Military traffic

23 07 2017

There are several stories going around that congratulate the military regime for finally managing to get some of the bigger human traffickers into court and having them convicted with long sentences.

The regime has attempted to get its “ranking” up in the annual U.S. report on human trafficking.

The Asia Times has some of the detail on the case that finally saw some of the bigger fish in what it calls a “brutal trade” brought to court. In all, of the 103 people charged, 62 people were convicted of human trafficking and other crimes.

The details of this gang of traffickers, led by officials, are grim. Correctly, the report notes that the “[c]amps set up by traffickers in the jungle on the Thai-Malaysian border to hold Rohingya and other ‘boat people’ existed for many years prior to government crackdown in mid-2015 that curtailed the brutal trade…”.

One estimate is “that more than 500 people died in the camps where the people in this particular trafficking chain were held, and that the camps were probably there for at least five years or more.”

The most senior official caught in this ring is “Lieutenant General Manas Kongpaen … who was sentenced to 27 years jail…”. As the report notes, it was Manas, then a Colonel, who “was involved in the notorious ‘pushbacks’ affair in December 2008 and January 2009, when vessels carrying hundreds of Rohingya were towed back into the Andaman Sea and set adrift.”

Remarkably, “Manas admitted using funds from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to help pay for the ‘pushbacks’, which sparked a global furore, as hundreds were believed to have died at sea.”

At the time, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, the government vehemently denied a push-back policy and ignored the rise of human trafficking gangs. Manas was promoted two ranks after this time. Manas was widely reported and defended his actions. The BBC noted that Manas was “the regional commander of the Internal Security Operations Command.” That report added that he was also “one of three officers blamed by a Thai court for a massacre of Muslims five years ago.”

The IOM is now “investigating whether Lt-Gen Manas … could have diverted any money from IOM humanitarian projects and used it to fund a criminal operation to tow boats out to sea.” It is also possible he used funds from IOM and, more likely, from the state for funding his own camps.

The report also reminds readers that journalists and Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison who documented human trafficking were challenged by the Royal Thai Navy who brought a defamation case against them.

The pressure to cover-up was huge, with one senior policeman decamping to Australia and never returning.

At the time, the Army and The Dictator declared “none of its officers are directly linked to the illegal activities.” The police admitted they were afraid to go after Manas.

As Morison explained, “Everyone knew about it. And few people thought it was wrong. We were shown big houses in Ranong and Kuraburi, where locals claimed they were constructed from the proceeds of trafficking.”

One big shot in jail does not change the system of exploitation and corruption. Recall the Saudi gems heist saw senior police jailed yet the police have remained a corrupt organization.

2015’s headlines

2 01 2016

The Diplomat nominated its top 15 stories for the ASEAN region for 2015. As might be expected, Thailand under the military dictatorship looked sick in a region not marked by shining political good health:

1. Landslide victory for Myanmar’s National League for Democracy….

2. Corruption scandal in Malaysia….

3. Indonesian haze….

4. Lese majeste cases in Thailand. Since grabbing power in 2014, the Thai junta has used the anti-Royal Insult law to silence and harass opposition leaders, activists, and even ordinary citizens. Some lese majeste cases led to convictions with harsh prison terms. The law is meant to protect the monarchy but the junta is using it to justify repression. Diplomats and foreign scholars are urging Thailand to review its strict implementation of the law but the junta responded by threatening to arrest critics — and recently, even began investigating the U.S. ambassador for insulting the king by questioning the application of the lese majeste law.

5. Corruption scandal in Indonesia….

6. Rohingya refugees. Thousands of Rohingya boat refugees were pushed back into the seas by the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia early this year. The Rohingya are mostly Muslim but they are treated as illegal residents in Myanmar. The marginalized Rohingya are living in makeshift camps in western Myanmar, forcing many of them to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

7. Trade agreements and economic integration….

8. Cambodia’s opposition lawmakers boycott parliament….

9. Laos assumes leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations….

10. Philippines vs China maritime case….

11. Death of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew….

12. Human trafficking in Thailand. International scrutiny over human trafficking in Thailand continued in 2015, as a shocking expose led to several arrests and rescue missions related to slavery in Thailand’s seafood industry. The discovery of mass graves of trafficking victims in the country and the case of a senior police officer seeking asylum  in Australia only heightened concerns about the issue in the country.

