Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 7 December 2005
Review: 102/05
Thai asylum seekers face arrest on arrival

"When they get back they will be brought to understand the situation in the region, as well as for security reasons. This is a sensitive issue so we need a clear plan about where they will stay when they return to Thailand." - thus spoke Pol Lt-Gen Adul Saengsingkaew, chief of the Regional Police Bureau 9 on the fate of the 131 Thai Muslims who fled to Malaysia in August 2005 and may be deported to Thailand.

Nothing could expose as to what ails the policies of the government of Thailand with regard to the crisis in Southern Thailand than the proposed “arrest on arrival” of the 131 asylum seekers. In August 2005, the asylum seekers fled from Narathiwat to Malaysia fearing attacks from the government troops. The incident triggered a diplomatic standoff between Malaysia and Thailand. Earlier, on 21-22 November 2005, Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad visited Thailand and met former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, the head of the Thai National Reconciliation Commission to ease the stand-off.

Rights Issue:

However, the decision of the government of Thailand to take the asylum seekers for socalled reeducation, tantamount to putting them under arrest. They are likely to face interrogation as the Thai government officials suspect them leaving the country at the instigation of the insurgents to allegedly internationalise the Southern Thailand crisis. Torture, which is routine in Thailand, cannot be ruled out.

The proposed return of the Thai asylum seekers requires immediate intervention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to ensure that Thailand government does not put their under arrest.

The government of Malaysia also must not forcibly repatriate the asylum seekers and must ensure the involvement of the UNHCR or International Committee of the Red Cross to verify the status of the returnee asylum seekers.

It is clear that the officials of the government of Thailand obviously have little respect for the 1997 Constitution of Thailand , especially Section 36 which provides that:

“A person shall enjoy the liberty of travelling and the liberty of making the choice of his or her residence within the Kingdom. The restriction on such liberties under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of the law specifically enacted for maintaining the security of the State, public order, public welfare, town and country planning or welfare of the youth.

No person of Thai nationality shall be deported or prohibited from entering the Kingdom”.

Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also states, “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence”.

Thailand’s amnesia:

Over 1,000 people have been killed in southern Thailand since the conflict began in early 2004. Thailand stills talks of “reeducation”, in a la communist style. The crisis in Southern Thailand is simply not a communist movement which can be crushed aside or resolved through reeducation.

Thailand has abysmally failed.

Initially, Thailand sought to identify the attacks of the insurgents as another “Al-Queda” movement. As media covered the issues, the lack of development of the Southern region came out to the open. The impunity given to the security forces especially for the massacre of 78 unarmed protesters who were in the custody of security forces on 26 October 2004 has not helped. The law and order approach and imposition of emergency meant that gross human rights violations by the security forces only intensified the insurgency.

On 28 March 2005, the government established the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC). It has also failed to make any breakthrough until today. Its Chairman Anand Panyarachun urged Malaysia to show more understanding about the insurgency and not to support demand for autonomy.

It is clear that Thailand suffers from amnesia about the existence of Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), an armed opposition group of the ethnic Malays in Southern Thailand which has been active since 1960s but remained dormant until January 2004. In government’s official lexicon, the PULO does not exist. The government of Thailand immediately denied holding secret talks with PULO from 24-27 August 2005 in Geneva. 

Unless Thailand recognises the political dimensions of the problem in Southern Thailand and existence of the PULO, urging Malaysia alone is unlikely to resolve the crisis. It is Thailand’s problem and the Malay minorities are completely different cattle of fish from the hill tribes of Northern Thailand.

The sooner Thailand sheds its amnesia on the PULO and accepts autonomy, federalism, cultural and religious freedoms,  and equitable economic development as issues needed to be addressed by heterogeneous societies, the solutions to the Southern Thailand crisis would be easier to find. Until then, Southern Thailand is all set to bleed. Reeducation of 131 asylum seekers who fled to escape atrocities by security forces is unlikely to help.

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