Archive for ‘Human Rights’

June 13, 2014

Phila. poet seeks to raise awareness of Lao culture

Phila. poet seeks to raise awareness of Lao culture

Posted: June 11, 2014

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Catzie Vilayphonh at the Wat Lao temple. "I had to find out the history for myself," she says.

Catzie Vilayphonh at the Wat Lao temple. “I had to find out the history for myself,” she says. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)


Born in a camp for Lao refugees, Catzie Vilayphonh was an infant when her family was resettled in Philadelphia in 1981.

“Was I 15 days old? Fifteen weeks old? All I know is I was a baby,” she said recently over sticky rice and bitter melon soup at a South Philadelphia restaurant. “I didn’t even know I was a refugee until my 20s.”

Traumatized by their uprooting, her parents rarely spoke of the past.

“I had to find out the history for myself,” said Vilayphonh, who graduated from Central High School in 1998 and a few years later, with her stage partner, Michelle Myers, a Korean American, achieved acclaim as spoken-word poets with their in-your-face performances as Yellow Rage. The duo toured colleges and were featured on HBO.

Now Vilayphonh, 33, a marketer for the Philadelphia apparel company UBIQ, has thrown herself into Laos in the House, her multimedia project to spotlight a Southeast Asian community with a lower profile than the better-known refugees of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Funded with a $25,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation, she hopes to debut Laos in the House with a three-day festival in Philadelphia next year.

The project, which takes its name from a poem by Vilayphonh, has three components. It will collect and archive digital stories about the Lao diaspora in America. It will create a Smithsonian-style exhibit to be displayed at the city’s Asian Arts Initiative and the Barnes museum. It will showcase performances in Philadelphia by Lao American artists.

In 1990, the U.S. Census counted 878 Laotians in Philadelphia. Nearly a quarter-century later, according to the State Department, 3,268 Laotian refugees live in Philadelphia. The U.S. total is about 250,000.

Kounesone Vilayphanh, president of Wat Lao Phouphaphammarm, a Buddhist temple on 20th Street near Washington Avenue, estimates the city’s Lao-descended population at 5,000.

Vilayphanh, who is unrelated to Vilayphonh despite the similar spellings, said he was happy to learn about Laos in the House and only wished the community could be more supportive financially. “Day-to-day donations” to the temple are just enough to keep it going, with little left over, he said.

Seeking wider support through the Internet and other outreach, Vilayphonh says her project will put the region’s Lao community on the map. Her goal: an extravaganza to make people say, “You have to come to Philadelphia. You have to see this in person!”

Traveling the United States to perform Yellow Rage, she visited Minneapolis, where she found a large and inspiring Lao presence.

“For the first time I performed my poem  ‘You B  ring Out the Laos in the House’ and people got it,” she said. “I didn’t have to break it down.”

The poem, which takes about nine minutes to present, includes verses about Lao ethnicity, culture, and cuisine, including fried grasshoppers and ant-egg soup.

Speaking about one of her favorites, fertilized duck eggs, in which the embryo is boiled alive and eaten in the shell, she says: “In Laos we call it khai look. . . . On TV, everyone calls it ‘That episode on Fear Factor.’ “

The poem also includes a spoofy riff on people who try to guess her nationality.

“Oh my Gawd, your hair is so pretty! Where are you from?” she mimics, channeling a Valley Girl. “Let me guess, I’m really good at this. You’re Filipino. Oh, no, no, wait, wait wait. You’re Hawaii. No, no, no. Give me one more try. Thai. No? What the [expletive] are you then?”

The poem includes a stanza about her first name. To be successful in America, someone told her mother, children need easy-to-remember American names. Her mother didn’t know any.

“Someone said ‘Cathy.’ My mom heard ‘Catzie,’ ” and the rest is history, said Vilayphonh. Her sister, who was born in Philadelphia, is named Judy.

Raised near Fifth and Ritner Streets, Vilayphonh completed Central High and enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia intending to move on to Temple University but never did. At the Asian Arts Initiative she met Myers, who became her stage partner, and their careers took off. Five years ago Vilayphonh’s daughter, Aditi, was born. She is a single mother.

