Thailand: Protect Students, Teachers, Schools in South

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Thailand: Protect Students, Teachers, Schools in South

Both Insurgents and Government Forces Undermining Children’s Education

BANGKOK - Separatist attacks on teachers and schools and the government's use
of schools as military bases are greatly harming the education of
children in Thailand's southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch
said in a report released today.

The 111-page report, "'Targets of Both Sides': Violence Against Students, Teachers, and Schools in Thailand's Southern Border Provinces,"
details how ethnic Malay Muslim insurgents, who view the government
educational system as a symbol of Thai state oppression, have threatened
and killed teachers, burned and bombed government schools, and spread
terror among students and their parents.

The insurgents have also used Islamic schools to indoctrinate and
recruit students into their movement. At the same time, Thai army and
paramilitary forces are disrupting education and placing students at
unnecessary risk of insurgent attack by occupying schools for long
periods as bases for their counterinsurgency operations.

"The insurgents' practice of shooting teachers and burning schools
shows incredible depravity," said Bede Sheppard, senior Asia researcher
for children's rights at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
"It's cruel and immoral and robs children of their education and their
future."

The report is based on Human Rights Watch visits to 19 schools in
Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces, and interviews with more than
90 people, including children, parents, teachers, security forces,
members of the insurgency, and local officials.
The vast majority of teachers and other education personnel
killed by the insurgents have been ethnic Thai Buddhists. Insurgents are
suspected in the killing of at least 108 government teachers and 27
other education personnel in the southern border provinces since January
2004. Another 103 teachers and 19 education personnel have been
wounded. So far in 2010 alone, 14 government teachers have been killed.

Ethnic Malay Muslims have also been attacked. Insurgents have
targeted Malay Muslim teachers at government schools and Islamic school
administrators who resist insurgents' efforts to use classrooms for
indoctrination and recruiting.

Insurgents have also bombed and set fire to schools, usually during
evening hours. There have been at least 327 arson attacks on government
schools in southern Thailand since January 2004.

As part of its counterinsurgency operations, the Thai government has
increased the number of military and paramilitary forces deployed in the
south. To accommodate these troops in potentially hostile areas, the
government has frequently established camps inside school buildings and
school compounds. Such occupations, which often are not in response to a
direct threat on a specific school, may last for several years.

"While school security might require the presence of government
forces near schools, there are many disturbing instances of troops using
schools for extended counterinsurgency activities," Sheppard said. "The
government shouldn't interfere with children's education just because
it wants somewhere convenient to set up military camps."

These long-term occupations cause immense disruption to students and
should be prohibited when it would interfere with children's right to an
education, Human Rights Watch said. Many parents remove their children
from occupied schools out of fear that the camp will put the students at
risk of attack from the insurgents, or that children, particularly
girls, will be harassed by the security forces. Students who drop out of
an occupied school have to bear the risk and expense of traveling to
alternative schools farther away from their homes, and their presence
can cause overcrowding in receiving schools.

Security forces have also conducted numerous raids and searches for
suspected insurgents and weapons at Islamic schools. On some occasions,
they have made mass arbitrary arrests of students, or the raids have
turned violent, endangering students and teachers.

"Being a teacher in southern Thailand sadly means putting yourself on
the front lines of conflict," Sheppard said. "Separatist leaders need
to end attacks on teachers and schools, while the government should stop
using schools as long-term military bases and conducting mass arrests
at Islamic schools. These practices harm children and create further
grievances for the insurgents to exploit."

Background

Human rights in Thailand's southern border provinces of
Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have eroded steadily as a result of an
increasingly brutal separatist insurgency, which has claimed more than
4,100 lives since it resumed in January 2004. The militants have
committed widespread abuses, including targeted killings and numerous
bombings against civilians. In response, the Thai government has imposed
special security legislation and increased the number of regular and
paramilitary troops to around 30,000 in the region. Thai security forces
have carried out extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances,
arbitrary arrests, and torture of people alleged to be involved with
separatist groups.

Testimony from children and parents:

"[My] students were affected the moment they learned that I was shot...
[They] all broke out in tears, asking, ‘Who shot the teacher?' Many came
to visit me in the hospital and cried when they saw I was shot."
- A teacher who taught at a government school until he was shot by insurgents in 2009

"I had nothing against the soldiers when they were outside the
school... But when they moved into the school, I feared there would be
an attack on the school, so ... I withdrew my children... [I]f there was
a hit on the grounds the children would be hit... There was no
separation between the school and the soldiers' quarters... [Also] the
soldiers brew and drink kratom [an illegal herbal narcotic], and I was
afraid my children might be encouraged to drink it."
- The mother of a boy, 7, and a girl, 11, whose school compound had been partially occupied by government paramilitary forces

"I am afraid of [the soldiers], because the soldiers are very touchy.
They love to hold the children, and that's okay for the boys, but for
girls we can't allow men to touch our body. And I am not happy when the
soldiers ask whether I have any older sisters and ask for their phone
numbers."
- A 10-year-old girl who attends an occupied school

"I felt sad for the loss of the books and computers, because I like
reading books.... [After the fire] we had to study outside. I didn't
like studying outside [because] it's hot and noisy. I couldn't
concentrate."
- A 7-year-old student whose school was burned in 2010

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