Thailand: Insurgents Target Civilians in South
Systematic Bombings Possible Crimes Against Humanity
Liability for crimes against humanity is not limited to those who carry out the acts, but also includes those who order, assist, or are otherwise complicit in the crimes. Under the principle of command responsibility, government or armed group leaders can be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates when they knew or should have known that such crimes were being committed, but failed to take reasonable measures to stop them.
Since the escalation of their armed attacks in January 2004, insurgents from the loose network of the BRN-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate) separatist group have committed numerous violations of the laws of war. Of the more than 6,000 people killed in the ongoing conflict, about 90 percent have been civilians from the populations of ethnic Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla.
Although the insurgents have suffered major setbacks from recent government security sweeps, they still maintain a presence in hundreds of ethnic Malay Muslim villages. To recruit new members and justify acts of violence, insurgents point to abusive, heavy-handed tactics by government security forces.
However, there is no legal justification or acceptable rationale to claims by insurgents that attacks on civilians are legitimate because the targets are part of the Thai Buddhist state or because their interpretation of Islamic law permits such attacks. The laws of war, applicable to the armed conflict in Thailand’s southern border provinces, strictly prohibit attacks on civilians and civilian structures not being used for military purposes. Individuals who either order or deliberately carry out such attacks are responsible for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch also remains deeply concerned by violations of international human rights law and the laws of war by Thai government security forces and militias. Killings, enforced disappearances, and torture cannot be justified as reprisals for insurgent attacks on the Thai Buddhist population and security personnel. This situation has been reinforced by an entrenched culture of impunity for human rights violations by officials in the southern border provinces. The government has yet to successfully prosecute any officials for human rights abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.
“The Thai government needs to respond to these brutal attacks by upholding the rule of law, ending abuses by its own security forces, and addressing long-held grievances in the ethnic Malay Muslim community,” Adams said. “If the government continues to shield its troops from criminal responsibility, it will only add fuel to the flames of extremist violence.”