Exactly what happened in Songkhla, Pattani and Yala provinces of Southern Thailand this April 28 is yet to become clear, however, under no circumstances can the killing of at least 107 civilians be justified as “self-defence”. All indications are that security forces there were anticipating attacks, mostly by groups of teenage boys and young men wielding machetes, yet rather than doing something to avert bloodshed, they lay in wait. The death of at least 32 persons at the Krue Se Mosque alone is particularly disturbing, as the standoff there lasted for around nine hours and still ended in tragedy. Public responses to the killings by senior members of government and the security forces point to command responsibility at the highest levels. The endorsement of the killings by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, even suggesting that the police and soldiers involved would be awarded, all but guarantees further violence.
While the complete absence of restraint by security forces has been shocking, it is far from surprising. In recent times, the government of Thailand has increasingly encouraged the police and other agencies to commit violence against civilians throughout the country, including the extrajudicial killing of at least 2500 alleged drug traffickers in 2003 alone. The recent disappearance of prominent lawyer Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit (see Disappearance of Thai human rights defender cause for grave concern, AS-07-2004, 18 March 2004) has also brought to light the role of senior officials in the government, police and armed forces in planning and instigating abductions and torture. In the south, over 100 disappearances are reported to have occurred this year, and the actual number is likely to be much higher; the types of torture security forces are alleged to have committed include urinating into detainees mouths.
The mass extrajudicial killings of April 28 are the latest in a series of events that pose an immense danger to law enforcement in Thailand. In a report from last year (Extrajudicial killings of alleged drug traffickers in Thailand article 2, vol. 2, no. 3), the Asian Human Rights Commission pointed out that such practices would have a profound effect on how security forces operate and are disciplined. “The moral authority of the government over its law enforcement agencies has been greatly diminished. The involved politicians will now have to enter into many compromises with officers,” wrote Basil Fernando. “Thus, disciplinary control of law enforcement agencies will be even more difficult after these incidents.”
The government of Thailand appears bent on accelerating this rapidly developing crisis, rather than attempting to counteract it. The spurious arguments of “self defence” this April 28 can in no way be justified under any of the international human rights treaties to which Thailand is a party. In fact, self-defence is at its lowest ebb in Thailand for many years, as citizens are quickly losing their basic defences to the rights of life and liberty. Large-scale extrajudicial killings do nothing to create a sense of security; by contrast, they do much to instill widespread fear.
A thorough independent judicial inquiry into the latest killings is now imperative. The actual number killed and circumstances of their deaths must be fully investigated and brought before the public. That the south of Thailand is under martial law is no ground upon which to argue otherwise. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly lays down the limits to the abrogation of rights under emergency situations. The basic rights of the people stand above martial law, and they have a right to be satisfied that such drastic actions as were taken in this instance were necessary and unavoidable. This can be established only by way of a high-level judicial inquiry.
Today we must sound the alarm at what is happening in Thailand. The country has taken yet another dangerous step towards national disaster. The parliament, senate and public in Thailand must together, with the support of the international community, respond decisively to the present situation. Years of hard-fought battles for constitutional developments towards democracy and respect for human rights are now at stake.
Asian Human Rights Commission–AHRC
Hong Kong SAR