Human Rights Watch

 

(New York, October 25, 2014) – The Thai government has yet to bring to justice police and military personnel responsible for the deaths of scores of protesters in Tak Bai in southern Thailand in 2004, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 25, 2004, army and police units fired on ethnic Malay Muslim protesters in the Tak Bai district of Narathiwat province, killing seven. Another 78 protesters suffocated or were crushed to death while being transported to an army camp in Pattani province. The military detained more than 1,200 people for several days without appropriate medical attention, and a number of severely injured protesters lost their limbs. In August 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that security personnel were blameless because they had only been performing their duties.

“Thailand’s failure to prosecute security personnel responsible for the Tak Bai killings is a glaring injustice that brings the police, military, and courts into disrepute,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai authorities’ failure to deliver justice to southern Muslims has fueled conditions for the insurgency in the deep south.”

On December 17, 2004, a fact-finding committee appointed by the then-government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra concluded that the methods used in dispersing the protesters – including firing live ammunition and deploying army conscripts and rangers inexperienced in dispersing protesters – were inappropriate and not in conformity with established international guidelines and practices. The committee also found that commanding officers failed to supervise the transportation of protesters in custody, leaving the task to be performed by inexperienced, low-ranking personnel. The inquiry identified three senior army officers as having failed to properly monitor and supervise the military’s operations, leading to the deaths and injuries of protesters.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has said that military-imposed government will resume dialogues with separatist groups, but he has not addressed abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims. While he was army commander-in-chief, Prayuth often told human rights activists and journalists that the Thai public should not be reminded about the Tak Bai killings.

Human Rights Watch repeatedly recommended to Thai authorities that making a demonstrable commitment to holding abusive officials accountable was crucial for addressing unrest in the southern border provinces. Previous Thai governments have provided financial compensation and other reparations to some Tak Bai victims and their families. However, assisting some victims does not relieve the authorities of their legal obligation to prosecute those responsible for unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses in the southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Thai government to repeal the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations, in place in the southern border provinces since July 2005. Section 17 of the decree provides immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability for officials acting under the decree. The burden is placed on the complainant to prove that the officials in question did not act in good faith, or acted in a discriminatory and unreasonable manner.

The cycle of human rights abuses and impunity in Thailand contributes to an atmosphere in which state security personnel show less regard for the civilian population and abusive insurgents commit ever greater atrocities, Human Rights Watch said. Since January 2004, Thailand’s southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have been the scene of a brutal internal armed conflict that has claimed over 6,000 lives. Civilians have accounted for approximately 90 percent of those deaths. The Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani insurgents in the loose network of BRN-Coordinate (National Revolution Front-Coordinate) regularly attack both government officials and civilians.

“What happened in Tak Bai 10 years ago must not be forgotten,” Adams said. “Delivering justice for the victims of this massacre is an important step to ending atrocities and respecting the rights of the southern Muslim community.”

 

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Kongpob Areerat

On 23 September, three Pakayaw Karen families were left destitute after their farmland in Mae Ngao National Park in the northern province of Mae Hong Son, which they claimed to use for subsistence farming, was reclaimed by officials from the Royal Forest Department (RFD). Prior to their eviction, these Karen families had been ordered by the RFD to move down from their traditional homes up on the mountains to the river basin only to be evicted again several years later.

Soybean and papaya plantations of Pakakayaw Karen tribe in Mae Ngao National Park of the northern province of Mae Hong Sorn       

“We have been living in these hills for hundreds of years; our ancestors moved down from the highlands to cultivate these lands sustainably for generations, so as to obey the Thai authorities’ order, but now some of us have again been left with no land to cultivate for food,” said Tawee Paitaimongkonboon, a Pakayaw Karen village head.

These Karen families have been growing soybeans, rice, papaya, and bananas, and collecting forest products for a living. One family of 3-5 usually shares a plot of 2-3 acres to cultivate throughout their lives.

