Calls to Curb the Crown’s Writ Put Thailand on Edge
Calls to Curb the Crown’s Writ Put Thailand on Edge
Report 105 / Asia

Thailand's Emergency Decree: No Solution

The Muslim-majority region of southern Thailand continues to experience a relatively low-level insurgency but a state of emergency imposed on three provinces is no solution to the conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives since January 2004.

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Executive Summary

The Muslim-majority region of southern Thailand continues to experience a relatively low-level insurgency but a state of emergency imposed on three provinces is no solution to the conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives since January 2004. The decree has deepened mistrust of the security forces, worsened public discontent with the government's approach to the insurgency and heightened the risk of human rights abuses. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra should take immediate steps to moderate the decree or risk plunging the area into worse violence.

The Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations took effect on 19 July 2005 in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala and was renewed for three months on 19 October. While it was designed to be a softer version of martial law, many see it as harsher. Far from helping to restore trust between the government of Prime Minister Thaksin and the Malay Muslims, the decree has further eroded it.

The head of the government-appointed National Reconciliation Commission says the decree gives security forces a "licence to kill". Two provisions, one granting law enforcement officers immunity from prosecution and the other suspending the jurisdiction of administrative courts to prosecute officials for human rights violations, leave citizens with no redress for abuses. Despite some legal safeguards, the decree leaves loopholes that heighten the risk of arbitrary detention and mistreatment of detainees. In practice, the government's powers are the same as they were under martial law, but with less accountability.

One particular problem that has emerged is blacklisting, where police and soldiers go to villages with lists of suspects, often based on weak intelligence and weaker evidence. Those on the lists are told to surrender or face arrest or worse. While the government denies such lists are being used, village headmen confirm the practice.

Three incidents demonstrate the depth of fear and alienation in areas designated "red zones" -- those suspected of being insurgent strongholds. One involves the death of an imam, where suspicion of the government is preventing any official investigation. The second involves the flight to Malaysia of 131 villagers, and the third relates to mysterious murders that led angry villagers to capture and detain soldiers who were later killed by local militants.

A by-product of the deteriorating situation has been a sharp downturn in relations between Thailand and Malaysia, related to Bangkok's long-running accusation that its neighbour turns a blind eye to Thai separatist militants taking refuge in northern states and aggravated in recent months by inept handling of the "refugee" issue.

Thus far, there is no evidence of outside involvement in the violence, despite mounting speculation. However, there are legitimate concerns that if the violence worsens, it might be exploited by jihadi groups to establish a new area for training and recruitment, as has happened in other conflict zones in South East Asia.

The only clear impact of the emergency decree has been increased alienation of Malay Muslims. Despite the absence of any demonstrable strategic gain from the emergency decree, the cabinet renewed it. Unless relations between the security forces and southern Muslims begin to improve, however, and until reports of abuses and disappearances can be properly investigated, the growing alienation may turn into sympathy, support and even recruits for the insurgency.

Jakarta/Brussels, 18 November 2005

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