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Thailand: Insurgents target Buddhist monks

Separatist insurgents in southern Thailand should immediately stop their attacks on civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians in an armed conflict are violations of the laws of war and may be war crimes.

On July 25, 2015, an improvised explosive device (IED) was set off in Saiburi district of Pattani province, fatally injuring Buddhist monk Phra Ekkapol Sri-o-sod, 43, wounding monk Phra Payom Suktri, 54, and seriously injuring three members of their military protection escort. The bombing, which occurred while the monks were on their morning rounds from Wat Wimonwattanaram Temple to collect alms from villagers, had all the hallmarks of an attack by separatist insurgents.

“This vicious campaign of violence against civilians by separatist groups violates international law and undermines their cause,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There is no justification for deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians, which can be war crimes.”

Daily violence and a climate of fear have seriously disrupted the lives of ordinary people in Thailand’s southern provinces. In response to the latest attack in Saiburi district, the 4th army region commander, in charge of the southern border provinces, told Buddhist monks to stay in the temples and stop collecting alms because of security concerns.

The high numbers of civilian casualties since the renewal of armed conflict in the southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla in 2004 have been a grave cause of concern, Human Rights Watch said. Of the more than 6,000 people killed, about 90 percent have been civilians from the ethnic Thai Buddhist and ethnic Malay Muslim populations. Over the past 11 years, at least 20 Buddhist monks have been killed and 25 wounded by alleged separatist insurgents.

In responding to the conflict, government security forces and militias continue to commit killings, enforced disappearances, and torture with impunity. The Thai government has yet to prosecute successfully any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency. There is no credible and effective mechanism to help investigate complaints from ethnic Malay Muslims concerning abusive, corrupt, or inept officials, problems that have generated discord among the population.

The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, prohibit attacks on civilians or attacks that fail to discriminate between military personnel and civilians. Claims by insurgents that attacks on civilians are lawful because they are part of the Thai Buddhist state, or that Islamic law as they interpret it permits such attacks, have no justification under international law. The laws of war also prohibit reprisal attacks and summary executions against civilians and captured combatants, mutilation of the dead, and attacks directed at civilians and civilian structures such as schools. Since January 2004, separatist insurgents have committed numerous such violations in Thailand’s southern border provinces.

“To counter an increasingly brutal insurgency, the Thai government needs to address abuses by its own security forces and answer grievances in the ethnic Malay Muslim community,” Adams said. “If troops are shielded from criminal responsibility, it will only further intensify a terrible cycle of extremism and reprisal.”