More on Rohinga

21 02 2011

Almost 2 weeks ago PPT posted on the plight of Rohinga who, in a story that appeared to replay earlier events, claimed to have been towed back to sea and cast adrift by Thai authorities. Bangkok Pundit now has an excellent update on this situation.

We are reminded of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s claims in 2009, then 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.


Rohinga claim to have been sent back to sea

10 02 2011

Deja vu in Thailand it seems as a report from New Delhi claims that at least “91 ethnic Rohingya refugees allegedly pushed out to sea in a barge by Thailand were rescued by Indian police near the Andaman and Nicobar islands…”. Yes, it seems like a tragic re-run of the racist and inhumane activities of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government just a couple of years ago.

The report state that the “refugees, who were starving and dehydrated after being ‘abandoned’ on the high seas for nearly a fortnight, were hospitalized…”. That’s according to a senior police officer George Lalu. It is added that the “Rohingyas, who hailed from Bangladesh, were trying to enter Malaysia illegally via Thailand with the help of agents but were caught by Thai authorities.”

According to Lalu, these people were detained for 5 days then “they were set adrift in high seas on an engine-less wooden barge with hardly any rations and water…”.

The report adds that the “plight of the Rohingyas received international attention in December 2008 when the Thai military was accused of towing hundreds of Rohingya refugees out to sea in engineless boats to prevent them from entering the kingdom in search of work. Thailand’s military regards the Rohingyas as a security threat, fearing they would join the separatist movement in Muslim-majority southern Thailand.”

This Thai government has a very long list of “security threats.” It has been remarkably consistent on its inhumane and arguably illegal treatment of refugees and illegal migrants.

Abhisit regime again targets refugees

2 02 2011

AFP has a report, building on several others over the past week, regarding Human Rights Watch’s call for the Thai government to “urgently allow the UN refugee agency access to more than 200 detained boat people who are at risk of ‘atrocious’ persecution in Myanmar [Burma]…”.

There are now some  226 from the Rohingya ethnic group in Thailand and they are apparently “being prepared for repatriation…”. Yet another forced repatriation!

HRW says that “Thailand has repeatedly refused to give the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the detainees…”. Of course they have. This is government policy.

Further updated: Even more deportations

24 01 2011

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) has “sent a letter to the Secretariat of Prime Minister, with a demand to meet with the Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to discuss the APRRN’s clear concern for the continuing denial of human rights to asylum seekers and refugees, as set out in APRRN’s Statement of Concern dated 20 December 2010 regarding the arrest and indefinite detention of Pakistani asylum seekers and refugees in Bangkok.”

The Network states that 36 of some 85 detainees have already been deported. It states that “this amounts to a violation of the customary international law principle of non-refoulement , requiring that no state shall expel or return an asylum seekers or refugee to a country where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of, in this case, his religion. The conditions of detention also arguably amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, being additional violations of Thailand’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

This approach of deportation and forced repatriation is now standard practice for this government.

Update 1: More on deportations here, identifying Rohinga.

Update 2: CNN has more on the new arrivals of Rohinga.

What the mainstream media won’t report III

1 01 2011

PPT posted on the Bangkok Post’s selection of 5 under-reported stories in the mainstream media. We then listed 4 different but under-reported stories, and now list another 4 stories the mainstream media shied away from, deliberately downplayed or neglected for political reasons:

Lese majeste – we know that the law on lese majeste is so draconian, its implementation somewhat fickle, and its repressive weight overpowering, making reporting lese majeste stories difficult for all media. However, one of the ways that the mainstream media deals with lese majeste is to essentially ignore cases where people are charged and again when they are sentenced. Lese majeste stories tend to be brief and “neutral,” reporting very little about controversy or anything about the legal proceedings. When the reports are not bland, they can essentially amount to attacks on the accused. Readers can look through our lists of the accused and the convicted and will find that it has really only been Prachatai taking an consistent interest in lese majeste stories and issues.

Huge support to the red shirts in Bangkok – for PPT, this was one of the really big stories that was deliberately downplayed by the mainstream media. PPT was made most aware of this when the massive red shirt caravan circumnavigated Bangkok. The day after that caravan back in March, PPT stated: “Given the huge government effort to discredit the red shirt caravan of 20 March 2010, it is difficult to know where to begin…. PPT must express incredulity regarding the mainstream media. To watch news readers saying again and again that 25,000 people participated is like watching Alice in Wonderland and 1984 in 3-D at the same time.” In another post, we said: “The most noticeable thing … was the exuberant solidarity. All … were in a festive mood, with emotions running high, not in any negative way, but in a joyous way. This was … an opportunity to be heard … following the rejection of their votes….  PPT has never seen anything like this event anywhere. It was huge.” And, we added: “Those who hate and fear the red shirts will not agree…. Where there was joy and exuberance, they’ll see the hand of Thaksin. Already they are claiming that these people were paid. As PPT has been saying…, this now makes for dangerous times.” In hindsight, PPT thinks that this huge demonstration of Bangkok-based support for the red shirts probably determined that the establishment had to crush them. Such shows of solidarity could not be allowed.

