Massacre on the Mae Lamao

Urgent Appeals Desk, Asian Human Rights Commission

During the last week of January 2002 at least 21 persons of Burmese origin were massacred in a single incident on the Mae Lamao stream, Mae Ramat district, within the vicinity of Mae Sot, Tak province, Thailand. As none of the victims were Thai the local authorities initially ignored the case, however were pressured to act after word of the terrible event spread. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has since became involved.

To date the case has been characterised by a lack of transparency, inconsistent accounts, and the absence of genuine effort directed towards capturing and bringing the murderers and masterminds to justice. Since early February it has virtually disappeared from public view. The Asian Human Rights Commission has issued an Urgent Appeal to keep attention focused on the event in an effort to bring pressure to bear on the authorities concerned to seek and hold responsible all those complicit.


Among the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have entered Thailand illegally from neighbouring countries, the vast majority are from Burma. Most of these people enter at various points on the border, and many again are employed in a multitude of industries and activities in border areas. These people are extremely vulnerable to all types of human rights violation, ranging from denial of wages and police extortion to assault, rape and murder.

Mae Sot region is one of the largest entry points and areas of employment for Burmese coming to Thailand. It is also an area where Burmese are murdered routinely: in the five districts around and including Mae Sot, four to five people of Burmese origin are killed weekly. As the police and immigration authorities are involved in the trade of Burmese across the border, as well being active participants in various human rights violations, they do not pursue the perpetrators of crimes against Burmese victims. The widespread mentality that crime need not be investigated unless the victims are Thai people is reinforced by a chauvenist mentality ingrained through distorted history teaching that Burmese are the historical enemies of Thai people.


In the last days of January 2002, villagers from Wangpha, Mae Ramat district, came across 14 bodies in the Mae Lamao stream, close to their village. The bodies were in two groups of seven, and included males and females aged from around 14 to 45. They were stripped naked, hands tied behind their backs, with stab wounds to the bodies and necks. After encountering the first group the village head is understood to have reported the matter to the local police. As the police were unaware of the unusually large number of bodies involved they treated it as a “normal?killing of Burmese people, and suggested the villagers float the bodies away from the village, so that they would travel downstream into the Moei River. In this area the Moei forms the border between Thailand and Burma.

The villagers floated the bodies away as suggested, however due to the large number of victims and nature of their deaths news of the killings spread, causing the provincial police chief to order the local police to recover the bodies. Seven corpses were located in the Moei River on February 2, however contrary to reports that the bodies were subject to autopsy, it is understood that the police cremated seven bodies there. On February 4 and 6 another three bodies were encountered, and these were in fact sent to the Mae Sot hospital for autopsy, which is reported to have revealed nothing except that the people were certainly of Burmese origin and were killed some days before they were discovered. The three additional bodies brings the total positively identified to 17. However reliable sources indicate that another four corpses from the same massacre were found in another nearby stream, bringing the total to at least 21.

On February 8 a network of local NGOs urged the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to take action on the case. A team from the Commission finally visited the area of the atrocity during the first week of March. To date it has not issued any public report on the case, however on March 17 the Commissioner who led the mission, Jaran Ditha-apichai, publicly urged the Ministry of Interior to investigate the deaths in order to lead to the arrests of those responsible.

Reports of the event have lacked clarity and consistency, and since early February have virtually ceased altogether. The number of victims—and circumstances under which they were found—have fluctuated. The stories given by local officials have lacked consistency and credibility. The police have focused on emphasising that Thai people were not involved. Media and official discourse has oriented towards the possible motive for the murders and speculation that the victims were involved in some kind of illegal activity and were killed lest they become witnesses. The business of actually catching those responsible for the killings has taken a back seat to all these subsidiary issues.

To date no move has been made on the part of the Thai authorities to seriously identify and apprehend the culprits of this atrocity. Although the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has investigated the case, it has not yet made any formal intervention. The Asian Human Rights Commission is extremely concerned that with every passing day the likelihood that the perpetrators of this horror will ever be brought to justice grows increasingly remote. It therefore calls upon the government of Thailand to pursue a satisfactory outcome of this case at the nearest possible date. It also urges a concerted review of Thai government policies for protection of migrant workers—irrespective of their legal status.

[For further information on this case see:

Urgent Appeal UA-12-2002: Massacre on the Mae Lamao

Massacres in Asia website (Click on link to Mae Lamao)