BANGKOK — Thai officials and rights groups say a former leader of an ethnic Hmong resistance group that fought for the U.S. in Laos during the Vietnam War has been deported to his homeland despite concerns that he will face persecution.
Thai Immigration Police officials said Wednesday that Moua Toua Ter was sent back to Laos on June 13 after being held in Bangkok since March. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.
Moua Toua Ter was part of a CIA-backed Hmong guerrilla army that fought against communists in what was dubbed the “secret war.” After the communist takeover in 1975, he led a rag-tag band of Hmong resisters in the jungles of northern Laos. He fled to Thailand in 2006.
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand deported a former ethnic Hmong resistance leader whose group fought for the U.S. in Laos in the 1960s, Thai officials and rights groups said Wednesday, raising concerns that he will face persecution in his homeland.
Moua Toua Ter and fellow Hmong led a desperate existence on the run in the jungles of Laos for more than two decades. He had been sheltering in Thailand for eight years while seeking resettlement in a third country.
Officials from Thailand’s Immigration Police told The Associated Press that Moua Toua Ter was returned on June 13, after being held in Bangkok since March last year. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information. Senior Immigration Police officers could not be reached for comment.
Moua Toua Ter was part of a Hmong guerrilla army that fought a CIA-backed “secret war” against communists in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. After the communist takeover in 1975, he led a ragtag band of Hmong resisters hiding in the jungles who feared persecution from the government for supporting the pro-American side during the war.
He fled to Thailand in 2006 after brokering the surrender of 173 women, children and elderly people in his group after repeated attacks from Laotian military forces.
Moua Toua Ter and his people, almost forgotten after the end of the Vietnam War, came to public attention in late 2002 when two journalists working for Time magazine trekked through the jungle to meet his primitively armed, ill-clad and virtually starving group.
More than 300,000 refugees from Laos, mostly Hmong, fled after the communist takeover, with many resettling in the United States, primarily in California, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Thousands stayed behind, some adjusting to the new hard-line regime, and others staying in the jungle.
Although Laos has moved away from a communist system in the past two decades, it retains a one-party political system and its government is intolerant of dissent. There is still uncertainty about how it treats members of its Hmong minority.
“Amnesty International has in the past documented human rights violations against the remnants of a decades long ethnic Hmong insurgency in Laos, of which Moua Toua Ter was one of the leaders. The fate of thousands of Lao Hmong asylum-seekers forcibly returned to Laos from Thailand in the last decade is largely unknown, due to the lack of transparency, denial of access to independent human rights monitors and severe restrictions on freedom of expression,” Rupert Abbott, the group’s deputy director for the Asia Pacific region said.
Activists who have been following his case said Moua Toua Ter had sought refugee status from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and hoped to be resettled in the United States or the Philippines. They asked not to be named to help keep their access to information.
However, Moua Toua Ter’s case was complicated by a manslaughter conviction in Thailand, after he shot dead a Laotian woman in what he claimed was self-defence. His supporters claimed the woman was a Laotian government agent sent to lure him back to Laos. Several opponents of the communist regime in Laos have been killed under mysterious circumstances in Thailand or disappeared on visits to their homeland.
Moua Toua Ter served his sentence in the northern Thai province of Tak until March last year, after which he was transferred to the immigration jail in Bangkok.
The U.S. State Department said then that it was monitoring his case.
The Thai immigration officer who spoke to AP from Nong Khai said that Moua Toua Ter, like others who illegally enter Thailand, was “repatriated through the natural border,” meaning he was sent on a boat across the Mekong River marking the nations’ border.
“Most of the world’s refugees – 86 per cent — live in the developing world, compared to 70 per cent 10 years ago. Most of these countries have kept their doors open to people in search of safety, and have shown a generosity that is often well beyond their means. I appeal to all Member States and our partners in civil society to do their utmost to support the nations and communities that have welcomed the forcibly displaced into their midst..”
Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland on 01 March 1999
UN Photo/UNHCR/R LeMoyne
For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days and even Weeks. One of the most widespread is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on 20 June in several countries.
