Rights commission tells Thai military to stop visiting families of suspected insurgents

Mariyam Ahmad
2022.03.15
Pattani, Thailand
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Rights commission tells Thai military to stop visiting families of suspected insurgents Relatives of two suspected insurgents who were killed in a shootout with the military arrive at Narathiwat Hospital in Narathiwat town in southern Thailand, Feb. 12, 2019.
AFP

Human rights commissioners are calling on the Thai military to stop making house calls to families of suspected insurgents in the Deep South because, they allege, such visits harass people and violate their right to privacy.

But the Thai military spokesman is pushing back against criticism of the controversial practice, saying the visits by tactical teams to the homes of suspects’ relatives are meant to spread goodwill and deepen understanding between the authorities and such families across Thailand’s troubled far south.

In a rare move last week, the Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) said it had investigated incidents based on a 2020 petition from the wife of a man who had been found not guilty of charges linked to a bomb-attack which injured more than 60 people at a superstore in Pattani province in May 2017 and was blamed on southern separatist rebels.

The commission, which investigated the complaint against the 42nd Ranger Task Force in Pattani, concluded that the military’s visits were unconstitutional.

“Such actions were breaching territorial privacy, thus a violation of human rights,” Wasan Paileeklee, the chief of the human rights body, said in a statement last week.

“The Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 should cease such an approach or practice in which troops are assigned to visit or monitor activities of the relatives who had no connection to alleged offenses to avoid impact on their privacy,” Wasan said.        

ISOC-4, the regional military command whose duty is to fight against insurgents, has jurisdiction across Thailand’s heavily militarized southern border region.

The commission also recommended that local religious leaders and female officials accompany troops during such goodwill visits so families that include women and children don’t feel as intimidated.  

‘Grouchy’ visitors

Commenting on the petition that led to the investigation, Wasan said the military had visited the man’s family several times and questioned him about his behavior, forcing him to find a job in nearby Malaysia to escape fear, according to his wife.

A family member who asked not to be named for security concerns said the military visitors were unfriendly.

“They came grouchy. The way they spoke was biased against us,” the family member said. “They were fully armed so children and the elderly felt intimidated when they met them.

“The people who tend to cause trouble here are the military. Many times the soldiers shot the villagers. When the villagers complained, they paid and threatened people to shut up,” he said.

“Villagers filed a petition to the NHRC to stop the military.”

ISOC-4: No ill intention

Col. Kiatisak Neewong, the spokesman for ISOC-4, insisted that military personnel are only paying goodwill visits.

“In the event that military personnel go to visit the suspect’s family, they have no bad intentions or don’t want to intimidate or create conflict. The villagers don’t understand and can become angry. The officers have to be patient to put up with this to the end,” he told BenarNews.

Despite that claim, families visited by the military said they felt as though they were under investigation, the NHRC report found.

The Deep South encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces and four districts of Songkhla province. Since the separatist insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,300 people have been killed in violence across the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking region, according to Deep South Watch, a Pattani think-tank.

In 2005, the government enacted an emergency decree in nearly 37 districts in the Malay-speaking Muslim dominant provinces.

The decree empowers officials to conduct broad searches of households and detain suspected insurgents for questioning without charging them for at least a week. The state of emergency in the border region has been extended 67 times – most recently earlier this month.

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