Military and government corruption – PPT has posted numerous times on corruption in the military and in the government. Yes, the mainstream media harps on corruption, but tends to blame politicians. And, yes, politicians are involved. But where are the investigative reports of absolutely obvious corruption in, say, the military? Our posts have had a fondness for the army’s non-flying, probably totally useless zeppelin. Why is that these things get reported but there is no follow-up on the broader issues of corruption? This is yet another example of avoiding any attack on the institutions that run the country.

Forced repatriation – the under-reporting of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s repeated forcible repatriation of border crossers is scandalous. This under-reporting is related to the fact that the military is always involved, and as noted above, criticism of it has to be muted because of its power and centrality. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Rohinga, Hmong and Burmese have all been thrown out, forcibly in recent years, and inhumanely. Where’s the outrage in the mainstream media?

That will do us. If readers have things they want us to add, email us with the details:

Best wishes to our readers for the New Year.

With 3 updates: ABC on Thailand, Burma and pushing back Burmese

10 11 2010

The Australian ABC has a report on its World Today program that states, amongst other things this:

Thai authorities have now forced most of those people back across the border into Burma. Our Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel is in the border region and joins us there now. Zoe, why did the Thais moved so quickly to push these Burmese people back?

ZOE DANIEL: Look I think Thailand’s preparing for a long period of to-ing and fro-ing from people out of Burma. I think there’s a real expectation that this border conflict could escalate and could last for a long period of time.

There’ve been various predictions of escalating conflict between ethnic groups in the Burmese military after the election and that’s what we’ve been seeing in the last couple of days and I think that Thailand’s view is that when it’s safe for people to go back they should go back. But there is an expectation that they may return to Thailand if there’s a further upsurge in fighting.

So I think what we could see if a revolving door of refugees crossing back and forth over the border as these skirmishes take place.

Also Thailand’s got lots of problems of its own politically at the moment but in a more immediate sense it’s just had the worst flooding in 50 years and it has its own displaced people to deal with, which is obviously a costly and logistical matter for Thailand to deal with. So they just can’t cope with any more.

ELEANOR HALL: Were the Burmese people as convinced as the Thais that it was safe to go back across the border?

ZOE DANIEL: No they weren’t. Many of those people in the refugee camp here at Mae Sot had only been there for say 12 hours, they’d crossed over the border overnight and then in the afternoon yesterday they were told, okay it’s safe to go back now….

There was a lot of fear in the refugee camp when announcement were made that is was time to go back and certainly a great deal of uncertainty about whether fighting is over and a general expectation that it isn’t.

Being sent back (The Nation)

The Thai mainstream media has a slightly different style for reporting this, not being always willing to report that the military forced people to go back. Of course, this has been standard practice by the military under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, with forced deportations of Hmong and Rohinga over the past couple of years. But all the Bangkok Post cover story says is: “Third Army deputy commander Sonthisak Witthaya-aneknand said the Burmese who sought refuge at the 346th Border Patrol Police unit in Mae Sot went home when it was confirmed that fighting in Myawaddy had ended. They could cross the border to Thailand again if the fighting resum[e]s, Maj-Gen Sonthisak said.”

At least The Nation states: “Thai officials began to return thousands of refugees yesterday who fled to Mae Sot on Monday after a state of quiet returned in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy.” It adds: “Armed forces commander-in-chief General Songkitti Jaggabatara said Thailand would not open any more refugee camps for Burmese who fled from conflict at home.” He added:  “We have a clear policy to provide only humanitarian assistance for them in a short period, and would send them back as soon as the situation returns to normal…”. Concluding, he said: “Thailand would not intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighbours and would not allow any armed groups to take shelter on its soil…”.

What is emerging is yet another example of the Abhisit regime, led by the military, developing foreign policy that sees the regime aligning itself with other authoritarian regimes in the region. Humanitarian concerns are out the window for authoritarian Thailand.

Update 1: As yet one more example of how Abhisit says one thing while is regime’s police and military do something else, see this report. PPT believes that Abhisit has done this so many times that it is clear that his task is to run interference for the regime internationally, with words about being humanitarian and respecting human rights, when he is heading a government that does nothing of the sort. He should be ashamed.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has an ever so slightly different tune in this article in a report from another border area. It remains unable to criticize the military and the government in any clear way. This is the best it can do: “Thai authorities unexpectedly decided last night they would have to return to their homes…. Despite the reluctance of the refugees to go home, Sangkhla Buri district chief Chamras Kongnoi insisted Thailand had made its decision to return them based on confirmation by the Burmese army that the situation had returned to normal.” Yes, that’s right, the “Thai authorities – and PPT assumes that includes Abhisit and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya – believe the Burmese military. And then this: “Local authorities said the decision was based on national security concerns as the army did not want the refugees to settle in and try to stay long-term.” It is pretty clear that repatriation is a national policy and that Abhisit and Kasit, for all the former’s claims about human rights and humanitarianism, are risking people’s lives.

