Archive for June, 2015

June 27, 2015

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 –Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 –Lao People’s Democratic Republic


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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014
United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is an authoritarian state ruled by the only party the constitution legitimizes, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The most recent National Assembly election, held in 2011, was not free and fair. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems continued to be that the government denied citizens the ability to change their government, conditions in some prisons were harsh, and corruption in the police and judiciary led to a lack of due process and arbitrary arrest and detention.

Other human rights problems continued to include: abuse of prisoners and detainees by some police and security force members; government infringements on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, as well as on the right to privacy; government restrictions on academic freedom; local restrictions on religious freedom; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS; and government restrictions on worker rights.

The government did not take steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, and police and security force members acted with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:Share

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including of insurgents.

There were no developments in the cases of persons allegedly killed by the military or police in previous years.

b. Disappearance

There continued to be no progress reported in the 2012 abduction of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society leader and retired founder of a nonprofit training center, by individuals in plainclothes after what appeared to be an orchestrated stop of his vehicle by traffic police in Vientiane. The government denied knowledge of his whereabouts, and its investigation into his disappearance was neither conclusive nor transparent.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices. Police and security force members sometimes abused prisoners.

Authorities occasionally subjected detainees to beatings and long-term solitary confinement in completely dark rooms, and in some cases authorities placed them in leg shackles or wooden leg stocks for long periods. Degrading treatment, the chaining and manacling of prisoners, and solitary confinement in small, unlit rooms were standard punishments in larger prisons, while smaller provincial or district prisons employed manacles and chains to prevent prisoners from escaping.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention facility conditions varied widely and in some prisons continued to be harsh. There was a separate prison for foreigners.

Physical Conditions: Samkhe Prison in Vientiane, the country’s largest, held approximately 550 male and 150 female prisoners separated by gender in a 12-acre facility built in 1966, according to authorities. Some prisons reportedly held juveniles with adults, although no official or reliable statistics were available on the overall population or gender of prisoners. Cells were apparently crowded. Prisoners had adequate access to potable water. Food rations were minimally adequate. Prisoners reportedly could grow fruits and vegetables to supplement their meals, and some prisons had a sundry shop where prisoners could purchase basic food and toiletries. Some prisons other than Samkhe required inmates to reimburse authorities upon release for the cost of food eaten during incarceration. Prisoners in the larger, state-operated facilities in the capital generally fared better than did those in smaller, provincial prisons.

Although most prisons had some form of clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on the staff, medical facilities were usually deficient. Prisoners had access only to basic medical care, and treatment for serious ailments was unavailable. For example, in Samkhe Prison there was a clinic with four sick beds and a staff of three for 700 inmates. Prisoners received vaccinations upon arrival; if sick, they had to pay medicine costs. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported prison officials did not allow charitable organizations to visit prisoners to provide humanitarian assistance, despite earlier permitting this practice. Villagers who lived near the Samkhe Prison confirmed a fire at the prison in October burned down a warehouse, but they reported no fatalities. Villagers believed the fire destroyed prisoners’ stored personal belongings and clothing. Government officials did not confirm the incident or report any injuries. In some facilities prisoners could arrange for treatment in police hospitals, and authorities sent prisoners to these hospitals in emergencies. There was no information available during the year on the prevalence of death in prisons or pretrial detention centers.

Administration: There was no information available regarding the adequacy of recordkeeping on prisoners. In certain cases the government allowed the release of offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes without formally sentencing them to prison.

There were no ombudsmen to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Prison wardens set prison visitation policies. Family members generally could access prisoners and detainees once per month. Prisoners and detainees could follow some religious observances, but authorities did not provide any facilities.

The Ministry of Public Security monitored prison and detention center conditions. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, although there were no reports prisoners, detainees, or their family members made such requests due to fear of exacerbating poor detention conditions. There were also no known investigations of complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit regular independent monitoring of prison conditions. At times authorities provided foreign diplomats access to some prisons, but such access was strictly limited.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but some government officials did not respect these provisions, and arbitrary arrest and detention persisted.

