Southern violence 'needs local solution'
Emergency laws don't bring peace, activists say
Muslim women participating in a livelihood project in southern Thailand
As violence in southern Thailand shows no sign of abating, some observers are pushing for an approach that centers on the participation of local people to address the problem rather than using force coupled with the law. “Seven governments and six prime ministers have applied different methods to try and solve the problem but never succeeded,” remarked Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, executive director of Amnesty International Thailand. Violence in the three predominantly Malay-Muslim provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala has been going on for decades but escalated in January 2004. Its causes are open to debate with many believing there is a separatist motive, while others see a, religious, criminal or even tribal element. Official statistics say over 5,200 people have died and nearly 9,000 have been injured in the troubles. A man thought to be a key figure in Runda Kumpulan Kecil, a known separatist group, died in a gun battle with security forces in Yala yesterday and two more civilians were shot dead on February 27. According to a recent report by Prince of Songkhla University’s Deep South Watch, 33 people were killed and 41 injured in 55 violent incidents in January 2012 alone. Most were victims of shootings. Parinya noted the government has implemented special laws such as an emergency decree, martial law and the Internal Security Act, but these have led to human rights violations rather than solving any problem. Under these laws, officials can detain people for seven days without a court order, she said. There are also more arbitrary arrests and detention, and torture in custody,” she added. One example was the case of Areefan a young Muslim man who was arrested after the gas station he worked at in Yala province was bombed. Police tortured him to make him confess to the “crime,” after which he was put in jail, Parinya said. He was released three years later and pronounced innocent, after a Muslim lawyers group took up his case. “The government should reform or repeal emergency legislation that does not comply with Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law. In particular, arbitrary arrests and detention have to be stopped. Those in custody should be brought promptly before an independent judicial authority which is competent to determine the legality of their detention.” Father Suwat Leungsa-ard, a priest in Surat Thani diocese, which covers the three southernmost provinces, said the government’s use of security laws and the military to combat the violence has failed. “The government has dealt with the problem as an outsider,” he remarked. He called for an approach that opens the door to civil society – NGOs, religious organizations, local academics, local religious leaders, community leaders – to play an active role in addressing issues. “Local people understand the root causes of the problems and must be allowed to be part of the solution.” However, some action is being seen at the local level. Father Suwat directs a Church-run project that enables women and youth groups to run awareness and livelihood programs in about 100 villages, to reduce poverty and create mutual trust. “We are also collaborating with Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders in building peace using religious teachings,” he said. “We also coordinate with academics from Prince of Songkhla University and Yala Islamic University to organize forums to exchange information, learn from each other and jointly seek solutions, and then make proposals to the government, the priest said. So far the government has used violence as a way solving problems, which creates more and more distrust between officials and local communities, he lamented. Father Suwat also was skeptical about a recent government announcement that it will provide a total of 7.5 million baht in compensation to families, whose breadwinners were killed in the violence, He cautioned that this may lead to hiding the truth. “It’s more important to reveal the truth and bringing those responsible to justice. One cannot offer money to stop people searching for the truth. The government cannot shirk its duty to investigate incidents in which many people have died.”