Steeping herself in history, Vilayphonh learned how during the Vietnam War, the United States bombed Vietcong resupply routes that ran through Laos, covertly supported the royal Lao government against the Communist Pathet Lao, and in the process displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

“The bombing caused the diaspora, so America invited us in,” she said, adding that the reception of the refugees wasn’t always warm or easy.

Laotian American Bryan Thao Worra, 41, author of several books of poetry, met Vilayphonh in Minnesota a decade ago.

Living near Los Angeles now, he said the relatively small size of Philadelphia’s Lao community was no barrier to Vilayphonh’s goal of advancing the Lao American narrative.

“It is not necessarily so that the biggest communities are where the biggest voices come from,” he said. “It’s precisely the smaller communities where we have seen the best work emerge, asking the classic questions: Who am I? Where am I from? How did I get here?” 215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1

June 11, 2014


June 10, 2014

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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.


Enforced Disappearances

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]


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.[5] 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.


Labor Rights

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.



[1] Lao Penal Code, Art. 59.

[2] Beaumont Smith, “Off the air in Laos,” Asia Times Online, February 22, 2012, (accessed April 22, 2014).

[3] Amnesty International, “Annual Report 2013,” (accessed June 4, 2014).

[4] Ibid.

[5] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review,” June 2010, A/HRC/15/5.

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June 2, 2014

Class of 2014: Big Sky senior – daughter of Laos immigrants – embraces educational opportunity


Class of 2014: Big Sky senior – daughter of Laos immigrants – embraces educational opportunity


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Big Sky High School senior Iaong Vang is already on the way to achieving some of her goals upon graduating, spending time working on stem cell research at the University of Montana. The 4.0 student plans to attend UM for premed and a biochemistry degree, and from there to medical school.

If Iaong Vang’s parents had not immigrated to the U.S. from Laos, the Big Sky High School senior likely would not have been allowed to attend school, let alone be set to graduate Saturday.

“I take this seriously,” Vang said about partaking in opportunities offered to her through school.

Her father earned a mathematics degree despite a language barrier between English and Hmong, she said.

“I believe that I can do that as well because I’ve had more opportunities,” she added.

One opportunity has been to do research at the University of Montana, where she spends several hours two days a week in a lab working to control what stem cells grow into and how frequently they reproduce.

Chemistry and biology are her loves and avenues through which she hopes to change the world.

“It’s like a key I can open new doors with,” said Vang, who’s the second youngest of seven siblings.

The 4.0 student also has participated in the Key and Respect clubs, is president of Health Occupations Students of America and a member of the National Honor Society.

In the fall, she will attend UM for premed with the goal of earning a biochemistry degree.

After medical school, Vang said, she plans to be a pediatrician.

“I’ve always loved kids. It breaks my heart to see them sick,” she said.

Helping her sister as Bardet-Biedl syndrome has taken its toll on her body through the years, especially the past year, solidified Vang’s desire to go into medicine.

On Saturday, the sisters will earn their degrees at the same time and Vang said she’s glad to have been able to help Kouchi achieve her goal of graduation.

For several summers, Vang also volunteered as a tutor for kids with minority backgrounds.

Many of them also have Hmong heritage and it helps her reconnect with her roots, Vang said.

When she was young, Hmong was her first language. Now, though, she said she regrets losing fluency. Interacting with the younger children helps her remember, she said.

Vang also attends cultural activities and performs traditional dances.

“It’s something I can’t feel doing anything else and that’s why I love doing them,” she said.

Regardless of what Vang is doing at any given time, her attitude is positive and it’s that attitude that makes her a natural leader in the classroom, said Brandon Honzel, who has taught Vang in two science classes and helped connect her with UM.

“She gets along with everybody,” Honzel said, adding Vang regularly helps other classmates with research and problems.

Her positive attitude rubs off on other students and teachers alike, said Dave Jones, who has taught Vang three sections of chemistry.

“It carries over into just the oomph and drive she brings into the classroom,” Jones said.

When she hits a challenge, Vang doesn’t give up, he said. “She takes a step back and re-evaluates it and gets some perspective on it.”

Vang genuinely values learning new things, he said.

“She’s one of our best,” he added.

