Human rights under a situation of heightened unrest[1]: contrasting opinions between a human rights activist and an army general

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 Deep South Watch

          The Project of Public Services of the Southern Provinces held a seminar titled Human rights during an abnormal situation at the CS Pattani Hotel in Pattani, Thailand.  The Deep South Watch documented this event and recorded the presentations delivered by a human rights activist and highly-ranked military commander.

          Human rights and security are interdependent and interrelated issues for human life.  While the goal of security is to protect people’s lives and property, human rights is a significant issue that can contribute to people’s well-being.  But what exactly is the boundary between the two?  And importantly, in the context of the conflict and violence in Thailand’s southern border provinces, why have neither human rights nor security been fully developed?

          To give contrasting insight into these crucial topics in Thailand’s southern border provinces, the Deep South Watch sought the opinions of a human rights activist and a highly ranked Thai military officer.  The first speaker is Sittipong Chantaraviroj, an attorney and a human rights activist who is the Secretary-General of the Muslim Attorney Center in Yala.  The second speaker is General Supat Wichitkarn, Deputy Commander of the Civilian-Police-Military Task Force. 

 

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“Would the government be bold enough to hold a referendum to determine if locals in the three southern border provinces want the Emergency Decree? The people wish to have an efficient and fair judicial system, but the current system is hampered by inefficiency and arbitrary decision-making. In the end, it is families and communities that suffer the most from the lack of justice in the far south.”

Sittipong Chantaraviroj
Secretary-General of the Muslim Attorney Center

 

          Since 2004 there have been almost 1,000 cases submitted to the Muslim Attorney Center by civilians.  The violation of human rights has been the topic that we have received the most complaints about.  The primary reason for this stems from two laws: the Martial Law Act, imposed in January 2004 for all of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala provinces, and for four districts of Songkhla province; and the Emergency Decree, initially introduced for this same area back in July 2005 and repeatedly renewed at three-month intervals since then. Both laws are still in effect in the region, and both also clearly limit the rights of citizens by giving excessive power to state authorities. The legality of these two laws is also backed by the country’s constitution, which permits the issuance of emergency decrees and martial law in cases of emergency.
 

          It may be true that security forces and officials do need to have special authority under specific circumstances such as violent conflict or war, but it must be understood that these laws also contribute to systematic human rights abuses by Thailand’s security forces. The main reason for this is that both the Emergency Decree and martial law provide immunity for state authorities.  However, one should not forget that international laws prohibit states from violating human rights. 

          There are other issues related to these two laws that contribute to the violation of human rights.  One that clearly stands out is that there are no independent organizations that can monitor the actions of state security forces.

          The Muslim Attorney Center has found no cases in which state officials have been prosecuted for violating human rights. But it should be pointed out that civilians have filed more than 400 cases concerning the violation of human rights.

          The fact is if that everyone obeyed and followed standard laws in a strict manner, fewer human rights problems would occur.  However, largely because the Emergency Decree contains provisions that make it difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute state security forces, this has not occurred. 

          Meanwhile, the current situation in the southern border provinces has not improved. To be sure, the number of violent incidents has decreased, but the violation of human rights continues unabated, giving rise to more animosity towards state security forces.

          The Martial Law Act states that if state authorities deem it necessary to hold a suspect for interrogation, a suspect can be detained without a warrant and held in detention for seven days without charge. It is interesting that this law uses the word detain and not arrest. 
When suspects are detained under martial law, they are denied access to family or legal council for the first three days.  They do not have fundamental human rights, and at the same time independent organizations are not able to monitor state authorities at detention centers.

          After seven days of detention, suspects will then be transferred to the army. When this occurs, there is a possibility that suspects will experience another interrogation, in which suspects sometimes admit their guilt. If there is an admission of guilt, the police will then request a warrant from the provincial court. If the court grants a warrant to the police, the police then have the legal authority to detain suspects for another seven days. 

          It should be mentioned that under normal circumstances in Thailand (i.e., in cases outside of the southern border provinces, where the Emergency Decree and the Martial Law Act are not in effect), when an arrest warrant is granted to the police, a Supreme Court judge will provide guidelines for the police in issuing a warrant. However, under the Emergency Decree, provincial courts grant warrants to the police; these courts do not have to follow the guidelines set forth by Supreme Court judges.  Instead, provincial courts can establish their own guidelines.

          During the seven-day-detention, suspects are not considered defendants.  Instead, they are considered arrestees.  Because of this, they have the right to meet with an attorney. However, in 2007 the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) of the Fourth Army Area Command formulated a regulation that prohibited visitors within the first three days of detention. In this regard, arrestees have fewer rights than defendants.  Later, however, ISOC eradicated this regulation.  Now arrestees are permitted access to family and legal council within the first three days of detention under the Emergency Decree.