Update 3: It gets worse. The Bangkok Post has an editorial which trumpets Thailand’s record on refugees/people of concern. It says: “Despite the country’s preoccupation with rebuilding efforts at home, it is commendable that the government has allowed in the Burmese, many of them children and the elderly, who desperately need shelter from the armed clashes within Burma.” It then adds: “One thing that the government has to seriously bear in mind is that no refugee can be forcibly ordered to leave the kingdom. A plan to send them back must come with the assurance that Burma is safe enough for their return. Anything short of this would damage Thailand’s proud reputation as a safe haven for those fleeing terror and tyranny in their homelands.”

What is going on here? The Abhisit government has forcibly repatriated people several times. Are the editorial writers dazed, dumb or dim-witted? The government and military has forcibly repatriated people in the past 24 hours. Is this the best the Post can do? Would the same moderate and supportive tone have greeted a Thaksin government doing this? We doubt it. It is double standards or it is self-censorship. Maybe it is both.

Kasit on political prisoners and repatriation to Burma

22 10 2010

PPT can’t say Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is flip-flopping because the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime has politicized flip flops. We can say that an article in The Irrawaddy indicates that he seems to be engaging in an acrobatic movement that is known as a back flip.

In the U.S., Kasit stated for the world to hear that: “The election is a first step back to an open, democratic society, so let’s support them…”. It may not be a completely fair, inclusive election, but it is a first step, he said. Let’s support it. Kasit says he is going to do more about getting the intellectuals and emigres to return to Burma following the election. Is this a suggestion that they will be “trained and deported.”

Now he seems to back away from that… sort of.

With a convoy bristling with soldiers’ weapons, Kasit visited the Mae Sot border area and the  Mae La refugee camp. He stated that “Thai authorities would not send the refugees back by force, but will only send them back if political situation in Burma gets better after the general elections on Nov. 7.” He mentioned “voluntary repatriation.

The problem with this relates to Kasit’s and the government’s ideas of what is “voluntary” and what is “better” politics. If readers recall the horrendous treatment of Rohinga boat people, the involuntary and forcible repatriation of Hmong to Laos, labeled by the government as somehow voluntary and opposed by several countries, and the government’s odd notions of “normalcy” in politics, and the people likely to be impacted by repatriations have reason to be worried.

Updated: Abhisit and foreign support

10 10 2010

Tucked away in the business section of the Bangkok Post is a little story where Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gets gushy about how much international support he and his government have.

First, Abhisit is said to have the full support of the U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Well, actually, Ban supports “Thailand’s plan to achieve political stability.” One would hardly expect Ban to fully support political instability. Abhisit also says that Ban will visit Thailand later in the month. Maybe they can talk about human rights abuses, political prisoners, political repression, illegal arrests, Rohinga, Thailand’s support for the Burmese, the repatriation of Hmong refugees, and a few other things to boot.

Second, Abhisit is self-congratulatory: “My recent trip to foreign countries is considered successful as I have explained the situation in Thailand to foreign leaders and they have given support to the country’s effort to bring about stability. They want the see Thailand solve the problems under democratic laws…”. Well, of course they do. But he fails to tell us if the leaders believed him or whether they consider Thailand is operating under democratic laws. Indeed, is the emergency decree a “democratic law”?

Abhisit seems to be trying to convince himself of his success.

Update: Abhisit might well need to convince himself if a recent survey attributed to the Internal Security Operations Command is accurate. In the northeast it was found that “people in the area want the government to dissolve the House and call a new election. The villagers also had a negative view of the government and military, due to their role in dispersing the red shirt protesters in Bangkok. They also dislike the present prime minister and still prefer ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.”

Kasit on Burma

3 10 2010

In PPT’s post on Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s speech at the Asia Society, we had this:

A Q[uestion] on Burma. What’s happening there now? Kasit talks of his “friends” there and their desire for freedom of expression and so on. “The election is a first step back to an open, democratic society, so let’s support them…”. It may not be a completely fair, inclusive election, but it is a first step. Let’s support it. Kasit says he is going to do more about getting the intellectuals and emigres to return to Burma following the election. Is this a suggestion that they will be “trained and deported”?

Simon Roughneen in The Irrawaddy reports further on this remarkable statement and says that Kasit is “working on a plan to repatriate Burmese refugees and intellectuals after the Nov. 7 election, saying that the Thai government will assist in their return to ‘half-democratic’ Burma.” He quotes Kasit as saying that he would “launch a more comprehensive program for the Myanmar people in the camps, the displaced, the intellectuals who run around the streets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai province, to return to Myanmar after the elections.”