Vang said after medical school she ultimately would like to return to Missoula, where she has felt welcome in school and in the community, including when she helps her parents sell vegetables at the farmers market.

“It’s just a sense of welcoming,” she said.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved.

May 27, 2014

Proposed memorial in Elgin to mark Lao military veterans’ place in history


Proposed memorial in Elgin to mark Lao military veterans’ place in history


By Melanie Kalmar For Sun-Times Media May 19, 2014 1:10PM

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Members of the Lao-American Veterans Organization, who fought alongside the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, hope a memorial marking their place in history reminds future generations to live peacefully. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Forgotten heroes will be remembered on July 19 when, for the first time, Lao-American Veterans Day will be observed in Illinois.

On that day, thousands of soldiers and airmen from Laos, a country bordering Vietnam, will be remembered for fighting alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to stop the spread of communism.

The date itself is significant because, on July 19, 1949, the Lao government received its independence from France and formed its own army.

The Lao soldiers, secretly recruited and trained by U.S. armed forces, rescued downed pilots, protected U.S. outposts and engaged in guerrilla warfare. In the fight for freedom, they were injured, tortured and killed. For some, their alliance with the United States resulted in them becoming prisoners of war, starved and forced into hard labor.

When the allied forces left Vietnam, the Lao soldiers, after 15 years of aiding the U.S. military, escaped with their families to refugee camps in Thailand.

“We were given rotten fish, chicken bones,” said Lao veteran Em Ramangkoun. “There were thousands of people and not enough food.”

The lucky ones gained entrance into America through sponsors from not-for-profit organizations.

Once here, they formed the Lao-American Veterans Organization to help one another become acclimated to their new homeland. They learned English at the YMCA and took job skills training courses at nearby community colleges.

To make the first Lao-American Veterans Day even more meaningful, the organization is raising money for a memorial garden and plaque to be placed in Elgin’s Veterans Memorial Park, behind Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave.

“We want to make sure the next generation to come knows why we are here,” said Souvanthong Thanadabouth, wife of Lao veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth. “We stood by the U.S. Army to fight communists. We want people to remember that.”

Thanadabouth took a breath, to prevent her words from coming out as sobs, before recounting her young family’s daring escape from Laos across the Mekong River into Thailand.

“We lost everything in Laos,” she said. “When we came to the U.S., my kids only had two pairs of clothes each.” She gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter, in America. Adults now, they all earned college degrees.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to this country, it’s the same story, more or less,” said one Lao-American veteran who chose to remain anonymous.

“The lesson future generations can learn from it is, they shouldn’t be fighting,” he said. “There should be no war. Live peacefully, and everybody will be happy, no matter where you live.”

The proposed memorial would be inscribed with the logo of the Royal Lao Army between the U.S. and Lao Flags, and the words, “In Memory of the Lao Veterans who fought side by side with the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War 1961-1975.”

With $4,000 more needed to make the memorial a reality, the organization is reaching out to the community for contributions. To donate, people can make checks payable to the Elgin Community Network, P.O. Box 6520, Elgin, IL 60121, or give online at

Members of the Lao-American Veterans Organization, who fought alongside the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, hope a memorial marking their place in history reminds future generations to live peacefully. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Members Lao-American Veterans Organizatiwho fought alongside U.S. Military during Vietnam War hope memorial marking their place history reminds future generationsMembers Lao-American Veterans Organizatiwho fought alongside U.S. Military during Vietnam War hope memorial marking their place history reminds future generations

Souvanthong Thanadabouth her husbLao-American Veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth stbefore proposed site Lao-American Veterans Memorial. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Souvanthong Thanadabouth and her husband, Lao-American Veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth, stand before the proposed site of the Lao-American Veterans Memorial. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media


April 4, 2014

Thailand: Southern Separatists Target Women

Thailand: Southern Separatists Target Women

Burning, Beheadings of Bodies Mark Renewed Terror Campaign

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April 4, 2014

Southern insurgents are killing Buddhist women and spreading terror by beheading and burning their bodies. Claims by separatist groups that they are retaliating against government abuses are no justification for attacks on civilians.