In 2012 the government detained and moved children and adults deemed to be beggars and homeless from Vientiane streets in an effort to prepare the capital for hosting an international summit meeting. According to the government, authorities returned some homeless individuals to their home villages and moved others into a temporary housing facility in a Vientiane suburb. Authorities sent 21 children to the government-run facility between October 2013 and September. At year’s end 49 persons remained in the facility, 19 of whom were women. The government also arranged with an international NGO to provide emergency shelter and informal education to children removed from city streets. The NGO reported it assisted 1,541 children between January and September and had some children in its shelter at year’s end.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Ministry of Public Security maintains internal security but shares the function of state control with the Ministry of Defense’s security forces and with the LPRP and the LPRP’s popular front organizations. The Ministry of Public Security includes local, traffic, immigration, and security (including border) police, village police auxiliary, plus other armed police units. The armed forces have domestic security responsibilities, including counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency.

Impunity remained a problem, as did police corruption; there were no statistics available on their extent. The Ministry of Public Security’s Inspection Department maintained complaint boxes throughout most of the country for citizens to deposit written complaints, but usage statistics were also unavailable.

The government continued to cooperate with international organizations to implement a national strategy to strengthen law enforcement and deal with increased drug trafficking and abuse, as well as related crime and police corruption.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police and military forces have arrest powers, although normally only police exercised them. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. The law also requires authorities to notify detainees of the charges against them and inform next of kin of their detention within 24 hours of arrest, and this generally occurred. Prisoner access to family members was not certain, but officials generally allowed it. There is a bail system, but authorities arbitrarily implemented it. There were procedures for house arrest of detainees, particularly for health reasons, and isolated reports of detainees held under house arrest. There were no reports of prisoners held incommunicado during the year. The law provides detained, arrested, or jailed citizens and foreigners the right to legal representation upon request.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to exercise wide latitude in making arrests, relying on a provision of the law that provides warrants are not necessary to apprehend persons in the act of committing crimes or in urgent cases. Police reportedly sometimes used arrest as a means to intimidate persons or extract bribes.

Pretrial Detention: There is a one-year statutory limit for detention without trial. The length of detention without a pretrial hearing or formal charges is also limited to one year. The Office of the Prosecutor General reportedly made efforts to have authorities bring all prisoners to trial within the one-year limit, but officials occasionally did not meet the requirement. The Prosecutor General’s Office must authorize police to hold a suspect pending investigation. It grants authorization in three-month increments, and police must release a suspect after a maximum of one year if they lack sufficient evidence to bring charges. Authorities at times continued to detain prisoners after they completed their sentences, particularly if prisoners were unable to pay court fines. In some cases officials released prisoners after they agreed to pay fines later.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but impunity and corruption continued to be problems. Some judges reportedly accepted bribes. There were no cases reported during the year of government or party officials influencing the courts. The National Assembly may remove judges from office for impropriety but did not do so during the year.

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June 27, 2015

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 – Thailand

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 – Thailand


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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014
United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The king serves as head of state and has traditionally exerted strong influence. On May 22, in a bloodless coup, military and police leaders, taking the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by General Prayut Chan-Ocha, overthrew the interim government led by the Puea Thai political party. Puea Thai, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, had governed since 2011 following National Assembly lower house elections that were generally viewed as free and fair. The military-led NCPO maintained effective control over the security forces.

The coup leaders repealed the constitution (except for provisions related to the monarchy), suspended parliament, continued martial law imposed two days earlier on May 20, and issued numerous decrees severely limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. The NCPO summoned and detained, without charge, more than 900 political leaders, academics, journalists, and others, holding many for up to seven days. The NCPO promulgated an interim constitution on July 22 and appointed individuals to a National Legislative Assembly on July 31, the members of which unanimously selected coup leader and head of the army, General Prayut, as prime minister on August 21.

In addition to limitations on human rights occasioned by the coup and implemented by the NCPO, the most persistent human rights problems consisted of abuses by government security forces and local defense volunteers in the context of the continuing Malay-Muslim insurgency in the three southernmost provinces, and occasional excessive use of force by security forces, including police killing, torturing, and otherwise abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners. After the May 22 coup, citizens no longer had the ability to change the government through the right to vote in free and fair elections.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded, and unsanitary prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable populations, including refugees; violence and discrimination against women; sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hill tribe members, and foreign migrant workers; child labor; and some limitations on worker rights.

