Thailand: Human rights must be mainstreamed in the Deep South

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Advocacy, News

“The realization of human rights is not only essential end in itself, but must play a central role in developing  security and development policies in the southern border provinces of Thailand, and recognize as a tool in shaping effective peace process and the free and fair general election” participants concluded at a public dialogue hosted by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Amnesty International, and Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute on 24 February 2023.

The dialogue provided civil society actors from Thailand’s southern border provinces, known as the Deep South, a space to present their policy recommendations to a wide spectrum of stakeholders. It also considered human rights policy relevant to the region, including the advancement of accountability for past and contemporary human rights violations.

Participants included 50 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and representatives from political parties, the Parliament, the Cabinet, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, UN agencies, and diplomats.

Participants discussed the means of promoting and protecting of human rights during the peace process and the elections to be held in May, the application of security laws, allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment while in custody, extrajudicial killings, violations of freedom of expression, association, assembly, and rights to privacy, and violations of the human rights of women, children and other persons in situations of vulnerability.

Recommendations included the calls to:

  • Ensure that all human rights laws, policies and practices can be freely discussed ahead of the 2023 general election, scheduled in May 2023, including proposals for a level of autonomy from the central and the lift of exceptional security laws applicable in the region;
  • Ensure that the peace process is neither isolated from the wider public nor reserved exclusively for select groups, without forums for inclusion outside of the negotiating table;
  • Ensure that the bolstering of human rights are part of any negotiations;
  • Repeal or amend the special laws, including the 1914 Martial Law Act and the 2005 Emergency Decree, to ensure that they comply with international human rights law;
  • End the practices of torture and other ill-treatment, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances;
  • Guarantee the enjoyment of freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, and the right public participation in all their forms;
  • Ensure an open and safe space for the operation of CSOs, with a view to facilitating the work of human rights defenders free from all forms of intimidation, threats and reprisals;
  • Eliminate the practices of mass and discriminatory collection and use of DNA samples, discriminatory use of facial recognition technology and SIM card registration for surveillance purposes;
  • Adopt and implement policies and programmes for reducing poverty and enhance economic equality, social inclusion, and public participation in the decision-making process in the region;
  • Protect and preserve the cultural identity of the Malay Muslim by fostering an enabling environment for them in which they can express and share their identities, histories, cultures, and customs; and
  • Increase efforts to end the conflict in the region and ensure that the military, law enforcement officials and non-State armed groups abide by international humanitarian and human rights law, in particular with regard to the protection of women, children, and other ethno-religious groups, including the Thai Buddhists, who are not engaged in conflict from all forms of violence.

Recommendations were specifically tailored to different stakeholders, including Thailand’s parliament, the Thai Government and authorities; political parties; Thai justice sector actors; UN and diplomatic communities; and civil society actors.

A complete list of recommendations that was shared during the public dialogue can be downloaded here in Thai.

These recommendations were produced as a result of a closed-door roundtable discussion between activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers, organized on 23 February 2023, at Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute. Participants included 20 representatives from civil society organizations in the region, i.e. the Civil Society Assembly for Peace (CAP); Patani Human Rights Organization Network (HAP); Jaringan Wanita Membela Hak Asasi Patani (JAWANI); Jaringan Mangsa Dari Undang-Undang Darurat (JASAD); The Patani; Persatuan Perampuan Patani (PERWANI); Duayjai Group; Muslim Attorney Centre Foundation (MAC); Buddhists Network for Peace; and Cross Culture Foundation.

Background

Thailand’s southern border provinces is the area of the modern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, plus the four districts of Songkhla province. The area is predominantly populated by ethnically Malay Muslims who speak a local dialect of the Malay language.

Simmering resistance against incorporation into Thailand by certain Malay groups erupted into an armed insurgency in Thailand’s southern border provinces in 2004, resulting in the deaths of more than 7,000 people to date.

The Thai Government’s response included the implementation of several special laws in the region, including the 1914 Martial Law Act and the 2005 Emergency Decree, which are inconsistent with Thailand’s international human rights obligations.

The laws provide broad emergency powers to the security and military forces outside of judicial control – including by allowing the practice of detaining without charge and without habeas corpus of criminal suspects for long periods of time, which can reach 37 days.

Although a peace dialogue between the Thai government and separatist groups began in 2013, attacks on civilians and authorities have continued.

Major human rights violations that civil society groups recorded include violations of due process and fair trial rights, torture, ill-treatment while in custody, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, violations of freedom of opinion and expression, as well as violations of human rights of women, children, and other vulnerable groups. Investigations into these allegations, prosecutions of perpetrators, and the provision of access to effective remedies and reparations to victims is generally lacking.

The recording of the workshop is available here

Contact:

Sanhawan Srisod, ICJ Associate International Legal Adviser, e: sanhawan.srisod@icj.org

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