Brad Adams, Asia director

(New York) – Separatist groups in Thailand’s southern border provinces have killed at least five Thai Buddhist women, mutilating three of their bodies, since February 2014, Human Rights Watch said today.

The insurgents should immediately end their attacks targeting civilians, which are war crimes.

“Southern insurgents are killing Buddhist women and spreading terror by beheading and burning their bodies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Claims by separatist groups that they are retaliating against government abuses are no justification for attacks on civilians.”

On April 2, insurgents ambushed a pickup truck in which a village chief from Yala province’s Bannang Sta district was riding, killing him and two female deputy chiefs. The bullet-riddled body of Ear Sritong, 47, village chief of Ban Kasung Nai Moo 6, was found near his pickup. Chaleaw Pikulklin, 50, and Urai Thabtong, 47, who had been riding with the chief in the truck, had also been shot with M16 assault rifles. Urai had been decapitated, and police found her head in a bush across the road. A leaflet left at the scene stated, “This attack is a punishment for letting Aor Sor [the Interior Ministry’s village militia] commit killings and oppression of our Malay people. Free Patanni!” Since January 2004, Thailand’s southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have been the scene of a brutal armed conflict, which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians from both the ethnic Thai Buddhist and ethnic Malay Muslim populations.

On March 20, 2014, insurgents shot and killed Somsri Tanyakaset, 39, a female teacher at Kok Muba Friendship School in Narathiwat province’s Tak Bai district as she was riding her motorcycle back home. Another female teacher, Siriporn Srichai, 43, was shot dead while going to work at Tabing Tingi Community School in Pattani province’s Mayo district on March 14. The assailants poured gasoline on Siriporn’s body and set it on fire. A leaflet stating, “This attack is in revenge for the killing of innocent people,” was found nearby.

On February 12, insurgents in Pattani province’s Yaring district shot dead Sayamol Sae Lim, 29, a female employee of Bangkok Bank, and burned her body. A written message to the army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, left nearby stated, “Dear army chief, this is not the last body after the three brothers.” This message referred to the February 3 attack allegedly committed by the army’s Taharn Pran paramilitary force that killed three ethnic Malay-Muslim brothers, ages 6, 9, and 11, and wounded their parents in Narathiwat province’s Bacho district.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, which are applicable to the fighting in southern Thailand, prohibits attacks targeting civilians, including government officials not involved in military operations. Other prohibited acts include reprisal attacks against civilians and captured combatants, summary execution of detainees, and mutilation or other mistreatment of the dead. The laws of war also prohibit acts or threats of violence for which the primary purpose is to spread terror among the civilian population.

Insurgent claims that Islamic law permits attacks on civilians in certain circumstances do not change the separatist groups’ international legal obligations. The rapidly growing attacks on civilians by the Patani Independence Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani) in the loose network of the separatist National Revolution Front-Coordinate (BRN-Coordinate) heighten concern for civilian security. According to statistics from the government’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), separatist groups are responsible for most of the violent incidents in Thailand’s southern border provinces between January 2004 and March 2014, which resulted in 5,488 deaths and 10,118 injuries. Civilians – both ethnic Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims – have been the frequent target of insurgent attacks.

Both insurgents and Thai security forces have been responsible for serious abuses in the southern border provinces. Successive Thai governments have failed to successfully prosecute any member of their security forces or pro-government militias for human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. This lack of justice has fed insurgent violence against civilians.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has repeatedly stated that justice is key to peace in the southern border provinces. Yet the government continues to extend the draconian state of emergency that has facilitated state-sponsored abuses and impunity. The extensive powers and near-blanket immunity provided to security forces who commit human rights violations has generated anger and alienation in the ethnic Malay Muslim community.

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for credible and impartial investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by security personnel and militia forces in the south. Inquiries by the police and the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center have proceeded very slowly, with little concrete result. Officials often fail to keep the families of victims apprised of any progress in the investigation, compounding the family’s frustrations. While in some cases the government has made financial reparations to the victims’ families, money alone should not be considered a substitute for justice.

“People in southern Thailand are trapped between insurgent violence and state-sponsored abuses,” Adams said. “The government should understand that shielding abusive troops from prosecution strengthens hardliners in separatist groups, who then intensify atrocities against civilians.”


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