For Immediate Release
Thailand: Stop Threatening Activists in the South
Government Should Keep Promise to Promote Justice and Human Rights
NEW YORK - The Thai military should immediately end the intimidation of human
rights defenders in the southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch
said today. Growing reports of abuses and illegal tactics by the
security forces seriously undermine the credibility of Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has vowed to bring justice to the
Early in the morning of February 8, 2009, about 20 soldiers and
police raided the office of the Working Group for Peace and Justice
(WGPJ) in Pattani province and intimidated personnel. WGPJ is a
nongovernmental organization that reports on human rights abuses in the
southern border provinces, including arbitrary detention, enforced
disappearances, and torture.
Since the outbreak of violence in Thailand's southern border
provinces in January 2004, a number of human rights defenders have been
arrested, tortured, "disappeared," and murdered, allegedly by the
security forces. None of these cases have been successfully
investigated to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Thai security forces are using violence and intimidation to stop
human rights defenders from exposing abuses," said Elaine Pearson,
deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "To fulfill its own
commitment, the government should protect human rights defenders,
investigate attacks against them, and punish the offenders."
The February 8 raid was carried out under the command of Lt. Col.
Pravej Sudhiprapha from Pattani Taskforce 23. Soldiers and police
arrived in three pickup trucks and searched the group's office.
According to two WGJP volunteers who were at the office that morning,
Pravej stated that the search was authorized under martial law based on
intelligence reports that separatist militants had been seen in the
area. Security forces told the volunteers to show their ID cards and
interrogated them about their activities, particularly how they
documented abuses and how they contacted victims.
Security forces ordered the volunteers to provide the login
passwords of the group's computers. After taking photos of documents
and materials found in the office, the officers then spent a long time
inspecting data inside the computers, which contained details about
abuse victims, witnesses, and other sensitive information.
The recent raid undercuts Prime Minister Abhisit's policy statement
on December 30, 2008, that justice and human rights will be integral to
resolution of the conflict in the southern border provinces. Continuing
abuses by government forces in the south also are being used by
insurgents to fuel their movement.
The group's chairperson, Angkhana Neelapaijit, told Human Rights
Watch she believed the military might be targeting her group because it
has played a central role in reporting on human rights cases in
Thailand's southern border provinces to the United Nations and
international human rights organizations. In March 2004, her husband,
the well-known Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, was abducted and
murdered after he exposed a number of cases of torture committed by
police in the southern border provinces.
"This [recent] incident does not just intimidate our staff and
volunteers," Angkhana said. "Many victims and witnesses are now worried
that they will soon be identified, tracked down, and pressured by the
military to keep their mouth shut."
According to a Bangkok Post article, titled "ISOC warns of militant plots" (February 7, 2009: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/11186/isoc-warns-of-militant-plots),
the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, which
supervises counterinsurgency operations in the southern border
provinces, warned at an interagency meeting on February 6 that,
"militants may take the opportunity to disguise themselves as rights
activists in order to incite hatred against officials or distort
information to create misunderstanding about security operations among
locals." Human Rights Watch said such reports promote the widespread
perception among members of the security forces that human rights
defenders are their enemies.
"Hostility toward human rights defenders is being promoted through
misinformation and unproven allegations circulated by the military's
propaganda machines," said Pearson. "But the government and the
military should understand that human rights defenders help fill in the
gaps in counterinsurgency and peacebuilding efforts."
Although the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC)
was established in 2006 to help investigate and take action against
complaints about corrupt, abusive, or inept government officials, its
redress mechanisms for victims are unable to function independently
because of interference from the army. At the same time, the military's
internal investigation mechanisms are known to be used to cover up and
distract public attention from abuses.
Human Rights Watch said that special laws creating an environment
conducive to human rights violations without fear of punishment should
be revoked. By using extensive powers of the Decree on Government
Administration in Emergency Situations (Emergency Decree), security
forces in the southern border provinces are not subject to civil,
criminal, or disciplinary liabilities arising from their actions.
The separatist Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani (Patani Freedom Fighters)
in the loose network of Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinas (National
Revolution Front-Coordinate or BRN-Coordinate) has used state-sponsored
abuses and heavy-handed tactics to justify their campaign of violence
and terror. In recent weeks, militants have carried out beheadings,
shootings, and bomb attacks across the southern border provinces as
reprisals for Thai security forces' alleged extrajudicial killings of
community and religious leaders. The number of attacks by militants and
security forces is on the rise again.
"Relying on repressive measures and restrictions on fundamental
human rights, Thai authorities have created a fertile ground for the
insurgency to expand," said Pearson. "Prime Minister Abhisit should act
quickly to overhaul a counterinsurgency strategy that encourages
abuses, impose effective civilian control over the army, and provide
effective redress for victims of abuses."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.