The Forestry Department reclaims Karen farmland in Mae Ngao National Park and puts up a sign reads ‘This land is reclaimed on 24 July 2014, acre: 6-3-19, case: 106/2014. The authority reclaims this plot of land and no one can possess or reserve it’  

Down in the south, the RFD in early September used tractors to destroy the settlements of poor farmers of Plai Phaya District of Krabi Province in order to reclaim a land plot adjacent to a protected area even though the area had years ago already been turned into a palm oil plantation by capitalists. The landless villagers helplessly watched their homes being crushed.

Up in the north east, villagers who had been living in Khao Bat community Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary in Buriram Province since the 1960s were forced to sign an agreement drafted by the military, which stated that the signatories will leave their homes to pave the way for forest reclamation. The military told them that they would be relocated to new facilities provided in exchange for relocation, but according to Human Rights Watch, the facilities were far from adequate.  

These are examples of the junta’s attempts to protect Thailand’s green spaces after they assumed power in May. The junta announced Order No. 64/2014 on 14 June to buttress this policy and promised that encroached forests would be reclaimed. The coup makers also announced Order No. 66/2014 on 17 June, which states that poor people should not be affected by their policies. However, many human rights activists and people who are living in community forests still fear that this policy might result in large scale population displacements, especially under the current suppressive political environment under the junta.

Order No. 66/2014 stipulates that poor people and those who are living in protected areas prior to the announcement of the Order No. 64/2014 will not be affected by the policy, and that the authorities will only apply strict measures to prevent further encroachment into protected areas. However, the reality starkly differs from this rhetoric.

MIlitary officers inspect former Khao Bat community inhabitants left homeless by the eviction in June  and now resides at the temple adjacent to the sanctuary       

There are two main responses to the junta’s forest conservation policy issued after the coup. The first response is that the policy is justified because National Parks should be protected from every kind of human interference. The second response, however, opposes the junta’s hard-handed approach to forest protection and holds that people inhabiting the forests should be given an important role in protecting and managing the forests.    

Damrong Pidech, a former chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and current leader of the Thai Forest Land Reclamation Party (TFLRP), has advocated the first such view for many years. He said the junta policy to tighten up land use regulations and nature conservation measures offers an opportunity for Thailand to increase its national park areas after years of encroachment and exploitation.

“In my days it was not as easy as this; sometimes RFD personnel had to act without orders from the administration, but now all public agencies have to cooperate in this and martial law is still in place, so no search warrants are needed,” said the conservationist, known for his aggressive measures against forest encroachers. “Therefore, strict measures can be applied to people who have encroached on forest land,” said Damrong.

He urged that the deep forest should remain undisturbed by human activity and that villagers should comply with the current policies on forest protection.

“Since the 2007 Community Forest Act was passed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), a parliament appointed by the 2006 coup group, approximately 7000 communities throughout the country have already benefited. They should be satisfied with this and refrain from settling in the deep forest,” said Damrong.

Military and the Royal Forest Department officers confiscate planks of wood the villagers in Don Yai sanctuary claimed to be using for building their houses, Buriram, northeastern Thailand. The authority, however, believes that the villagers cut the wood to sell     

 

The 2007 Community Forest Act was the first in Thailand to allow people living in communities whose lands overlap with areas designated as national parks to continue to stay, provided that the areas are managed sustainably by the villagers under RFD monitoring. The movement to pass the Community Forest Bill started in the 1980s. However, when the law was passed, it was not accepted by many land rights activists and villagers from forest communities because it still placed decisions on forest management solely with the RFD.      

When asked to give comments on the livelihoods of the Karen and other minorities which rely on the forest, Damrong said “The Karen who are living in the forest cannot continue with their traditional ways of life forever. Since most of them have opted for Thai citizenship, they should think of the advantages that the forests provide to the majority.”

Many believe that the Karen communities practise nomadic agriculture, a method of cultivation that extends cultivated areas without restraint, which contributes to a massive loss of forest. However, Karen communities argue that they only practice shifting cultivation, where only limited areas of the forest are sustainably cultivated in cycles of 5-7 years.