13. Vietnam passes transgender law….

Good vs. evil II

1 01 2016

In the struggle over “good” and “evil,” in the world of the “good people,” there are those who can switch sides or at least be defined as switching sides.

In the case of “[f]ormer senior police officer Paween Pongsirin, who blew the whistle on a network of military and police officers involved in the trafficking of Rohingya…”, because he blew the whistle on those used to having impunity, and who, while people smugglers and murders, are loyal and “good people,” he is an enemy and thus “evil.”

As we know, “Paween fled to Australia last month, claiming he feared for his life. He now is seeking asylum there.”

Pol Maj Gen Paween told the Bangkok Post he no longer trusted anyone, especially those in positions of authority.” He added: “They have no credibility any more…”. PPT can’t recall that they ever had credibility; but, then, he does refer to the “good people.”

He explained, without naming names: “Someone told me to resign and keep quiet…”. His report on human traffickers listed “all major suspects in the case,” and they included “big military officers…”. That is not surprising to anyone who follows the issue.

Of course, the “good people” claim that Paween was working for “evil” politicians in exposing the human smugglers. He insists “there was no one behind his move to expose the alleged links between influential figures in the military and police and the human trafficking networks…. He said he had no affiliations with any politicians and that his track record in his police career was clean.”

Navy case set adrift

1 09 2015

The Navy’s ludicrous defamation case against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, two journalists from Phuketwan, has been dismissed by a southern provincial court.

PPT hasn’t posted on this case too much as it is peripheral to our main interest. However, it has always been on our collective mind as the notion that two journalists could defame the “Royal Thai Navy” by essentially reposting allegations of the Navy’s involvement in trafficking Rohingyas was farcical. The Navy simply wanted to hush things up and to punish journalists.

Of course, official involvement in these smuggling cases has been the subject of tons of speculation and has essentially been proven in the recent flurry of arrests after the story became embarrassing for the military junta.

Missing the boat

21 05 2015

The Bangkok Post begins a story on boats and the human disaster of large-scale trafficking and slaving with this:

Thailand is prepared to help the thousands of boat people in the region only by extending humanitarian assistance, despite Malaysia and Indonesia agreeing to provide temporary shelter, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says.

“Thailand is midway, so we have more problems [than other countries]. In terms of policy, we agree to help but all remains to be discussed,” he said.

The country will provide humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants, but not allow them to stay on Thai soil, he said Wednesday.

Like us, most readers probably don’t understand The Dictator’s contradictory dictum. Thailand isn’t “midway,”but is a major node in trafficking, with significant involvement of corrupt official and military, all of whom have enriched themselves by the suffering of those being trafficked. This case is just one of many; think of Burmese migrants and their huge movement into Thailand and how this has enriched so many. Think of the camps controlled by the military from the 1970s to the 1990s. And there’s more. Using people in these ways has been normalized for the rich and powerful.

What we do understand is this photo:

Thailand missing

Yes, that is the Thai flag on the right. The puppet Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Tanasak Patimapragorn is missing. Why? The report states “he had to first refer back to whether the move would be allowed by Thai ‘domestic laws’.” Naturally, he had to refer any decision to The Dictator. Equally naturally, he has to be careful about the powerful interests involved in human trafficking.

A PR disaster for sure, but more significantly, a humanitarian disaster.

General corruption

19 05 2015

PPT has been watching the Rohinga boat people reporting with considerable interest and concern. We were waiting to see how long it was going to take for the military to be mentioned. After all, there was the big story on this in Reuters and Phuketwan some time ago. The Navy sued.

If social media is any barometer, it is widely believed that the massive human trafficking that has been going on in the south for several years could not continue without military connivance (and profit).

We were interested to read that the police “investigating human trafficking rings smuggling boat people into southern Thailand believe a major general [from the Army] was involved.”

Unsurprisingly, the Army and The Dictator say “none of its officers are directly linked to the illegal activities.” The report says:

Evidence showing this unnamed military official’s possible involvement in Rohingya trafficking was found during a raid at a suspect’s home in Ranong’s Muang district last Wednesday, a security source revealed Monday.

The evidence included four receipts for money transfers to a bank account belonging to the major general and a document with the bank account and the major general’s name written on it, the same source said.