Authorities occasionally dismissed, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted security force members who committed abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a serious problem, especially in provinces where the 2005 Emergency Decree and the 2008 Internal Security Act (ISA) remained in effect. The military’s invocation of martial law nationwide on May 20 magnified this problem. Article 48 of the NCPO-imposed interim constitution grants immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any pre- or postcoup actions ordered by the NCPO, regardless of the legality of the action.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces continued to commit human rights abuses, including attacks on civilian targets.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:Share

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were continued reports that security forces at times used excessive and lethal force against criminal suspects and committed or were connected to extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, from August 2013 to June 2014 security forces–including police, military, and other agencies–killed 45 suspects during the arrest process. The police department with jurisdiction over the location of the killings investigated each case, although no details were available.

While there were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings during the year, there were at least 28 deaths linked to attacks during large antigovernment demonstrations in Bangkok and elsewhere from late 2013 to May 2014. Unknown assailants shot and killed Suthin Thararin, a protest leader of the anti-Puea Thai government People’s Democratic Reform Committee, as he led demonstrators who blocked and closed a voting station in Bangkok on January 26 during national legislative elections. The shooting also injured nine others.

Armed individuals on January 22 shot and seriously injured Khwanchai Phraiphana Sarakham, a leader of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (Red-Shirts)–allied with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra–at his community radio station and residence compound in Udon Thani Province. Authorities charged six individuals involved in the attack: Maduenang Masae, a Territorial Defense Volunteer with the Narathiwat Provincial Authority; Master Sergeant Mawin Yangbua; Sergeant Wirot Phimsing; Sub-Lieutenant Pratya Chanrotphai; Sergeant Chanon Thapthimthong; and Sergeant Banchong Kanthathon, all of whom, except Maduenang, were assigned to the 19th Cavalry Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division in Kanchanaburi province. All individuals except Maduenang were free on bail as of August 1.

On April 23, unknown assailants shot and killed poet Kamol Duangphasuk, a vocal critic of the country’s lese majeste laws (see section 2.a.) and Red Shirt activist. The investigation of the killing continued as of November with no arrests.

There were reports of killings during the year in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

On August 28, the Criminal Court dismissed murder charges against former prime minister and current Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for their roles in the 2010 clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters in Bangkok and the Northeast. The court ruled it lacked jurisdiction because both individuals were public office holders at the time of the killings and had acted under an emergency decree. The court stated that only the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had the authority to consider the allegations. Cases brought on behalf of individual victims against Abhisit and Suthep remained with the Department of Special Investigations (DSI), the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), and other government entities. As in previous cases, the DSI did not file charges against the soldiers who killed individuals as part of the government’s response to protests, since it found they acted in accordance with executive orders.

Thai security forces clashed with loggers engaged in illegal cross-border logging, mostly Cambodian citizens, throughout the year. On April 6, Thai security forces killed one Cambodian allegedly involved in illegal logging. In a clash at the border with Laos on June 6, one Thai officer was injured.

b. Disappearance

On April 17, a prominent ethnic Karen activist, Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (known as “Billy”), disappeared in southwest Thailand. Billy had led a legal fight against government authorities, including the superintendent of Kaengkrachan National Park in Petchaburi Province, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, whom community members alleged had ordered the destruction in 2011 of more than 100 houses and rice stocks belonging to more than 20 Karen households for their alleged encroachment into the park. At the time of his disappearance, Billy was reportedly traveling to meet with ethnic Karen villagers and activists to prepare for a court hearing. On April 18, Chaiwat stated that park authorities detained Billy on April 17 but released him after questioning. In an April 20 statement, Human Rights Watch urged, “Thai authorities should not stay silent about Billy’s case but explain what happened to him.” At year’s end police officials neither identified any suspects nor made any arrests.

After the coup security forces detained hundreds of activists and in some instances withheld information about their safety for brief periods before announcing their whereabouts. For instance, on September 5, plainclothes soldiers arrested Kittisak Soomsri at a teacher-training center in Bangkok. Military officials refused to acknowledge his detention for six days. On September 11, authorities charged Kittisak as one of the “men in black,” who allegedly initiated violent acts during the 2010 protests.

