Thailand has recently taken steps to lift the long-standing emergency rule in several districts in its restive southern provinces, where a persistent Muslim insurgency has plagued the region for over two decades. Critics have also voiced concerns about the severe human rights abuses that have been associated with these emergency measures.
Some 6,000+ people have died in the Southern Insurgency this century.
The emergency decree, initially imposed in 2005, covered the country’s three southernmost provinces – Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani – which have a significant population of ethnic Malay Muslims. This measure granted security forces the authority to detain suspects without charges for up to 30 days and provided legal immunity for actions carried out in the line of duty.
It also allowed the government to exercise broad powers to censor the news.
Over the years, Thailand has incrementally lifted the emergency decree in 10 districts. This week, the government approved the resolution to end the emergency rule in three more districts, one in each of the provinces, citing a significant decline in violent incidents over the past few years as the reason for this move.
Data presented by government spokeswoman Rudklao Intawong Suwankiri indicated that violence levels in these areas have reduced to a point where it is now considered safe enough to utilize the Internal Security Act instead of the emergency decree. However, the decree was reimposed in another district where attacks have been on the rise.
According to Deep South Watch, an independent research group, more than 7,300 individuals have lost their lives, with 13,600 injuries recorded since the insurgency escalated in 2004. Nevertheless, the number of violent incidents in these provinces has steadily decreased over the past decade, from 1,850 in 2012 to 158 last year.
Critics argue that the emergency decree has led to numerous human rights abuses, allowing police and soldiers to act with impunity during detentions. The legal immunity granted under the decree has reportedly resulted in instances of torture and ill-treatment in detention, causing immense suffering to the local population over the past 19 years.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have called for the complete removal of all three laws in the southern region, in favor of adhering to the civilian legal code.
Buddhists for Peace, an organization promoting interfaith dialogue in southern Thailand, supports the emergency decree, believing it provides safety to Thai Buddhists in the area, who are often targeted by insurgents.
While this recent lifting of the emergency rule in select districts is considered a positive step by some, such as Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong from Amnesty International, it is acknowledged that more comprehensive actions are required to address the broader issues of peace and human rights in the region.
International Crisis Group analyst Matthew Wheeler noted that the latest easing of the emergency decree is unlikely to significantly impact negotiations with insurgent groups, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive and fresh approach to address the ongoing conflict in the southern provinces.