Tall trees and other vegetation retakes a plot of Karen farmland left to restore itself after a year of cultivation

In contrast, the second perspective on what the forests should be and how the resources from the forests should be managed has long been promoted by Rodjaraeg Wattanapanit.

Rodjaraeg is a well-known land rights activist from the Community Forest Support Group (CFSG) based in northern Chiang Mai province.

She believes that the communities settled in the forests before and after the forest areas were gazetted as national parks should be given the rights to live in the areas and participate in sustainable forest management.

“When the authorities look at the green areas on the satellite images, they don’t see that there are people living in the forests and afterwards tend to declare these areas as protected. This is problematic for people who have been settled in the forests because after these areas become protected national parks, the communities in the areas will be evicted,” said Rodjaraeg.

She added that the land rights problem and land encroachment cannot be separated from each other because in Thailand the distribution of land ownership throughout the nation is concentrated in the hands of the privileged few, while marginalised people are left little land to cultivate for a living.

“Although the 2007 NLA passed the Community Forest Act to allow people to establish and manage community forest areas, the conditions of this act, such as those that say that settlements need to be older than ten years to stay and that every decision on how to manage the forests has to be approved by state officials, make it nearly impossible for villagers in these communities to participate in the management of these community forests,” added the activist.

Local activists led by the Assembly of the Poor and Four Region Slum Network comes to Bangkok on June 15 to request the NCPO that the eviction must stop  

Moreover, Rodjaraeg points out that the attempts to evict people from National Parks do not apply to everyone equally. “There have always been double standards from the Royal Forest Department to evict people from their homes. Capitalists might be allowed to stay while poor villagers are often evicted,” stated the land rights activist.

This inequality in the application of the laws regarding forest protection has regularly been cited by many forest communities.

“The Royal Forest Department and the military cooperated with capitalists to try to evict our communities,” said a local activist from the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT) in Khlong Sai Pattana community in the southern province of Surat Thani, which the authorities were trying to evict in early October, in an interview with Prachatai on 30 September.

Thawee, the Pakayaw Karen village head in Mae Hong Son added that the junta does not have credibility because they have not followed their promise to leave some land for the poor.

“According to Order 66/2557, the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order promised not to evict poor people from the forest, but I have observed from many cases that they seem to only be following Order 64/2557 to reclaim the land” said the village chief.

No matter which perspective on forest conservation the junta relied on for Order 64/2557, which has now resulted in the eviction of hundreds of households of marginalised people, it is unlikely that this policy will change any time soon under the suppressive political environment of martial law.

Villagers of Khlong Sri Community in Surat Thani province rallies against junta’s policy to evict their community on 2 October. One of the banner reads: ‘We will stand for justice to protect our last land. Stop evicting the poor we will fight’

On 13 October, the military stopped a caravan of Lahu villagers who had been affected by Order 64/2557, from travelling to Bangkok to complain to the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), according to Thai Rath.

Earlier on 16 August, fifty military officers and two members of the local mafia intimidated villagers of the embattled Khlong Sai Pattana community of Surat Thani, searched the houses of eight SPFT activists and gave orders to the villagers to leave the area in seven days.

Perhaps the major obstacle to solving the problem today is summarized by Rodjaraeg’s words: “At least under a civilian government, people affected by this sort of policy could stage protests against the government and the Royal Forest Department. But now this can’t be done under military rule because no one wants to stage a rally in front of the guns,” said the active promoter of land rights.

 

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Prosecutors have decided to file lèse majesté charges against two activists involved in the political play "The Wolf Bride". 
 
Phawinee Chumsri, a lawyer representing Patiwat S. and Pornthip M., two theatre activists accused of lèse majesté for taking part in a political stage play called ‘The Wolf Bride’, told Prachatai that the public prosecutor on Friday filed lèse majesté charges against the two suspects after almost three months of detention.
 