GENEVA — The number of people displaced by violent conflict hit the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, António Guterres, said in a report released on Friday, warning, “Peace is dangerously in deficit.”
Pushed up dramatically by the war in Syria, the total number of people displaced by violence reached more than 51 million at the end of 2013, according to the agency’s annual Global Trends report. This included 33.3 million people who fled violence but remained in their own country and 16.7 million refugees who fled to neighboring countries, it said.
“We are not facing an increasing trend, we are really facing a quantum leap,” Mr. Guterres told reporters in Geneva, noting that close to 11 million people were newly displaced in 2013. Half the world’s population of displaced people are children, he added, the highest level in a decade.
“There is no humanitarian response able to solve the problems of so many people,” he warned. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to find the capacity and resources to deal with so many people in such tragic circumstances.”
Syrian children at a refugee camp in eastern Lebanon on Thursday.Credit Bilal Hussein/Associated Press
The number of refugees who had fled across borders by the end of 2013 was a fraction of the tens of millions of refugees left at the end of World War II and lower even than in 1993, when conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Mozambique swelled the global refugee population to over 16 million, refugee agency records show.
But when combined with those fleeing to other places within their own countries to escape violence, the total number of displaced people reached a level unprecedented since the war, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency.
The agency looked at records from the wars in Korea, the Middle East, Vietnam and southern Asia and found that “none had comparable levels of displacement” with what the agency is now reporting, Mr. Edwards said.
Alexander Betts, a professor of refugee studies at Oxford University, said in a telephone interview, “It’s certainly an unprecedented number since the end of World War II.” He added that the total reflected shifts in the patterns of conflict and in counting methodologies. In the postwar and Cold War years, when conflicts were largely between states, international agencies counted as refugees only those fleeing across borders.
Internally displaced populations were not counted until the early 1990s, when the United Nations refugee agency recognized them as an area of concern. Until 2005, the number of internally displaced hovered around the five million mark, agency records show. But it has risen dramatically with a sharp escalation of internal insurgencies in this century.
Africa, which with Syria accounts for most of the world’s internally displaced, had more continuing conflicts in 2012 than at any other time since World War II, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center in Geneva reported last year. The number more than doubled in four years, from 15 million people in 2009 to more than 33 million in 2013.
Conflicts this year in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine and now Iraq threaten to push levels of displacement even higher by the end of 2014, Mr. Guterres said.
“The international community today has very limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find timely solutions,” Mr. Guterres said. “We see the Security Council paralyzed in many crucial crises.”
To make matters worse, the consequences of past conflicts “never seem to die,” Mr. Guterres said. Over six million people have been in exile for five years or more, and the number of refugees returning to their countries in 2013, 414,000, was one of the lowest in years, the refugee agency reported. Just 98,400 people were taken in for resettlement by other countries.
In addition to refugees, more than 1.1 million people applied for asylum in 2013, the highest number in a decade, Mr. Guterres reported.
He was quick to puncture any illusion that developed countries of the North were hosting most of the world’s refugees, despite mounting anxiety in Western countries over the flow of migrants to their shores.
“The truth is that 86 percent of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries,” he said, a much higher proportion than 10 years ago. “The trend is not only to have more and more refugees but more and more refugees in the developing world.”
HONG KONG — Thailand and Malaysia are among the two dozen countries doing the least to fight human trafficking, according to a State Department report released Friday, a finding that could lead to economic and diplomatic penalties.
The downgrade to so-called Tier 3 status, the lowest ranking, places the Southeast Asian countries alongside North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe in the eyes of the State Department, which publishes an annual report assessing efforts by the world’s governments to combat human trafficking. Thailand now ranks below its neighbor Myanmar, a former Tier 3 country whose rating has improved since it began moving toward democracy in recent years.
Recent reports by The Guardian and others have described the use of forced labor in Thailand’s seafood industry, often involving complicity on the part of Thai officials. In a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles last year, Reuters reported that Thai officials had been involved in selling Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar to human-trafficking rings, which sometimes sold them into servitude on fishing boats. The Thai Navy, some of whose personnel were implicated, has filed a lawsuit accusing two journalists of criminal defamation for publishing an excerpt from one of the Reuters articles.