As of August the government had not taken action on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances’ June 2011 request for a country visit.

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June 27, 2015

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014

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The fundamental struggle for dignity has been a driving force in human history worldwide, and what drives us toward it is a set of universal values and aspirations.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are ideals that cannot be contained by national boundaries or ocean shores.

That is why it is especially troubling that so many people in so many places face grotesque restrictions on their freedoms and rights from their own governments.

For far too many people, 2014 was defined by suffering and abuse perpetrated by terrorist groups exploiting religious discourse and divisions to advance their totalitarian ideology, or by governments, such as Syria, sometimes acting in the name of combatting terrorism.

In parts of the Middle East and Africa, violent extremists have made it clear that not only do they have zero regard for human rights; they have zero regard for human life, period. We’ve seen groups like ISIL burn human beings alive, barbarically behead prisoners, sell girls into slavery, and execute innocents widely and indiscriminately.

Almost every week brings new examples of just how far the evil of these groups reaches.

We all witnessed the brutality and nihilism of the horrific attacks by Pakistani Taliban and Boko Haram on schoolchildren, the assassinations of Charlie Hebdo journalists, and numerous outrages and killings carried out by ISIL. The rise of ISIL was in part a consequence of, and illustrated the dangers of, atrocities committed by the government of Syria and failures of inclusive governance in Iraq.

Meanwhile, governments in China, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, among others, continued to stifle free and open media and the development of civil society through the imprisonment of journalists, bloggers, and non-violent critics. In Thailand, the military overthrew a democratically-elected government, repealed the constitution, and severely limited civil liberties; subsequent efforts by the military government to rewrite the country’s constitution and recast its political intuitions raised concerns about lack of inclusivity in the process.

In the face of all this, the human aspiration for political liberty and honest, non-abusive governance remained strong.

Around the world, more people chose their leaders in competitive elections than ever before. On every continent, celebrations marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, while the same demands for human rights and accountable governance that gave rise to that historic day continue to spread.

In Afghanistan, millions of people defied threats of violence to choose a new President representing the country’s first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another. India’s parliamentary contest in April 2014 was one of the largest elections in history. Indonesia’s young democracy saw a peaceful electoral transition to a leader who had challenged its traditional centers of power. Tunisia held its first free and fair presidential election since the 2011 revolution.

Activists in countries like Russia and Venezuela showed enduring strength and courage despite increasing restrictions, harassment, and incarceration in their peaceful pursuit of dignity and freedom.

As President Obama said to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014, “all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms. We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than from conquest. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions… [We] will not shy away from the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…We choose to work for the world as it should be.”

As I travel the world in my capacity as Secretary of State, I regularly meet with brave individuals who risk their lives each and every day to advance human rights. They do so in spite of the threat of violence, and in the face of government attempts to silence their voices.

We at the Department of State will continue to press governments to uphold fundamental freedoms. We remain committed to advocating on behalf of civil society and speaking out for the protection of human rights for all individuals.

Now in their 39th year, these annual Congressionally-mandated reports provide a picture of how the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being fulfilled. They help promote awareness regarding the reality of human rights in many of the dark corners of the world and the glimpses of light that brave and committed human rights defenders provide.

They are used by the Department of State and other government agencies needs to guide American foreign policy, and by Congress in its determination and allocation of foreign aid and security sector assistance. They also signal to the human rights defenders and activists under siege that the U.S. government recognizes their struggle and stands with civil society in its unending effort to preserve human rights.

I hereby transmit the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 to the United States Congress.

John F. Kerry
Secretary of State

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June 27, 2015

Release of the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices


John Kerry
Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC
June 25, 2015
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SECRETARY KERRY: Good to see everybody. Well, thank you very much for being here as we release our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014. And I want to begin particularly by thanking Tom Malinowski and his entire team. It’s a great team effort that literally works all year long collecting extraordinary information, synthesizing it, and putting together what I consider to be one of the most important reports that the department puts out. And it reflects a vast amount of objective research that will provide a uniquely valuable resource for anybody in the world who cares about justice and law.

