Angkhana Neelaphaijit, a leading rights advocate for Thai Muslims, has voiced concern over continued sexual assaults against Muslim women by security officials stationed in the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
The widow of abducted lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, who has been providing legal assistance to Muslim suspects in the three southern border provinces, voiced concerns during an address at a press conference by Amnesty International to launch their annual report last Thursday.
She said women raped or sexually assaulted by soldiers were compensated with sums of up to Bt200,000 and forced not to reveal the matter – or forced to marry the soldiers, who then escaped prosecution.
“None of the security officials who committed human rights violations have been prosecuted or faced criminal action,’’ she said.
When these soldiers completed their mission and were transferred out of the restive area, the Muslim women had to move with their husbands. “But most of the marriages end in divorce because the women cannot adapt to a culture and society they are unfamiliar with,’’ she said.
The youngest Muslim girl found to have been raped and made pregnant was a 10-year-old from Yala, she added.
Although the number of human rights violations involving torture, abduction and murder have subsided, summary executions are on the rise including the murder of suspects acquitted by the courts. Locals have lost faith in the justice system because investigators cannot find enough evidence to prosecute suspects, resulting in them being acquitted.
Angkhana said the government had won praise for its rehabilitation programmes and giving compensation to people abused by state officials, but she questioned the mindset that money could replace justice. “Money cannot compensate human value and dignity. A society that lacks justice will never achieve peace.”
She said the government had injected a huge amount of development funding into the area, but had failed to distribute the funds for the purpose of human resource development. She said the funds ended up in the hands of local leaders. This made people wonder if the government was only using the money to gain their support.
The government’s plan to bring peace to the Far South was full of holes because it did not include a process for finding out the truth and providing justice to victims. The major problem was, in fact, a structural one. “Thai society is in dire need of police, military and justice reforms,’’ she said.
Angkhana also voiced concern about the country’s lack of legislation on abduction and forced disappearances, which have deprived victims of justice and legal protection.
The government, she said, had resorted to forced disappearances to get rid of political opponents, labour leaders and activists. She said this had been going on since 1947, with the disappearance of prominent figures like Tiang Sirikhan, Porn Malithong, Thanong Pho-arn and her husband Somchai – the only disappearance in which a victim’s family had been able to get the matter to court.
Because the country lacked laws on abduction and forced disappearance, the Appeals Court refused to allow her and her husband’s family to lodge a case as joint plaintiffs.
“Key evidence in the case was dismissed because suspects were police or law enforcers. It is therefore impossible that we can expect fair justice,’’ she said.
Information compiled by the Justice for Peace Foundation on 40 forced disappearances, found that 94 per cent of the “disappeared” were men and 86 per cent were ethnic minorities such as Thai Malay men. The foundation says the government’s use of military force in the South and the ‘War on drugs’ were state policies that led to forced disappearances.
During the Thaksin regime in 2003, almost 3,000 people were killed in the ‘War on drugs’. There were only two instances in which relatives were able to bring the cases to trial.