This week, a British researcher, Andy Hall, was detained by a Thai court and had his passport confiscated in connection with criminal defamation charges brought by a Thai food company. Mr. Hall, who was freed on bail, had spoken to Al Jazeera about abusive treatment of migrant workers by the company, Natural Fruit, which Mr. Hall had documented for a Finnish nongovernmental organization. The State Department report calls for such prosecutions of journalists and researchers to cease.
In Malaysia, the report said, many migrant workers are exploited and subjected to practices associated with forced labor, including restrictions on movement, wage fraud, passport confiscation and fees imposed by recruitment agents or employers. Many foreign women recruited for ostensibly legal work in Malaysia are subsequently coerced into prostitution, the report said.
Because both Thailand and Malaysia had been in a Tier 2 “watch list” category for four consecutive years, both were due for automatic downgrades to Tier 3 this year unless the State Department judged that they had made significant strides in addressing their trafficking problems.
China, which was downgraded to Tier 3 status a year ago, was moved back up a level, to the Tier 2 watch list, in the new report.
Thailand has recently argued that its efforts have improved enough for it to avoid a downgrade. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a news release this week that it had substantially more trafficking-related investigations, prosecutions and convictions last year than in 2012. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Thai ambassador to the United States, said in the release that Thailand was “committed to eliminating this inhumane exploitation.”
Luis C. deBaca, ambassador at large at the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said Thailand had indeed shown some improvement, mainly in sex-trafficking cases. But very little progress has been made in prosecuting the widely documented abuses of migrant workers and official complicity in them, he said.
“There’s a reason why so many folks are looking at the abuses in the migrant population there over the last years,” Mr. deBaca said. “That’s an area that needs more policing, more enforcement.”
Mr. deBaca said it was too early to judge what Thailand’s military coup last month would mean for the country’s human-trafficking problem. The junta has said it will address the issue of undocumented workers in Thailand, including forced labor, but it has denied engaging in a violent crackdown on illegal migrants, fears of which have apparently prompted hundreds of thousands of Cambodian workers to leave the country since last week.
A Tier 3 designation by the State Department does not automatically result in penalties, but the United States may withhold some forms of aid and cultural exchange, or oppose some kinds of assistance from international bodies like the International Monetary Fund.
Phil Robertson, the Bangkok-based deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the annual report was a motivating factor for governments in the region less because of the potential for sanctions than because of the embarrassment of “being grouped into the worst of the worst.”
The government of Laos continues to severely restrict fundamental rights including freedom of speech, association, and assembly. Since 2010 the government has arbitrarily arrested and detained, and in at least two cases forcibly disappeared civil society activists and those deemed critical of the government.
This submission focuses on four core areas that United Nations member countries largely failed to address during Lao’s previous UPR in 2010: enforced disappearances; freedom of speech, association, and assembly; the treatment of detainees in drug detention centers; and labor rights.
Despite having accepted relevant recommendations during its previous UPR, Laos has signed, but not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the government has ratified, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution.
The enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane and has not been heard from since, is emblematic of the Lao government’s lack of accountability for rights abuses.
Sombath Somphone was last seen by his wife, Ng Shui Meng, on the evening of December 15, 2012 as they were driving separately from his office to their home. She lost sight of his vehicle about 6 p.m. near the police post on Thadeau Road in Vientiane. Shui Meng obtained close-circuit television (CCTV) from the police which shows that Sombath’s jeep was stopped by the police at the Thadeau police post. The police took Sombath into the police post. Shortly thereafter, Sombath re-emerged from the police post, was escorted to a different vehicle and driven away.
Government officials have repeatedly denied that the government took Sombath into custody yet have failed to conduct a serious investigation into his enforced disappearance or provide any other credible information about current whereabouts. Furthermore, the government has continually rejected all offers of technical assistance for the investigation from various governments, including offers to analyse the original CCTV footage in order to assist with determining the identities of the individuals in the videotape, and gathering additional details (such as license plates) of the vehicles that were involved.