The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled. This is not just an expression of hope. This is a reality, and it is proven out in country after country around the world. After all, we live in a time when access to knowledge and openness to change are absolutely essential. And in such an era, no country can fulfill its potential if its people are held back, or more so if they are beaten down by repression.

Now we understand that some governments may take issue with these reports, including such extreme cases as North Korea or Syria. But also some governments with whom we work closely may also object. But I want to say something about that, and I think it’s important. The discomfort that these reports sometimes cause does more to reinforce than to undermine the value and credibility of these reports. Truth cannot successfully be evaded or dented or defeated, not over time. It can be changed. The truth wins out.

And so my advice to any leader who is upset by these findings is really to examine them, to look at the practices of their country, and to recognize that the way to alter what the world thinks and the way to change these judgments is to alter what is happening in those countries. That is the advice that we also give to ourselves. There is nothing sanctimonious in this. There is zero arrogance. And we couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest. So we approach this with great self-awareness. But we also understand that when human rights is the issue, every country, including the United States, has room to improve. And the path to global respect always begins at home.

So these reports can actually give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens. It also equips interested observers with an arsenal of facts. Within these pages are the stories of imprisoned pro-democracy activists, journalists jailed simply for telling the truth, members of religious minorities persecuted for practicing their faith, civil society leaders harassed for daring to speak up, and young women and girls who because of their gender are denied an education, kidnapped, or abused.

There are other stories too, because these reports actually have improved over time. I think we do a better job of examining and making judgments about what is happening in places. And frankly, the reports have become more comprehensive each year as a result. The traditional principles of free speech, religious liberty, and equal protection remain at the center of our policy. But we have gradually expanded our reporting to include human trafficking, internet freedom, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the LGBTI community.

We’ve also begun to highlight the profoundly harmful impact that corruption and poor governance have on human rights. No person anywhere should have to pay a bribe just to open a business or to get a driver’s license or to have their day in court or to sell a basket of fruit on a street. Corruption is a threat to society at large, not only because of the larceny that it embodies in terms of the values and principles that people hope to organize their lives by, but also because of the cynicism that it feeds. And that matters because when trust in government is lost, other more harmful forces always try to fill the vacuum.

In this connection, no development has been more disturbing than the emergence of such groups as Daesh, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab. The many, the litany of these human rights crimes for which these terrorists are responsible has become all too familiar and no less shocking – murder, torture, rape, religious persecution, slavery, and more. Make no mistake: The world community has an absolute obligation to confront and to defeat these groups, and coercive measures are obviously an essential part of that effort.

At the same time, we have to understand that the terrorist presence does not give authorities license to use violence indiscriminately. We can’t rescue a village from Daesh or Boko Haram by destroying it. Any – and terrorism, obviously, is not a legitimate excuse to lock up political opponents, diminish the rights of civil society, or pin a false label on activists who are engaged in peaceful dissent. Practices of this type are not only unjust; they play directly into the hands of terrorists. And when the pathways to nonviolent change are closed, the road to extremism becomes more inviting. And given all the suffering that we have seen in recent years, that is just simply unacceptable.

Terrorism is a grave threat to human rights; conflicts are another. For evidence we have only to turn to the 2014 Country Reports for such nations as the Central African Republic, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine, which has been victimized by its Russian neighbor. Today, an estimated 230 million people live in areas of overt strife, and we are experiencing a crisis in food security. The number of refugees has reached a record level. UNICEF called 2014 one of the most disastrous years ever for children. And in Yemen, Burundi, and elsewhere conflict and civil strife have grown even worse in 2015.

The persistence of terrible bloodshed is a challenge to all of us. It is a challenge to us to strengthen our institutions and our political will so that we can do a better job of deterring aggression, holding accountable those who commit atrocities, identifying potential crises ahead of time, and stopping outbreaks of violence before they begin.

Finally, it is worth asking – and some people do ask this question – why do we care? Why do we do this? Why do we issue this report? Why do we Americans care whether the rights of others are respected?

Well, certainly, in an interconnected world, “Injustice anywhere is,” to quote Dr. King, “a threat to justice everywhere.” And there can be no doubt that our citizens will do better and they will feel safer in a world where the values that we cherish are widely upheld.

