations. The numerous forms of abuses faced by civilians in the South highlight the need for human rights defenders to provide legal assistance and help victims seek redress. The same forces that put average citizens at risk also restrict the work of human rights defenders and place them in danger. The National Reconciliation Commission, established to explore possible measures to bring the violence to an end, had the crucial function of lending credibility and backing to human rights work by operating as a buffer, building confidence between the state and people. Yet, as a result of their role some of the staff has been accused of supporting militants.
Most of these human rights abuses remain hidden from the public view. Due to the sensitivity of the issues and the actors involved, media coverage of human rights violations is limited or skewed. The larger international community remains unaware of the depth of state abuses committed in the region. Human rights defenders at risk do not have a medium to raise issues of concern and mobilize support and protection. Yet as the conflict has reached a new threshold with entire displaced communities and indeterminate closures of schools, international scrutiny ensuring human rights are protected and rule of law is respected within southern
Thailand is crucial in curtailing the web of violence.