Similarly, the Lao government has failed to make progress in the case of Sompawn Khantisouk, the owner of two ecotourism businesses in Luang Namtha province, who was forcibly disappeared on January23, 2007. Sompawn received a call from a local police officer to visit the police station concerning a supposed arson attack on his home the previous day. Riding his motorcycle, Sompawn stopped on the way to the police station to talk to a man about ordering fence posts and while talking with that person he received another phone call from the same police officer to hurry up. A few minutes later, as he was driving to the police station, witnesses saw an SUV signal to Sompawn to pull his motorcycle over. Witnesses stated that four men wearing police uniforms then forced Sompawn into the car and drove away. A rudimentary police investigation ensued that focused on discrediting the witnesses, and concluded without further evidence that Sompawn’s disappearance was the result of an unspecified personal or business conflict. His family filed a grievance of harm by the state to the National Assembly, but provincial and local officials never responded to the National Assembly’s inquiries about the case.
Laos is obligated under international human rights law to prevent and remedy any enforced disappearances. Despite widespread calls for accountability, both regionally and internationally, questions about the enforced disappearances are met with denials or silence by senior officials of the Lao government.
Suppression of Freedom of Speech, Association, and Assembly
Laos is a party to the ICCPR, and despite having accepted recommendations at its previous UPR to “amend further its Law on the Media, the Law on Publication and other related regulations to comply with international human rights standards” and to “allow media and civil society organizations to undertake education, advocacy, monitoring and reporting on human rights issues,” Laos has failed to protect the right to freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The Lao government strictly controls all TV, radio and printed publications in the country. The constitution in article 23 sets out that all “mass media activities” that are contrary to “national interests” or “traditional culture and dignity” are prohibited. Article 44 of the constitution establishes that Lao citizens have the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, association and demonstration that are “not contrary to the laws”— yet the penal code contains broad limitations that prohibit “slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state.” In this way, the laws grant officials the authority to effectively limit basic rights and freedoms for anyone they deem critical of the government and authorities. Article 59 of the penal code provides prison sentences ranging from one to five years for anti-government propaganda, and up to 15 years for journalistswho fail to file “constructive reports” or who seek to “obstruct” the work of the government. Government officials review all privately owned periodicals after publication and can impose fines for those they deem to violate the law.
In practice, self-censorship is encouraged and is common, and the media remains tightly controlled by the authorities. For example, in January 2012, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism cancelled the popular radio program, Talk of the News, without explanation. The show encouraged political and social debate on a range of topics, including land grabs and corruption.
The government should immediate release Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Bouavanh Chanhmanivong, and Sen-aloun Phengpanh who were detained for the peaceful exercise of their basic rights. Both were arrested in 1999 for attempting to organize a demonstration and each were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Ethnic Hmong Thao Moua and Pa Phue Khang were arrested in 2003 after serving as guides for foreign journalists reporting on the situation of the Hmong in Laos. They were sentenced for 12 and 20 years respectively, for obstruction of justice and the possession of weapons.
Treatment of Detainees in Somsanga Drug Detention Center
The arbitrary detention of people suspected of using drugs, along with beggars, homeless people, children, and people with mental illnesses in compulsory drug detention centers across Laos remains a grave concern. As of mid-2011 (the last year for which data is publicly available), there were at least eight such centers across the country, of which the Somsanga detention center on the outskirts of Vientiane is the oldest and largest. Somsanga functions as a detention center, although it lacks the basic protections of due process, judicial oversight, and mechanisms for appeals. None of the persons whom Human Rights Watch interviewed had seen a lawyer or been sent to a court prior to their detention in Somsanga.
Human Rights Watch found that detainees at the Somsanga center are locked in cells inside barbed wire compounds. Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were held for periods of three months to more than a year. Police, who guard the facility’s main gate, are responsible for security and are a constant presence among detainees. Detainees live in a punitive and heavily controlled environment. Those who try to escape are sometimes brutally beaten by “room captains”—trusted detainees whom police and center staff designate to play a central role in the daily control of other detainees, including serving the center’s as adjunct guards and punishing detainees who infringe center rules. One former detainee told Human Rights Watch that “room captains” beat detainees who had attempted escape “until they were unconscious.” The detainee stated that guards witnessed the beatings and encouraged the “room captains.” Former detainees also reported being punished by being tied up in the sun for hours without food or water.
