BANGKOK – A leading human rights organization called Wednesday on Thailand’s government to take action against security forces implicated in the killing of an ethnic Malay Muslim teenager.
Human Rights Watch said military and paramilitary units have been involved in the killing of Malay Muslim children in southern Thailand, where an insurgency has led to the deaths of more than 6,000 people since 2004, the vast majority of them civilians.
Muhammad-Azuwan Sohoh, 14, was shot dead by paramilitary rangers on August 21 as he passed their camp in Narathiwat province on a motorbike. A police investigation found that a ranger planted a handgun on the dead boy to indicate that he was a militant.
In a statement, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said: “The Thai government faces a clear-cut test on whether it will arrest and prosecute those responsible for the killing of a Malay Muslim teenager. A failure to act decisively will further fuel perceptions in the Muslim community that the Thai security forces are untouchable and can commit abuses with impunity.”
The Thai authorities have defended the actions of the rangers, saying they had acted in self-defense.
In another case, Thai marines opened fire on a pickup truck at a check-point in Narathiwat province on October 23, killing a ten-year old girl.
The girl and her family, who were wounded in the shooting, were on their way a local market. The unit’s commander said three days later that marines mistook the truck’s occupants for insurgents and opened fire to stop the vehicle.
A week following Sohoh’s killing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former general who seized power in May, vowed to act on evidence of abuses and prosecute troops linked to killings in southern Thailand, where conflict between Muslim insurgents and the state has been ongoing since the 1960s.
“To date, the government has regularly failed its duty to discipline and appropriately prosecute military personnel who commit human rights violations,” Human Rights Watch added in its statement.
An emergency decree implemented in Muslim-majority southern provinces in 2005 gives security forces relative legal immunity. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and local human rights organizations have all called for the lifting of the decree.
Despite being linked to several civilian deaths, no security personnel have been punished for serious abuses over the last 10 years, Human Rights Watch reported.
Adams added: “The Thai government should wake up to the fact that attempts to cover up misconduct of its security units and protect them from criminal responsibility fans the flames of violent reprisals. Insurgents have repeatedly used the impunity of government forces to justify brutal attacks on civilians.”
Since a military coup, the junta has expressed its willingness to restart a peace dialogue process with the insurgents — a process launched last year by the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
However, observers are sceptical of success due to the junta’s advance exclusion of discussions on autonomy.