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Rights group asks Thai govt to act on Tak Bai massacre

Scores of ethnic Malay Muslim protesters were suffocated to death in army trucks in 2004
Relatives take part in the 19th anniversary of the 2004 Tak Bai massacre in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat on Oct. 25, 2023.

Relatives take part in the 19th anniversary of the 2004 Tak Bai massacre in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat on Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo: AFP)


Published: May 02, 2024 10:25 AM GMT
Updated: May 02, 2024 11:23 AM GMT

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Thailand government to bring to justice the officials responsible for the deaths and injuries of scores of ethnic Malay Muslim protesters in Tak Bai district in 2004.

“Despite overwhelming evidence, successive Thai governments have failed to prosecute those responsible for the deaths and injuries at Tak Bai,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on May 1.

“Prime Minister Srettha [Thavisin] should show that justice in the south is a priority by ending impunity for the Tak Bai massacre,” Pearson added.

The massacre took place on Oct. 25, 2004, when security personnel from various Thai army and police units were mobilized to disperse Muslim protesters in front of a police station in Tak Bai district.

The incident remains the deadliest day in the rebellion by Malay Muslims against the rule of the Thai state, which colonized the southern provinces bordering Malaysia over a century ago, Al Jazeera reported.

Seven protesters were shot dead on the spot, while 78 others were crushed to death as they were being transported to an army detention facility in the neighboring Pattani province, HRW said.

The army detained some 1,200 protesters for several days without appropriate medical attention, which resulted in severe injuries that required amputation of their limbs.

The then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government had appointed a fact-finding committee which found that the methods used to disperse the protesters were inappropriate and did not conform with established international guidelines and practices.

This included the firing of live ammunition and deploying army conscripts and rangers inexperienced in responding to protests.

The committee also found that the commanding officers had failed to supervise the transportation of protesters in custody, leaving the task to inexperienced, low-ranking personnel.

The inquiry had identified three senior army officers for their failure to properly monitor and supervise the military’s operations, a negligence which led to the deaths and injuries of protesters.

The accused included the Fourth Army Region commander, Lt. Gen. Pisan Wattanawongkiri, his deputy, Lt. Gen. Sinchai Nutsathit, and the Fifth Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Chalermchai Wirunpeth.

In May 2009, a Songkhla provincial court ruled in a post-mortem inquest that 78 people died of suffocation while being held in custody by officials who had performed their duties.

The police have not yet filed any charges against the army officials, claiming that the incident was unforeseeable.

In a final effort to obtain justice, lawyers representing the victims and their families filed criminal charges – including unlawful detention, murder, and malfeasance – on April 25, this year.

The Narathiwat provincial court which has accepted the criminal case will conduct a preliminary examination on June 24 this year.

“The cycle of abuses and impunity in Thailand’s southern border provinces contributes to an atmosphere in which officials believe they can violate human rights without fear of punishment,” Pearson alleged.

“The United Nations and concerned foreign governments should demand justice for the Tak Bai victims without further delay,” Pearson emphasized.

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