          Our center found out that following the seven-day detention, arrestees are detained in locations that are not referred to in the arrest warrants. Moreover, in some cases, these locations are not even official detention centers. 

          Additionally, under the Emergency Decree, when state authorities want to detain an arrestee for more than seven days, they must request permission from the provincial court for the extension, and it can not be any longer than 30 days. In other words, arrestees can not be detained for longer than 37 days.

          Also, under the Emergency Decree, if state authorities seek to extend the detention beyond the initial 7 days, an arrestee will then be brought to the court for the detention process. If an arrestee believes that he or she does not deserve to be detained, they can object to their detention in court. However, under martial law and the Emergency Decree, arrestees are not required to attend courts during their hearing. As a result, in some cases courts do not know how arrestees are treated by state authorities.

          From my perspective, I believe that state authorities tend to neglect their duties if there is no person or institution that monitors their actions.  For example, under normal circumstances, when the police seek additional detention time for arrested individuals they must take these people to court every day. However, under martial law and the Emergency Decree this is not required.

          I firmly believe that we need to significantly change our attitude and mindset concerning the detention of arrestees.  By reducing arrestees’ and others’ fundamental rights, the government alienates many people in the southern border provinces. This is not what we need.  It is important that cordial relations built on trust are established between the Thai state and the Muslim majority in the far south.

          Under Thai law, it states that if a suspect is sentenced to prison for more than ten years, he must be represented by an attorney. However, under martial law an attorney is not always permitted to visit with a suspect.  Unfortunately, there are no plans to change this law, in large part because it gives Thai authorities more opportunities to find evidence to be used against a suspect in court. 

          Since 2004, courts have dismissed approximately 70 percent of cases, and each case generally takes at least two years for the court to reach a ruling.  In cases in which defendants are suspected of being linked to the separatist movement, they are hardly ever granted bail.  For these cases, it usually takes at least four to five years to reach the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court.

          There are a number of steps that the government could take to begin to reduce human rights violations.  One particularly important one would be to allow neutral, independent organizations to monitor the actions of state authorities. I firmly believe that if this were to occur, human rights violations could be significantly reduced.

          Another important step would be for the government to give serious consideration to citizens’ opinions in the southern border provinces.  I wonder if the government has ever listened to citizens’ opinions concerning martial law and the Emergency Decree, particularly in terms of whether people even want these laws. And really, with the regular occurrence of human rights violations, resulting largely from the provisions in the Emergency Decree and martial law, how useful are these laws? Would the government be bold enough to hold a referendum to determine if locals in the three southern border provinces want the Emergency Decree?  The people wish to have an efficient and fair judicial system, but the current system is hampered by inefficiency and arbitrary decision-making. In the end, it is families and communities that suffer the most from the lack of justice in the far south.
 

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“When we talk about human rights, it is inevitable that we discuss the two special laws, the Emergency Decree and martial law.  But I have to say that we are not fighting against ordinary criminals; this is a group with a well set-up plan and a clear agenda, which is to give independence to the Patani State.”

Major General Supat Wichitkarn
Deputy Commander of Civilian Police Military Task Force

 

          First of all, I want to tell you the truth about the situation in the southern border provinces. What is the real disease, the real cause, of the situation?  If we have a solid understanding of the core problems behind the situation we will be able to find a way to resolve it in a way that limits the negative effects for each side.
         
          Some academic documents state that the situation has resulted from a combination of factors, including culture, politics, economics, education, and drugs. In fact, based on information learned from arrests, it is clear that there is a group that aims to separate from Thailand.  This factor stands out above all others. To be sure, however, other factors do indeed intersect with this political agenda to further influence the situation. 
         
          At first, the movement in the south received some opposition from former leaders in the region who had earlier lost their power to govern the region. The movement sought to mobilize the masses under the banner of religion and Malay nationalism, and by teaching a version of history that attempts to explain the formation of the Patani state. An important aspect of this idea was to emphasize the idea that Patani is an Islamic state, one that all Muslims should be a part of. The question is: Is it possible to conceive of a religious leader who demands that every Muslim fight in a holy war?

          According to evidence collected so far, authorities believe that the movement has a seven-step plan to establish a separate, independent Patani state through a revolutionary war.  Important aspects of this include creating animosity toward Buddhists, blaming government officials for the current situation, creating a culture of fear, and encouraging Muslims to retaliate against the Thai government.

