Attention was nailed on the crisis in Burma over the last couple of weeks and rightly so. The crisis in Burma has once again brought home the grim reality that powerful elites, with little to nil concern for international human rights standards, feel they can justify extreme measures in order to ensure their grip on power. The military junta's use of extreme violence against unarmed monks and civilians aspiring freedom and democracy clearly highlights their fear and cowardice and has aroused condemnation all over the world.
States responses around the world to the junta's actions failed to match the strength of the Burmese who must be admired for their strength and conviction to stay truthful and struggle nonviolently for their inherent rights. Certain leaders of Thailand were some of those who basically sanctioned the junta's crackdown. Could one possible explanation for this position be the fact that what has been witnessed in Burma is a crisis not only happening at the frontsteps of Thailand but is actually taking place in its own backyard?
While the eyes of the world were fixed on the events inside Burma, hundreds of men have been arbitrarily detained in army camps in Southern Thailand. These men have been swept up since June 2007 in massive security operations - massive in the amount of soldiers employed, massive in the amount of violence used, and massive in the amount of innocent people arrested. While some surfaced dead in hospitals a few days after arrest, most have faced dire conditions inside the camps including overcrowding, beatings, and freezing as they are being stuck in airtight containers with air-conditioners running on high. Having been stripped of all their rights, the detainees have been denied visits by their families and lawyers, possibly to cover up physical abuses during interrogation.
After their initial detention of 37 days without charges, as evidence of criminal activity is lacking, the detainees are presented with the "choice" of either being charged with national security offences, which would basically amount to infinite time in jail due to known delays in the judicial system, or undergoing a four month occupational training inside three army camps. Those who had opted for being charged were driven around the army camp until agreement was reached to undergo the training. The trainings take place in army camps 600 kilometers away from their home areas making it difficult for family members to visit being too poor to afford the journey.
The government has argued that the occupational trainings are voluntary as detainees were presented with a choice. This argument is absurd. The occupational training does not have any legal basis and clearly constitutes arbitrary detention. The men have been forced to agree and have stated so in interviews and letters of complaints sent to the National Human Rights Commission. Many of the men have said that they have no idea why they are being detained as they are not involved with insurgency groups or have any previous criminal record.
Family members have mobilized as well to press for the release of those forced to do the occupational training. In collaboration with lawyers, they have taken the issue to court, showing their determination to abide by the law in their struggle for justice. While awaiting the decision by the court, they cannot help but worry what will happen to their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons in the meantime.
The conflict in Southern Thailand, like any other conflict, is an outcome of injustice as adherence to rule of law and human rights standards has been systematically violated by state agents. Instead of following in the footsteps of one of the most repressive regimes in the world, the Thai government now has the chance to redeem itself, matching action with their rhetoric of wanting to resolve the conflict through peaceful means, by releasing the detainees who wish nothing more than to celebrate the end of Ramadan united with their families.
8 October 2007, Bangkok