But there is also, I think, an even deeper reason for why we care. Because when human rights tragedies are supplanted by human rights victories, the very idea of progress becomes less rhetorical and much more real. What do I mean by that?

Well, consider a couple of questions.

First, is there a more hopeful measure of civilization’s advance than the abolition of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the broadening recognition of minority rights everywhere in the world?

Is there a more meaningful agenda for the future than the shrinking of bigotry, the curtailment of conflict, the defeat of terrorism, the prevention of genocide, and a fuller commitment to the rights and the dignity of every man, woman, and child?

So why do we care?

Well, we care because respect for human rights provides the truest mirror that we have of ourselves, the most objective test of how we have come over the centuries, and how far we still have to go. It is a yardstick by which we can measure life itself. I realize that that is placing a lot of weight on what is, after all, just a report, but I think the description fits. And I hope it will inspire us – people here and around the world – between this year and next to take more steps, hopefully giant steps, in the direction of greater justice, wider decency, and peace.

So I thank you for coming together. I know you’ll have some questions of Tom. I’m going to leave this in his hands to further make a statement and then to answer your questions on specific countries. So Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary – Mr. Secretary, can I –

MR KIRBY: We’re not taking questions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you have my sticks here somewhere?

MR KIRBY: I got this. I’ll trade you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Trade. That’s a hell of a trade. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we wish you all the best, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful on Iran? Are you hopeful on Iran, Secretary?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m always hopeful. Yes, I’m hopeful. I’m not declaring optimism. I am hopeful.


June 6, 2015

The war in southern Thailand is long-running and threatens to spread

The war in southern Thailand is long-running and threatens to spread

Lindsay Murdoch
Published: June 6, 2015 – 8:45AM

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Thailand’s forgotten war video (05:44)

The war in Thailand

Rarely reported religious wars in Thailand’s southern provinces have killed more than 6000 people. Video production and narration by Craig Skehan. Reporting by Lindsay Murdoch.

Buddhist Monks are guarded by Thai soldiers on their morning rounds collecting alms in Pattani.

Buddhist Monks are guarded by Thai soldiers on their morning rounds collecting alms in Pattani. Photo: Jason South

On May 16 this year, a  bomber walked unnoticed into a toy store in the main street of Yala, a town in southern Thailand only a few hours’ drive from the country’s main tourist beaches, and left a shopping bag packed with explosives.

Minutes later, a mobile telephone in the bag detonated the bomb that ripped through the store, one of  three dozen blasts over three days in May that injured 22 people and terrified the town’s population of 65,000.

Thung Yang Daeng:  Separatist forces have killed at least 171 teachers and torched or detonated bombs at more than 300 schools.

Thung Yang Daeng: Separatist forces have killed at least 171 teachers and torched or detonated bombs at more than 300 schools. Photo: Jason South

As soldiers, police and firemen rushed to the scene, three year-old Fadia sat trembling on the concrete floor of her family’s agriculture products shop 50 metres away.

“She cannot speak … she is afraid and always goes quiet when the bombs go off,” said her auntie Pensi Wangmetikul, 42. “We are all very afraid. What can we do?”

Beheadings, bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations, extra-judicial killings and vicious assaults have left more than 6300 people dead and at least 11,500 injured since 2004 in south-east Asia’s longest-running war in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces.

Armed and organised ethnic Malays – almost all of whom are Muslims – are pitted against the predominantly Buddhist Thai state in a cycle of violence that is rarely reported outside of Thailand.

Monks, teachers, schools, government officials – people seen as symbols of the Thai state – have been targets of insurgents operating in secret cells while Thai security forces, which operate with impunity, are accused by human rights groups of abuses including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings that cause more reprisals.

Militants plant indiscriminate bombs in public places, often changing tactics to keep security forces off-guard. Hundreds of civilians – Buddhists and Muslims – have been killed or wounded while simply going about their daily activities.

And fears are growing that insurgents, who have shunned attempts to align themselves with Islamist terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, are looking to expand their sphere of influence and could be ripe for recruitment by transnational militant groups such as Islamic State.

About 15 men from the village have been killed in the decade long conflict.