Somsanga offers little effective, evidence-based treatment for those who need it. Confinement is Somsanga’s central operating principle: most detainees remain in locked cells inside compounds with high walls topped with barbed wire. Human Rights Watch found that Somsanga holds most of its detainees against their will. Police or village militia (tamnautbaan) detain and bring people to Somsanga. Other detainees enter because their family members “volunteer” them out of a mistaken belief that the center offers therapeutic treatment, or because they feel social pressure to help make their village “drug free.” Regardless of how they enter, people held in Somsanga are not given the benefit from any judicial process to authorize their detention.
Many of the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch for the report said they had directly witnessed suicides or suicide attempts by fellow detainees during their detention. Maesa, a child who spent six months in Somsanga, said that, “Some people think that to die is better than staying there.” Former detainees spoke of suicides—both attempted and actualized—involving ingesting glass or hanging.
The treatment of individuals in compulsory drug detention centers violate a wide range of human rights, including the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; the right to a fair trial; the right to privacy; and the right to the highest attainable standard of health. In its 2010 UPR review, Laos accepted that acts of torture and maltreatment were considered criminal offenses and that the Criminal Procedure Code did not permit the inhuman treatment of detainees in any circumstances. Despite new reports of arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment at Somsanga, the Lao government has not investigated these reports, held any person responsible or taken steps to close the center down.
Laos violates the right to freedom of association for workers in law and in practice. The Trade Union Law 2008 defines a trade union as a “mass organization in the political system of the democratic centralism unified leadership under the Lao People’s Revolution Party” and requires that unions affiliate to the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), which is controlled by the government and the ruling party. Article 5 of the law requires trades unions to “organize and conduct activities in line with the unified leadership under the Lao Revolution Party.” Laos violates article 22 of the ICCPR and article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by preventing workers from establishing or joining unions of their own choosing outside of the LFTU.
The LFTU is so close to the government that the president and two vice presidents of the LFTU are given status equal to a minister and vice ministers in the government and are paid salaries by the government. In public statements, the LFTU has regularly said that it plays a role in helping the government enforce “labor discipline” in line with the law. The LFTU’s quasi-state function compromises its ability to represent workers, since it plays a dual, and sometimes conflicting, role as a controller as well as a potential protector of workers’ interests.
Laos also effectively prohibits workers from exercising the right to strike. Article 65 of the Labor Law 2007 strictly prohibits workers or their representatives from calling a work stoppage in a wide variety of situations, including disputes regarding implementation of the labor law or regulations, or over workers benefits under the law. Work stoppages are also forbidden when the matter in dispute is currently being discussed in a negotiation that both sides have agreed to participate in, or during the period when the dispute is being considered by government labor authorities, or is being considered by the labor disputes settlement procedures of the courts. Any person or organization that engages either “directly or indirectly” in a stoppage, or who “verbally or materially incites workers” to conduct a stoppage “thus causing damage…or social disorder” is subject to prosecution. The penal code provides for between one and five years’ imprisonment for those who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability.”
While it is important that the government has ratified core International Labour Organization (ILO) standards on nondiscrimination and ending child labor, it has not ratified ILO Convention No. 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and Convention No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain).
International Criminal Court
Despite purported efforts by the government in 2005 and 2006 to examine needed legislative changes to enable ratification of International Criminal Court (ICC), Laos did not ratify the Rome Statute establishing the court. The ICC is the first permanent international tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. As a court of last resort, which only has jurisdiction when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute these crimes, the ICC is an essential institution in the effective implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Regarding Enforced Disappearance
Disclose the whereabouts or fate of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone and businessman Sompawn Khantisouk. Investigate and hold accountable those responsible for their and other enforced disappearances.
Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Person from Enforced Disappearance and enact appropriate implementing legislation.
Regarding Freedom of Expression and Association
Cease the harassment and arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders, independent journalists, social activists, and worker advocates.
Ensure that civil society and media organizations can operate free of government interference in violation of their basic rights.
Drop all charges and release everyone facing criminal prosecution for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, or association.
End government control of the media. Reform media ownership and licensing rules to allow media organizations to function freely and without fear of government reprisal for their reporting.
Regarding Labor Rights
Amend the Trade Union Act and the Labor Act to bring them into full compliance with international labor standards, including the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and right to strike.
Ratify ILO Conventions No. 87 and 98.
Recognize in practice the right of workers to form unions of their own choosing, including those not affiliated with the LFTU.
Regarding Drug Detention Centers
Carry out prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into allegations of arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in Somsanga and other drug detention centers.
Stop the arbitrary arrest and detention of people who use drugs and other “undesirables” such as homeless people, beggars, street children, and people with mental disabilities.
Instruct the Lao Commission on Drug Control to release current detainees in Somsanga, as their continued detention cannot be justified on legal or health grounds, and permanently close the center.
Instruct the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries and departments to expand access to voluntary, community-based drug dependency treatment and ensure that such treatment is medically appropriate and comports with international standards.
Regarding the International Criminal Court
Undertake the necessary amendments of its national legislation and ratify the Rome Statute.
Separatists need to stop attacking those who are educating children. Separatists in southern Thailand are committing war crimes when they kill and maim teachers and other civilians.
Brad Adams, Asia director
(Bangkok) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces should immediately end attacks on teachers and other civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Since January 2014, insurgents have killed three ethnic Thai Buddhist teachers in the conflict-ridden region.
“Separatists need to stop attacking those who are educating children,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Separatists in southern Thailand are committing war crimes when they kill and maim teachers and other civilians.”
Under the laws of armed conflict, which are applicable in the fighting between the insurgents and Thai government forces in southern Thailand, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes.Thai authorities should investigate and appropriately punish security forces committing abuses during operations in the south.
On March 20, insurgents shot dead Somsri Tanyakaset, 39, a teacher at Kok Muba Friendship School in Narathiwat province’s Tak Bai district, while she was on her way home. On March 14, insurgents shot 43-year old Siriporn Srichai while she was riding a motorcycle to work at Tabing Tingi Community School in Pattani province’s Mayo district. The assailants then poured gasoline on her body and set it on fire. A leaflet saying, “This attack is in revenge for the killing of innocent people,” was found nearby. On January 14, two days ahead of the National Teacher’s Day, insurgents shot Supakrit Sae Loong of Ban Nibong School in Yala province’s Kabang district while he was riding a motorcycle from school back home.
Separatist forces have killed at least 171 teachers and torched or detonated bombs at more than 300 government-run schools in 10 years of insurgency in the southern border provinces.
The Patani Independence Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani) in the loose network of the separatist National Revolution Front-Coordinate (BRN-Coordinate) have ambushed teachers while traveling to and from their schools, and killed them in their classrooms and lodgings. The insurgents say that they target teachers in retaliation for violence committed by Thai security forces and pro-government militias against ethnic Malay Muslims. Insurgents also attack teachers and government-run schools as a part of their campaign to eradicate symbols of the Thai state and drive the Thai Buddhist population out of what insurgents claim is Malay Muslims land.
During the decade of armed conflict, insurgents have killed more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians. Some insurgent cells have merged with underground cartels involved in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and human trafficking across the Thai-Malaysian border, adding to the thriving criminality in the region.
Insurgents have argued that Islamic law permits attacks on civilians in certain circumstances. However, the laws of war, which are binding on non-state armed groups as well as national armed forces, prohibit all intentional attacks on civilians, including reprisal attacks. The insurgents have also been responsible for other laws-of-war violations, including the summary execution of captured civilians and combatants, mutilation or other mistreatment of the dead, and deliberate attacks on civilian objects, such as schools.