The trafficking of Rohingya and illegal migrant workers, from Ranong down to the southern border, has long been a very lucrative business because handsome bribes were paid to people in uniform, the source said….

“In this case, although police found evidence to prove the major general’s involvement in trafficking, no one dares do anything with this suspect. Of course, you know who is in power. So, who wouldn’t be afraid?” the source said.

An important observation.

HRW annual accounting

1 02 2013

Human Rights Watch issues an annual reckoning of human rights around the world. Its press release on Thailand makes the following points about lese majeste:

While the number of prosecutions for lese majeste has declined since Yingluck took office, Thai authorities continue to use draconian statutes in the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act to restrict freedom of expression, including on the internet. Thousands of websites have been blocked as “offensive to the monarchy.” People charged with lese majeste offenses were often denied bail and remained jailed for many months awaiting trial. Sentences have often been harsh. Amphon Tangnoppakul, who was sentenced in November 2011 to 20 years in prison for sending four lese majeste SMS messages in 2010, died of cancer in prison on May 8, 2012.Human Rights Watch

“The lese majeste and Computer Crime Act bring a climate of fear over all political speech in Thailand, whether in print or on social media,” said Adams. “The government needs to take action to prevent Thailand’s space for free speech from diminishing further.”

Of course, PPT agrees. We have been harping on the fact that the media and human rights organizations need to acknowledge the remarkable turnaround on charges laid and taken to prosecution. Compared with the Surayud Chulanond government put in place by the military junta and especially the avalanche of cases under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, the use of this draconian law is now at more “normal” levels. That said, the feudal law should be abolished and the wimpy human rights groups like HRW should be saying this loud and clear.

On other issues, the plight of the Rohinga is mentioned as is the south where the military still holds sway. The full HRW report states:

The Yingluck government initiated a government-funded compensation scheme for Malay Muslim victims of abuses committed by the security forces. However, Thai security forces faced few or no consequences for extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other abuses.

That should be seen as a positive change.

In its reporting of the response to the events of 2010, HRW decides that:

Neither the Abhisit nor the current Yingluck governments have sought to address the violence in an impartial manner. The Abhisit government charged hundreds of UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses, but failed to file charges against any military personnel implicated in the violence. The Yingluck government, which has the UDD’s backing, has taken a similarly one-sided approach, focusing criminal investigations to prosecute Abhisit and a former deputy prime minister for authorizing soldiers to use live ammunition and lethal force while downplaying deadly violence by UDD-linked “Black Shirts.”

The “men in black” claim harks back to HRW’s somewhat shoddy “investigation” of the violence with very little evidence produced for its claims. In the main report, while not making the point directly, HRW implies that so-called men in black were released by the Yingluck administration, but provides no evidence for this implied accusation.There is no mention of recent claims by the slippery lot at the Department of Special Investigation about investigating “men in black.”

While it accuses the Yingluck government of doing nothing to get rid of state impunity for murder – “After almost two years in office, Prime Minister Yingluck has failed to adopt any significant measures to end abuses, stop censorship, protect workers, and curtail impunity…” – it seems unable to see charges against Abhisit and Suthep Thaugsuban as addressing this issue, which seems to us like another HRW blind spot. Yes, military leaders need to be held responsible too, but at least one previously unthinkable step has been taken.

Red shirt political prisoners remain in prison, lese majeste remains a chilling reminder of royalist power and privilege, the military remains politicized, and the courts continue to act with crude double standards. However, some significant and quite positive changes have been made.

On being pushed back out to sea

31 01 2013

A report in The Australian states that a “Thai navy official in Bangkok said more than 200 Rohingya were found on Tuesday about 40 kilometres off the Thai mainland.” He added: “We took them food and water before pushing them towards a third country…”.

On the Rohinga, a reader sent us this, from a French report, suggesting that being pushed back to sea may be better than getting caught in :

In Thailand, we sell Rohingya refugees

Original article in French written by Umm Michket

Burmese refugees who come to Thailand to escape persecution they suffered in Burma are facing equally horrible situation. After run away from the mistreatment of the Burmese authorities, they now face those of Thai authorities. Once intercepted by the Thai authorities, the Rohingya refugees are sold by Thai police to human traffickers. This human trafficking was revealed by BBC, and shows how the authorities, shamelessly, take advantage of the helplessness of those refugees.