Patiwat is accused of starring in a stage play “The Wolf Bride” centred around a fictional monarch in the role of a Brahmin advisor, while Pornthip was accused of being involved with the play.
 
The play was performed in October 2013 at Thammasat University, Bangkok, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 14 October popular uprising. The play was organized by former members of the now-defunct Prakai Fai Karn Lakorn.
 
Patiwat and Pornthip were arrested on 14 and 15 August respectively and have remained in custody since.
 
The criminal court repeatedly rejected their bail requests.
 
Patiwat was in his fifth year at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Khon Kaen University. He is also the Secretary-General of the Student Federation of the North East. 
 
Pornthip is a graduate from Faculty of Political Science, Ramkhamhaeng University. She co-founded Prakai Fai Karn Lakorn in 2010. The group was aimed at making performance arts more accessible to the grassroots. Most of their plays concerned social issues, inequality, and politics. The group was dissolved in 2012 due to differences among group members.   
 
In early June, the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) summoned and detained about ten current and former Prakai Fai members and interrogated them about the play. 
 

 

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After a group of students launched a campaign against the coup makers’ controversial nationalistic 12 Thai Values, which have been imposed on the curriculum, the military has intimidated a Grade 11 student in a bid to stop her from challenging the regime. The Education Minister also thinks the students might be abnormal.

The junta reportedly called the director of the school to ask about the student activist in order to pressure the school, while the student activist insisted on carrying on with her activities for academic freedom

Education Minister Admiral Narong Pipatanasai said on Wednesday that the student group opposing the nationalistic 12 values might be abnormal.

“We have to ask if any of the 12 values is not good. Just try to recite it. The first is love the nation and religion. The second is honesty and sacrifice. From 1-12, these values are flawless. If the imposition of the 12 values is wrong, we have to see if those [opposing this] are abnormal,” said Narong.

On Wednesday, Nattanan Warintarawet, aka Nice, Secretary-General of the Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS), a student association comprised mostly of high school students who oppose the junta’s education reform based on morality stipulated by the so called 12 Thai values, revealed that the military had phoned the director of Triam Udom Suksa school in central Bangkok, where she is studying, to ask about her and ELS activists.

After the phone call, many of her teachers asked whether the ELS activities have defied the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s orders.

The school has not taken any action against her yet, Nattanan told Prachatai. 

Nantanan, the secretary general of Education for Liberation of Siam, (second from the right) reads the ELS's stance in front of the Ministry of Education on 14 October.

The so-called 12 traditional Thai values invented by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader, after the coup d’état in May are:

  1. Love for the nation, religions and monarchy
  2. Honesty, patience and good intentions for the public
  3. Gratitude to parents, guardians and teachers
  4. Perseverance in learning
  5. Conservation of Thai culture
  6. Morality and sharing with others
  7. Correct understanding of democracy with the monarch as head of the state
  8. Discipline and respect for the law and elders  
  9. Awareness in thinking and doing things, and following the guidance of His Majesty the King
  10. Living by the sufficiency economy philosophy guided by His Majesty the King
  11. Physical and mental strength against greed
  12. Concern about the public and national good more than self-interest.

Despite the intimidation from the military, Nattanan said that she and the ELS will continue to campaign against the 12 Thai values and urged the junta to understand that ELS activities are not politically aimed against them because the members of the group have various political orientations.

“Students in the ELS have different political orientations and ideologies. We do not have an agenda to topple the junta. We just see the 12 values differently,” said Nattanan.

On 14 October, Nattanan and other ELS members went to the Ministry of Education to symbolically protest against the 12 Thai values, where a representative of the group read an essay to state the ELS’s stance to oppose the junta’s plan to promote its definition of ‘good students’ via the implementation of 12 values.

 
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Pornthip M.
Note: The fable below was originally published in Thai on Prachatai on 13 October 2014. The author, Pornthip, or Golf, is a detainee currently being held in pre-charge detention in an Article 112 case. She was arrested on 15 August 2014 and her detention has been renewed 6 times; the prosecutor has to decide whether or not to prosecute her by 25 October. Her lawyers have opposed her continued detention and requested bail four times. Each time, the Court has refused bail on the basis that the complaint against her is grave and there is concern that she may flee.
 