          These ideas are spread by the organization Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani-Melayu (BRN-C), which has a two-leveled structure.  At the top level, there is the group’s leading council.  At the second level, there are many decentralized cells consisting of leaders at the village level. These leaders at the village level focus on mobilizing sentiment against Thai authorities, emphasizing religious differences between Muslims and Buddhists, and the significance of achieving independence from the Thai state. 

          In many villages, children have become members of the group Runda Kumpalan Kecil (RKK), which is made up of small patrol units.  RKK is a well-armed wing of BRN-C, and it focuses on local areas, particularly at the village level.  In addition, it has some cells that that are responsible for working across various areas.

          In terms of mobilizing youth, RKK attempts to instruct and recruit individuals who are very young.  In fact, the recruitment process usually begins in takida schools, elementary Islamic schools attached to a village mosque for children between the age of seven and 12 years old.  The process then continues in traditional Islamic boarding schools (ponoh) as well as private schools teaching Islam.  In particular, RKK seeks to recruit intelligent children into the movement. RKK’s local actors repeatedly teach the young children about Siam’s invasion of Patani and the Thai state’s discrimination and abuses against the local people. 

          But for me, I wonder how these people in this movement could use children as soldiers.  How can they do this?  They are destroying the future of the children in the three southern border provinces.  I was once told a story about how one child was arrested for throwing spikes on a road.  Although this young boy did not want to carry out this order, he was later ordered to do it again by another member soon almost immediately after he had just been arrested and freed. This young boy had no choice in the matter. When children join the movement, they must follow orders and are compelled to remain with the movement.
 
          The BRN-C’s fundamental strategy is to create situations that the authorities must respond to.  It employs violence with the intention of acquiring international attention and support to help in its effort to establish an independent Patani state.

          Its political strategy has seven steps. It attempts to stir up nationalist sentiment, and uses religion as a mobilization tool. It also sets up secret organizations in an effort to establish more allies in various clubs and international organizations.
         
          In terms of BRN-C’s military strategy, it relies on its armed groups.  But when BRN-C militants conduct operations, there are usually only one or two members. 

          Above all else, the BRN-C has a political goal in mind.  The purpose of its military operations is political – and that is to acquire independence from the Thai state.  Toward this end, it seeks to increase locals’ sense of fear, and tries to discourage them from trusting the Thai state. Like Mao Zedong in China, this group aims to orchestrate a people’s movement that does not rely only on military means, but ideology as well. 

          Many people have been adversely impacted by this war in the south, and many have also been indoctrinated and deceived to fight for the BRN-C.  Although many of these BRN-C members may feel proud to participate in the war, their efforts have negative consequences. Indeed, according to officials reports, from January 2004 through March 2009 there were 3,378 people killed and another 5,900 injured.

          In an effort to reduce this violence and to end the war, an increasing number of Thailand’s security forces have been sent to the region. Each military commander asks his soldiers to ensure the safety and peace of the 1.9 million people living in the region.  Soldiers are also told that their duty is to pave the way for authorities to have opportunities to develop the region.

          However, when we talk about human rights, it is inevitable that we discuss the two special laws, the Emergency Decree and martial law. But I have to say that we are not fighting against ordinary criminals; this is a group with a well set-up plan and a clear agenda, which is to give independence to the Patani State.

          After the arms raid at the Fourth Army Development Unit on January 4, 2004, martial law was declared. On July 20, 2005, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared a state of emergency. In some ways, the Emergency Decree does have an impact on people’s rights.  Indeed, some people see these laws as giving too much power to Thailand’s security forces and officials.  However, we do attempt to demonstrate to the public that we perform our duties in a proper and transparent manner.  For instance, relatives are allowed to contact authorities if they wish to meet a suspect. More importantly, police officers must receive punishment if they are found guilty of abusing their power.

          Martial law was not initially introduced for the districts of Saba Yoi, Thepa, and Natwawee in Songkhla province, but after bombings rocked Hat Yai, having a strong impact on the economy, martial law was introduced for these four districts. 

          Martial law gives authorities a tremendous amount of power but we do not abuse this power. For example, we generally only search and control the areas that are deeply impacted by the situation, such as Yaha and Banang-Satar districts in Yala.

          And for as much if an impact these laws have on security, the law does not have any kind of effect on religion.  Some religious leaders have even said that the existence of martial law is good, partly because it forces people to return home by 9:00 PM.
         
          The core component of the Emergency Decree gives authorities the legal backing to detain suspects for 30 days. In fact, when suspects are detained, an interrogation unit called Ingka Yuttaboriharn is responsible for interrogating suspects brought to detention locations.  However, this unit is not involved with the legal system. During the 30-day period, religious teachers will be present to help persuade suspected insurgents to change their attitudes and beliefs. This is useful because state authorities will receive more information to end this movement that is plaguing Thailand’s southern border provinces.

 

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