Ahmed was sold for 1300 dollars

Rohingyas are trying to reach places where they hope to live in safety. For example, this is the case of Ahmed, who fled Burma in a makeshift boat with 60 people on board. After sailing for 13 days, their boat was intercepted and arrested by the Thai navy. The refugees were transferred to a police van, and then, they were separated between several vehicles, crammed in the back.

It is only later that they discovered that they were the subject of a sale to human traffickers in Malaysia. Then, they were transported to a city border between Malaysia and Thailand. Ahmed recounts their catastrophic lives: “They dug a hole for us to use as a toilet. We ate, slept and excreted in the same place. ” It also discusses the abuse they have suffered, and how they were tortured.

The price that the traffickers paid to acquire Ahmed was 1300 dollars. To get back his freedom, the Rohingya must pay back this amount to the traffickers. Alarmed, Ahmed’s wife sold their cow but the amount was not enough. A Rohingya friend finally paid the remaining amount to the traffickers to release Ahmed.

Human traffic, a “natural” solution

According to some Thai officials, the sale of Burmese Muslim refugees is a “natural” solution to solve the problem of those newcomers. In fact, they believe that the best solution is to sell the Rohingyas to Malaysians who are Muslims like them. It would also be a way to get rid of them without going through the steps of deportation.

After the revelation of this vast human trafficking, the Thai Government has planned to launch soon an investigation about this human trafficking.

Boat People Rohingya refugees, including men, women and children, arrive almost every day on Thai territory. Those refugees face enormous difficulties to gain acceptance in the neighboring countries, like Bangladesh for example. Thailand went further in developing a human traffic.

The states bordering Burma, but also the international community, should stand up for the issue of Rohingya refugees, and also for the persecutions and massacres within Burma itself.

Ironically, the Labour Minister is saying he wants to import Bangladeshi workers for the equivalent of satanic mills, being Thailand’s fishing industry, where the Burmese have apparently grown tired of of murder, scurvy and other human rights abuses.

Further updated: Still mistreating Rohinga

2 01 2013

When reading a Voice of America report we were reminded of then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s claims in 2009, published in The Guardian:

Thailand’s prime minister acknowledged yesterday that officials had towed migrants from Burma back out to sea, but insisted human rights were not violated. Many Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in their native land, have tried to land in Thailand in recent months, only to be turned away. Rescued migrants said the Thai navy towed them out to the high seas in boats with no engines. Hundreds died as a result. The prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said the boats “were towed out so they can land at a different destination”. He did not deny that sending them away was government policy.

The report at the VOA says that perhaps “hundreds” died under the Abhisit policy of shoving them back out to sea.

In recent days “a boat-load of Rohingya Muslim refugees allegedly fleeing sectarian violence and persecution in western Burma…” arrived in Thailand and the Yingluck Shinawatra administration has determined that they “must be sent back to their homeland.”

Thai authorities intercepted “a small, overcrowded boat” with “73 migrants, including women and children, … drifting … off the Thai resort town of Phuket, well short of their final destination of Malaysia.” The authorities reportedly “provided the refugees with food and supplies” and then arrested them for deportation back to “Burma by land.”

That may seem a step forward from the Abhisit policy of towing the boats back to sea and setting them adrift. However, sending them back to Burma, where they are subject to violent persecution in Arakan state is barely a step anywhere in terms of human rights.

Updates 1 & 2: There are now reports that this group has indeed been sent back out to sea. These reports were later refuted, and it was reported that the group had been trucked back to Burma.

Wikileaks, Rohinga and Thai government policy

21 06 2011

For those wondering what has happened to all the Wikileaks on Thailand, we recommend the thaicables blog, where readers can set up automatic notification of new releases.

The latest batch sees a cable from then U.S. Ambassador Eric John that confirms that Thai authorities were pushing Rohinga boat people back out to sea.

We are reminded of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s claims in 2009, published in The Guardian: “Thailand’s prime minister acknowledged yesterday that officials had towed migrants from Burma back out to sea, but insisted human rights were not violated. Many Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in their native land, have tried to land in Thailand in recent months, only to be turned away. Rescued migrants said the Thai navy towed them out to the high seas in boats with no engines. Hundreds died as a result. The prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said the boats “were towed out so they can land at a different destination”. He did not deny that sending them away was government policy.”


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