About 15 men from the village have been killed in the decade long conflict. Photo: Jason South

Anusart Suwanmongkol, a member of Thailand’s military-installed national assembly and a businessman in Pattani, a town in the centre of the violence, says the conflict has entered a new and even more dangerous phase because of the increasing globalisation of Islam through Facebook and other social media.

“Nobody has time to filter the messages and propaganda to our youth,” Anusart says. “We are not there yet, but remote recruitment for causes like Islamic State is of great concern.”

“When things happen, untrue information is quickly spread through social media. We are in a new age,” he said.

Don Pathan, an independent security consultant based in southern Thailand, says the bombings were a humiliating episode for Thailand’s security apparatus still reeling from a car bomb that exploded in the underground car park of a shopping centre on the resort island of Samui on April 10, injuring 10 people.

Soldiers patrol a roadblock in southern Thailand looking for weapons or suspected insurgents.

Soldiers patrol a roadblock in southern Thailand looking for weapons or suspected insurgents. Photo: Jason South

Evidence links the Samui bomb to the southern violence, a seemingly important escalation of the conflict. Insurgents have in the past rarely ventured out of the Malay-dominated provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani and the four southern districts of Songkhla province.

Zachary Abuza, head of South-East Asian Analytics and author of multiple books on the conflict, says insurgents have tended to feel that out-of-area attacks are counter-productive, violate their sense of “defensive jihad” and would unleash Thai security forces on them, with broad public backing.

But striking at the heart of a tourist island appears to be an attempt to sabotage an area of economic significance, which is known to be one of the militants’ strategies.

No-one claims responsibility for attacks or articulates the insurgents’ aims and the identities of its leaders remain largely unknown, even to many of those in clandestine village and town cells.

Ethnic Malay militants have not accepted Thailand’s assimilation policies dating back to the country’s conquest of the sultanate of Patani in the early 20th century. Their immediate aim appears to make the region known as the “Deep South” ungovernable.

Each morning Buddhist monks wrap themselves in saffron-coloured robes and stroll silently collecting alms while a phalanx of troops armed with assault rifles walk alongside, protecting them from assassins.

In a wheelchair for life. Buddhist Monk Pra Suchart, 40, one of two monks injured in a drive-by shooting four years ago. A third monk was killed in the same attack. Pra Suchart says he does not feel anger towards those who shot him. Attacks on such random targets can follow claims by insurgents of extra-judicial killings by the security forces.

The forgotten war in Southern Thailand

Cambodia Photo: Jason South

At state-run schools, soldiers guard teachers and students in crisp white uniforms.

But Thai authorities suspect some of the region’s Islamic schools are used to indoctrinate and recruit insurgents.

In January, soldiers stormed the Yuwa Muslim school in Pattani province, killing three suspects holed up in a dormitory.

Muhayat Charoenchon was just eight  and about to eat  lunch with 100 other students at her school in Bacho district of Narathiwat province when four men walked up to her father, Chonlati Charoenchon, 51, a physical education teacher, who was directing students to their tables.

One pulled out a pistol and fired four shots into his head from point blank range.

Muhayat was dragged screaming from her father’s body and was the only witness prepared to come forward to identify the killer.

The Charoenchon family are Muslims and Muhayat’s mother Fansiah, 49, says she doesn’t know why her husband was assassinated.

“At first I wanted to take a gun and kill them. Now I just want peace,” she says.

Soldiers on alert at the burnt out bombed remains of a traditional timber shop.

Soldiers on alert at the burnt out bombed remains of a traditional timber shop. Photo: Jason South

Suspicion of collaborating with the government is enough for militants to list anyone, including Muslims, for execution.

The southern provinces are well developed, the government having poured billions of dollars into infrastructure and other services over decades, but they look like an occupied territory, with 60,000 heavily armed security personnel and militia deployed in fortified posts – the equivalent of one soldier or police officer for every seven households.

Travellers are asked to show their ID and have their vehicles inspected at checkpoints every few kilometres.

In Yala town, blast plinths line both sides of a main street to minimise the impact of car bombs.

Armoured vehicles patrol roads and military units go deep into the countryside and remote areas conducting “hearts and minds” campaigns – and to hunt insurgents.

