Further Updated: More on migrants, repatriation, police

5 02 2010

Update: The repatriation, forcible, has apparently begun (The Irrawaddy, 5 February 2010)

Further Updated: The Bangkok Post (6 February 2010) claims that the military said the repatriations yesterday were “voluntary” and have now ceased following domestic and international pressure.


Following up on PPT’s earlier report , a report in The Irrawaddy (4 February 2010) suggests that the forced repatriation of up to 3,000 Karen to Burma will begin today (Friday).

The report states: “The refugees fled fighting in Burma between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union (KNU) in June 2009, and now fear for their safety if they return to their homes in a heavily mined area still occupied by the DKBA. The DKBA is an ally of the Burmese army.

The UNHCR says that it met Thai government authorities on 28 January, and “reached an agreement with them that no forced repatriation would take place.” UNCHR continues to hope that the “Thai authorities to honour that agreement.”

A letter from more than 70 NGOs has urged the Thai government to “suspend any action to push the refugees back, pending genuine participatory and open investigation led by authorities and the UNHCR.” According to the UNHCR: “In our interviews with the refugees, none expressed any desire to return home.”

According to one of the NGO leaders: “this issue is more to do with the army than the government.” He said, “In principle, the government can decide what to do with this case, but in reality, it seems the army has more power.”

On Thursday, police raided the homes and offices of Karen Nation Union leaders and Karen journalists in Mae Sot (The Irrawaddy, 4 February 2010).

Meanwhile, a police officer at the Phop Phra district police station near Mae Sot “who admitted to being involved in the killing of nine Karen job-seekers, committed suicide on Jan. 30, a police official said at a press conference in Tak Province…”. The story (The Irrawaddy, 4 February 2010) claims that he committed suicide after admitting his involvement.

All of these events suggest the Thai authorities in the area, led by the army, are seeking to assert total control in the border area, reinstitute a climate of fear, and strengthen their ties to the Burmese regime. All of this at the expense of the limited human rights gains made over the past few years in the Mae Sot area. It is probably no coincidence that businessmen in Mae Sot are expecting increasing investment and trade with Burma at a time when the military reasserts its authority in the area.

The military can do this because it lacks any civilian oversight from a government that is beholden to it.

Migrants and human rights: An odious reputation

3 02 2010

PPT recently and briefly mentioned the case of 9 illegal migrants who appear to have been murdered by police near Mae Sot in the country’s north. For more details on this seemingly grisly case, see The Irrawaddy (2 February 2010 ).

The report includes these details that suggest that the life of a migrant is now worth $30.: “All nine victims were shot with a 22-caliber gun. Their bodies were found in two locations in northern Tak Province. The migrants had reportedly been arrested in the Phop Phra area and had tried to bribe the police for permission to stay in Thailand, The Bangkok Post reported, quoting one local source. The gunmen demanded 1,000 baht (US $33) from each of the group, but killed nine of the migrants when they had difficulty raising the money, one local source told The Irrawaddy.

The same newspaper includes details on the likely forced repatriation of Karen to Burma and the implications for these people.

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government, backed as it is by the military, has developed an odious reputation for its dealings with migrants and refugees.

HRW on deteriorating human rights situation in Thailand

21 01 2010

Yesterday PPT wrote about human rights in Thailand and said of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva: “His statements can’t be trusted and no one should be fooled into thinking that he has a ‘liberal’ political streak. Each time he speaks in public, especially to foreigners, he presents his ‘liberal face’. However, when one looks at the actions of his government, it is anything but politically liberal, especially on censorship, lese majeste and the monarchy as a national security issue.” Over several months PPT has also urged attention to the serious decline in Thailand’s human rights situation in several areas.

Now Human Rights Watch (20 January 2010) has made similar points in its World Report 2010. The press release begins: “The government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva largely failed to fulfill its pledges to make human rights a priority.

For Thailand, the report points to growing crackdowns on protesters and other critics, including intensive surveillance of the internet, a failure to curb abuses by security forces in responding to the longtime insurgency in the south, and serious breaches of the country’s obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch says: “While Prime Minister Abhisit sometimes said the right things about human rights in 2009, his actions didn’t match his words…. The government continually undermined respect for human rights and due process of law in Thailand.” The report adds that the “government’s double standards in law enforcement worsened political tensions and deepened polarization.

Adams points out that “Democracy in Thailand suffers badly from draconian laws on lese majeste and cyber crimes…. A climate of fear looms over civil discourse and in cyberspace as a result of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression under the Abhisit government.”

HRW then lists a mounting series of examples of human rights problems. Readers can look through these themselves. PPT does want to point to one important error that is also continually repeated in the local press.

In referring to the existence of a massive corruption amongst a wholly decrepit police force, HRW refers to a lack of respect for findings on the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstration on 7 October 2008. HRW is incorrect when it states that “Two PAD protesters died and 443 were injured. As far as PPT is aware, only one person was killed, apparently by police action. The second person who died was a PAD protestor who was blown up in his car, which was full of explosives.

HRW also points to the harassment by police and poor treatment of migrant workers and to the fact that “Abhisit’s government [has] blatantly breached Thailand’s obligations under international law to protect refugees and asylum seekers”.

Interestingly, on the treatment of Burmese migrants, The Irrawaddy (20 January 2010) reports that the governor of Tak Province has “warned Burmese humanitarian workers in Mae Sot on Tuesday that if they become involved in Burmese political affairs they could be deported.

The governor reportedly stated: “There are humanitarian workers involved in politics and [they have] formed organizations illegally. We need to investigate. If we find any violations of law, we have to kick them out of the country.”

Moe Swe, of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, commented: “Many civil society groups are now in Mae Sot. The Burmese government doesn’t like it, and it is worried about their activities.” The report states that this is part of a cozying-up to Burma for economic opportunities and pressure from local business people who want more trade opportunities with Burma.

PPT would add that this pressure is a part of a broader political regression in Thailand that includes the human rights issues mentioned in the HRW report. It also results from the increased control that the military has due to its influence over the Abhisit government. The military seeks to control border activities and has long considered these Burmese activists a problem.

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