Thai security forces have also been implicated in extrajudicial killings and other abuses against suspected insurgents or their alleged supporters in the ethnic Malay Muslim community. Instead of seriously investigating alleged abuses, the government has repeatedly extended the state of emergency in the south, which provides near-blanket immunity to military personnel and police for actions they take in the line of duty. The use of these extensive powers to shield officials who commit rights violations has generated anger and alienation in the ethnic Malay Muslim community.
The Thai government should launch credible and impartial investigations into alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights law by security personnel from regular and voluntary units in the region. Inquiries by the police and the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center into rights abuses have proceeded very slowly and shown few concrete results. Officials often fail to keep the families of victims apprised of any progress in the investigation, compounding the families’ frustrations. While financial reparations were paid to some victims’ families, offering money to families of victims should not be considered a substitute for justice.
“The government needs to ensure that Thai security forces protect public safety with full respect for human rights,” Adams said. “Shielding abusive security personnel from prosecution will only boost insurgent extremism and intensify the atrocities.”
(New York) – The government of Thailand should ensure that 112 newly detained people believed to be ethnic Uighurs are not forcibly returned to China, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai authorities detained the group in Sa Kaew province near the Thai-Cambodia border and brought them to the central Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. A senior Thai Immigration Bureau official said that Chinese officials with access to the group identified at least 30 as Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim and Turkic minority that originates from western China.
“Past cases have shown that Uighurs returned to China are always at risk of persecution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thailand needs to act quickly to ensure that these people are protected and not sent into harm’s way.”
Uighurs forcibly returned to China typically face severe persecution, including the threat of arrest and torture. Members of the group should be allowed unhindered access to officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the right to seek asylum and undergo refugee status determination.
Thai authorities discovered an earlier group of 220 people, alleged by some sources to be Uighurs, in a jungle camp in Thailand’s Songkhla province, on March 13, 2014. The group claims to be Turkish and has asked to be repatriated to Turkey.
Under customary international law and as a party to the Convention against Torture, Thailand is obliged to ensure that no one in its custody is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.
In recent years there have been multiple incidents of Uighurs being forcibly returned to China in violation of international law, particularly from Southeast Asia, a common route for people fleeing China. In December 2009, Cambodia forcibly returned 20 Uighurs despite the fact that the UNHCR office had already issued “persons of concern” letters to all members of the group. Subsequent media reports, which could not be independently verified, stated that some members of that group were tried and sentenced to death, while others were sentenced to prison.
On December 31, 2012, Malaysia deported six Uighur men back to China. The six had been detained earlier in 2012, allegedly for attempting to leave Malaysia on false passports. While in detention, these six men were registered by UNHCR. Although all six had asylum claims under review for first instance decisions, on December 31 Malaysian police transferred the men into the custody of Chinese authorities, who escorted them from Malaysia to China on a chartered flight. Human Rights Watch has been unable to obtain any further information from Malaysian or Chinese government sources as to the six men’s whereabouts or well-being.
Pervasive ethnic discrimination, severe religious repression, and increasing cultural suppression – justified by the Chinese government in the name of the “fight against separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism” – continue to fuel rising tensions in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
This week, Ablimit Ahmettohti Damolla Hajim, a Uighur Muslim delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a consultative body to the Chinese government, made an unusual public statement against discrimination and persecution against ethnic Uighurs in China.
The Chinese government imposes heavy and arbitrary restrictions on Uighurs’ ability to obtain passports, and the arrest in February of Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, a moderate academic and advocate of the rights of Uighurs in China, is indicative of the closing space for peaceful dissents in Xinijang. The attribution of recent attacks on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and on the train station in Kunming to alleged Uighur separatists has in turn increased tensions in the region, and will likely contribute to an increased outflow of Uighurs from China. On March 7, Xinjiang regional Governor Nur Bekri announced a “severe crackdown” on “separatist activities,” which he blamed on foreign forces “who don’t want to see a united, strong China led by socialism and by the party.”
“It’s really not that complicated: returning Uighurs to China exposes them to severe abuse,” Adams said. “Thailand will be violating international law by sending any of these people back.”