The government has provided thousands of weapons to local militias and “village guards”, prompting concerns that more arms, especially in the hands of people not in any real chain of command, will exacerbate the problem.

Analysts say that while Malay-Muslim nationalism and identity lies at the heart of the insurgents’ cause, their struggle is often couched in religious language and practices.

The government does not allow Malay to be used as a main language of instruction and does not commonly allow it for official purposes.

The area is also home to a large population of ethnic Chinese Buddhists, whose comparative wealth makes them stand out sharply from Muslim farmers and fishermen. The Chinese are often targets of attacks.

Thanakorn Sae-Koh, 59, whose ancestors are Chinese, says he doesn’t know why insurgents have twice bombed his furniture stores in Yala town in six months, destroying both.

“I was born here and have no intention of living anywhere else – they won’t push us away,” he says.

Azman Jantravadi, 27, has been chained by one leg in a corner of his families barren wooden house in the village of Duka in Bacho, for more than two years. He is not himself. He is a crazy person says his mother Jemah Jehni, 55, a mother of six sons, adding he becomes violent when released. Azman’s elder brother Marosoh was killed while leading an insurgent raid on a military base in 2013. Photo: JasonSouth

Anusart says nothing is “black and white” in the provinces. “There are no simple answers to what is happening. This is not just a pure insurgency. There are many other factors,” he says.

Crime networks and rival local politicians add to the violence in a confusing mix of allegiances and loyalties.

Some analysts estimate the proportion of total killings resulting from private and political issues ranges from 20 to 50 per cent.

Also driving  the conflict is  the Thai state’s highly centralised political system, where Bangkok dispatches unelected life bureaucrats to run its far-flung provinces, while, according to critics, making few concessions to the distinct history and character of the region.

Figures behind the insurgency are believed to be both from an older guard of separatists and a new generation who are at the front line of the conflict. They lead ordinary lives as local residents while preparing terrorist attacks.

Don Pathan, the independent consultant who lives in Yala town and has been following the conflict for 20 years, says he has been told a council of about a dozen Muslim clerics presides over the insurgency.

The clandestine cell structure appears to be deliberately set up in such a way that members may not be personally acquainted with others under the overall command and operate on a  need-to-know basis. The insurgents have no political wing, leaving them with no forum to publicly air their goals, unlike other underground movements like the Irish Republican Army, the IRA.

Militants have recruited children as young as 14, according to Child Soldiers International.

For years the insurgents outwitted Thai security forces, constantly changing strategies and targets, although an increasing number of insurgent arrests indicate the military has improved their intelligence-gathering techniques.

A cycle of revenge killings has wracked the provinces. When the 179th teacher was killed late last year, militants left a handwritten note near the body saying “if you detain indiscriminately we will kill indiscriminately”.

And when a 10-year-old Muslim girl was shot dead by a Thai marine when the vehicle she was travelling in failed to stop at a checkpoint, militants hit back a few days later, attacking a group of Buddhist men, killing three and wounding four.

“Sorry for the unintentional killings – just like when you shot at the Malay people,” a note left at the scene read.

Thailand’s military, which seized power in a coup in May 2014, seems intent on pursuing historic peace talks with six insurgent groups, including the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).

Prakarn Cholayut, the Thai Army Region 4 commander, told Fairfax Media the security forces have the support of a majority of people in the region, including Muslims. “There is only a hardcore causing all the problems.” he said.

Don Pathan says it is not clear what the future holds for the peace talks, which began this year.

Eighty-three year-old Buddhist Klean Sangam-pai says for decades Buddhists and Muslims lived happily side by side in her village in Pattani. But in 2004 militants shot  her son dead and three years later beheaded her husband and torched his body and their family house.

“I don’t hate Muslims,” she says. “People are being used for political purposes … the gap between Buddhists and Muslims is very wide now, but it will be sad if some time in the future we all cannot change our thinking and perhaps learn to laugh a little while crying at the same time.”

6 Jun 2015.  Fairfax photographer Jason South travelled to Southern Thailand where Thai soldiers on alert. Beheadings, bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations, extra judicial killings and vicious assaults have left more than 6379 people dead and at least 11,548 injured since 2004 in South-East Asia’s longest running war in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces.

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