Kasit Piromya.

Burmese emigre’s have expressed surprise and think Kasit is out of step “with what the international community…”. Amnesty International’s Benjamin Zawacki refers to the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s “blemished” record on migrants, mentioning Rohingya and Hmong refugees who have been ill-treated and repatriated against their will (or worse).

Roughneen cites “Wong Aung, the coordinator of the Thailand-based Shwe Gas Movement, which raises awareness about the role of Burma’s growing natural resource revenues in sustaining military rule in the country,” who is “concerned about the growing economic ties between Thailand and Burma,” and sees this as undermining any limited, lingering human rights concerns within the Abhisit government.

PPT thinks that economic relations are probably important, however, at the same time, it seems that the Abhisit regime is bent on building a coalition of political support amongst its authoritarian neighbors in Laos, Burma and Vietnam. Relations with Cambodia remain strained, however. Building non-Western support is important for Abhisit’s regime as it adopts increasingly authoritarian political strategies.

And, remembering that Kasit’s main task is Thaksin trailing and hunting, we are told that Kasit believes alliances with neighbors are important in fencing the countries off so that the “evil one,” Thaksin Shinawatra, cannot use them in his attacks on Thailand.

PPT was also interested to see this report also citing the tame and pro-Abhisit regime “human rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor” who says that “any such plan would be against Thai law and international law and would be resisted by the UN and the international community.” Well, yes, but if the Hmong forced repatriation has told Kasit and Abhisit anything, it is that critics are weak-kneed and have short attention spans. And, Somchai himself, as a member of the government’s reform commission and a supporter of the 2006 coup and all that has happened since, demonstrates that even an authoritarian government that shows almost no regard for the human rights of its citizens and less for foreigners can have the support of so-called human rights advocates.

Somchai complains about political prisoners in Burma and to claim that the Burmese election “will not be democratic,” that “the situation there will not get better,” and worries that “refugees will face persecution” if repatriated. That is all correct and needs to be said, indeed shouted out. However, it is a great pity that Somchai does not maintain a consistency on human rights and turn his lens to similar failures in Thailand.

Foreign correspondents, Thailand and the yellow howl

5 09 2010

PPT posted recently on a Time story and added this footnote:”Time refers to Abhisit [Vejjajiva] specifically as ‘Thailand’s elected Prime Minister’ and to the king as the ‘constitutional monarch.’ PPT suspects that this is an attempt to appease those – especially in the current government – who have criticized the foreign media. A bit of toadying to the powers that be? Both statements might be technically accurate, but it is clear that neither carries the true meaning inscribed in these positions by Abhisit’s rise to his position or of the king’s political acts.”

We now hear from Nirmal Ghosh that CNN correspondent Dan Rivers is leaving Thailand, for a plum position in London. Nirmal states: “The move is well timed; seldom have foreign journalists working in Thailand come under the kind of pressure that Dan has. The government of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, soon after taking office, took a dim view of Dan’s reporting on the Rohingya boat people issue in early 2009.” One of those reports is here.

This is one of the human rights issues that the Abhisit government was able to simply sweep aside. As Ghosh points out, “The government immediately denied the accusations, saying the images had been faked and were misleading. But CNN stood by the story. Last year, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva admitted there had been ‘some instances’ when boats had been pushed out to sea, and pledged an investigation. The Department of Special Investigation was put in charge, but so far no results have been announced.” We know that the DSI is a political force, so supporting the regime is its main task. It was also another case where Abhisit was able to lie and get away with it.

More recently, Rivers and CNN came under attack from yellow-shirted nationalists like Napas na Pombejra, who made patently absurd claims that CNN’s coverage of red shirt protests in Bangkok was biased against the government and Thailand. Her claims drew the support of the queen and large numbers of the Facebook-generation of yellow shirts. For Rivers, this created not just personal threats, but a boycott by the government: “it has been impossible since the storm over CNN …, for Dan to get interviews with government officials. Even Thais in the private sector have been wary.”

More ominously, it brought out the ultra-nationalist, right-wing vigilantes in search of foreign correspondents seen to damaging the nation. Ghosh adds: “Rivers was not the only foreign journalist under attack. BBC correspondents were and still are, also subjected to criticism and vilification, for their coverage of the clashes. The trend is not new; in 2008 many foreign correspondents were blasted in speeches by right wing, royalist ‘yellow shirt’ leaders; on one occasion a right wing radio host urged members of the public to attack then-BBC correspondent Jonathan Head if they came across him.”

The howling of the yellow-clad right wing, reinforced in public ways by a right-wing monarchy, should be shameful to all Thais. Sadly, they will consider that this move by Rivers is a “victory.”

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