Golf was arrested due to her involvement in the performance of the play, ‘The Wolf Bride,’ in the events commemorating the fortieth anniversary of 14 October 1973 last year.
 
Golf is from Phitsanulok and her family has a cassava farm. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University. Since the end of secondary school, she has been involved in social activism and various outreach activities. She has many artistic abilities, including drawing and writing fables. But she has a special fondness for performance, and founded Prakai Fai theatre troupe before it dissolved in 2012. She once gave an interview about her dreams and said that she, “wanted to perform plays in the provinces, perform in different places. And, importantly, I want to perform plays for children to watch. I want to tell children new fables -- fables of ordinary people who change the world.”
 
She wrote the fable translated below while in detention and sent it via postal mail to a close friend. The fable is about her dreams and is encouragement for those outside the prison, especially children, with whom she often did activities. The underlined words, which are bolded in the translation below, are those that she had to use polite language in line with the regulation of the prison. While in English, there is only one register of third-person pronouns, in Thai there is a wide range that can be used to indicate status and social position. Her underlined words were the most neutral of these – “เขา” -- which I have translated as he.” What word she would use if not restricted is left to the imagination. 
 
The letter from golf. On top of the letter stamped "Approved" by the prison authority.
 
 
********************************
 
Central Women’s Prison
33/3 Ngam Wong Wan Road
Lad Yao
Chatuchak
Bangkok 10900
 
3 October 2014
 
‘Little Foot’  
 
Once upon a time, a child was born in a village in which all of the inhabitants had hearts of darkness. This darkness could not be seen through their chests, but was expressed through their words and actions.  They monitored their neighbors and gossiped about them. They slandered them. And all families acted sanctimoniously… But the heart of the little child was not the same color as theirs. His heart was the size of a fist. He was born with tiny feet. The villagers liked to mock the weak points of others and therefore called him ‘Little Foot.’ One cold day in winter, there was dew that had hardened into ice on the blades of grass, or what they referred to as frost. Little Foot woke up before the sky was light. He did not wake in order to admire the glistening beauty of the dew upon the blades of grass like the city people like to visit the village to do, but so that he could plan his new independent life. Little Foot picked up the cloth parcel he prepared the night before along with a flask of water and slowly walked to the steps of the house. He did not light a lamp, because there was electricity from solar panels.  After turning off the switch at the top of the stairs, Little Foot groped his way awkwardly down the stairs. He fumbled along until his vision began to adjust to the darkness and he could see the road indistinctly. Little Foot then walked onto the small village road that was simply a ridge made by villagers who mowed the grass neatly. He walked barefoot, his little pair of those two small feet. His feet were stripped bare and he trod on a path shrouded in grass and sharp blades of ice. But Little Foot did not feel anything because the cold upon the carpet of grass numbed his feet. There were small slivers of pain, but he did not stop walking.
 
“Walk on in the darkness. To walk partially on the right path and partially on the wrong path is still better than not forging forward at all,” Little Foot thought in his heart …
 
 
P.S. Please use polite and correct Thai language
 
 
 
Kho. Yo.*  Pornthip
Room 1/6, Phetch Building, Entry Zone
 
 
* Upon being taken into detention in Thailand, an individual loses her previous title. Rather than being “น.ส.” (No. So.) or “นางสาว,” (Nang Sao) which corresponds to “Miss,” one becomes “ข.ญ.,” (Kho. Yo.) or “ขังหญิง” (Khang Ying), which means “female detainee.” – trans.
 
Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn
 
Golf (right) at the Ratchada Criminal Court (file photo)
 
 
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Since the military coup, the number of lèse majesté cases has been rising in Thailand as the chances of the accused grow even slimmer under the junta’s rule. The trial was about to start when everybody except the defendants and their lawyers were asked to leave the room. Despite negotiations by observers and in the Read more...