Patani: NGOs, Civil Society Groups, and the National Human Rights Commission back Thai state repression

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently there was another bomb attack at a market and a shooting outside an educational establishment in Patani. Who should take responsibility? Who should be condemned? And in this war between the oppressive Thai state and those fighting for self-determination, which side should we support?

The NGOs and those claiming to be so-called “civil society” groups in the South are quite clear. They issued a declaration condemning the Patani fighters and urging the forces of the Thai state to catch and deal with the perpetrators. They also urged the insurgents to stop using violence.

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There were no declarations from these groups urging the military junta and the Thai state to cease violence against the local Malay Muslims, no condemnations of Thailand’s violent occupation of Patani and no urgent requests that all the generals, politicians, soldiers and police who have committed state crimes be brought to justice.

Another group, calling itself the National Human Rights Commission, condemned the insurgents and urged support for state forces of “law and order”. This commission remained silent after the killing of unarmed red shirts in 2010 and has failed to condemn the use of lèse-majesté.

So the NGOs, so-called “civil society” groups, including civil servant associations, and the National Human Rights Commission, all show double standards and take the side of the oppressive Thai state in Patani.

Arundhati Roy once wrote that “any government’s condemnation of terrorism is only credible if it shows itself to be responsive to persistent, reasonable, closely argued, non-violent dissent. And yet, what’s happening is just the opposite. The world over, non-violent resistance movements are being crushed and broken. If we do not respect and honour them, by default we privilege those who turn to violent means.”

The people of Patani are prevented from forming legal political parties which advocate independence. The Thai constitution rules out any division of the country. Various members of the ruling class have repeatedly dismissed any ideas of autonomy or even proposals to use the Yawee language alongside Thai in Patani. State officials commit acts of violence with total impunity.

All Thai citizens are forced to respect the authoritarian ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and those who do not are thrown in jail or witch-hunted by mobs of fanatical monarchists. Naturally the “religion” in this context is Buddhism.

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The peaceful protest against the detention of friends and relatives, organised by villagers at Takbai 12 years ago, resulted in the state murder in cold blood of nearly a hundred young men. No single state official has been prosecuted.

Torture and extra judiciary killings carried out by the Thai state are commonplace and any genuine rights organisations seeking to expose this are threatened by the military.

So how are those people who oppose Thai rule and repression, supposed to act in a non-violent manner? What space for them to act in such non-violent ways has been created by the NGOs and so-called civil society groups who backed various military coups?

A quick review of some historical events shows the way in which the Thai state has used violence and repression against the Muslim Malays of Patani.

1890s King Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) seized half of the Patani Sultanate. The Sultanate was divided between London and Bangkok under the Treaty of 1909.

1921 Enforced “Siamification” via primary education took place. Locals forced to pay tax to Bangkok.

1923 The Belukar Semak rebellion forced King Rama 6 to make some concessions to local culture.

1938 More enforced “Siamification” took place under the ultra-nationalist dictator Field Marshall Pibun.

1946 Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong promoted local culture and in 1947 accepted demands by Muslim religious leaders for a form of autonomy, but he was soon driven from power by a coup led by Thai nationalist military leaders. Patani leader Haji Sulong proposed an autonomous state for Patani within Siam.

1948 Haji Sulong was arrested. In April the same year, police massacred innocent villagers at Dusun Nyior, Naratiwat.

1954 Haji Sulong was killed by police under orders from police strongman Pao Siyanond.

1960-1970 Thai state policy of “diluting” the Malay population was initiated by re-settling Thai-Lao Buddhists from the North East of Thailand in the Patani area. This was carried out under various military regimes, starting with Field Marshall Sarit Tanarat. A ban was imposed on the use of the Yawee Malay language in state institutions including schools.

The school and education system has long been used to enforce “Thainess” by the state. Given this fact, it is hardly surprising that government teachers are targets for the insurgents. Even Buddhist monks in Patani are now totally compromised by their close links with the military.

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For this reason we must be clear that the violence in Patani is the responsibility of the Thai state and it is this state which should be condemned for its actions. The violence of those fighting oppression cannot be compared to the violence carried out by an oppressive state. We should therefore side with the people who are struggling for self-determination.

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Despite the fact that I support those fighting for self-determination, the insurgent armed struggle strategy prevents the building of mass political movements for freedom. It shuts out the role of ordinary people because of the civil war conditions and often results in the death and injury of innocent civilians.

Using “ghosts” to attack the Thai security forces and then not claiming responsibility might have some military advantages, but such advantages are massively out-weighed by the political disadvantages. By not claiming responsibility for attacks on “legitimate military targets” and by not confining attacks to such targets, the insurgents allow the Thai military to use death-squads, usually out of uniform, to attack and kill local activists and ordinary civilians who are on government black-lists. The government and mainstream media can then paint a picture of the insurgents as “armed gangsters” who kill people indiscriminately. This spreads fear among the local civilian population and is counter-productive to building real mass support among local villagers and also among the general Thai population in other regions. The ghost war strategy plays into the hands of the Thai state’s dirty war.

The Patani insurgents cannot hope to beat the Thai military in an armed struggle. They are significantly less well armed and funded and the local population which might support the insurgency is a small minority of the population within the current Thai state.

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To make any political progress towards liberation and self-determination, the Patani movement needs to abandon the armed struggle and build a mass political party which can operate openly without registering as an official party under Thai state legal constraints. This party should put forward political demands which go beyond just “Patani nationalism”. The party would have to address economic and social issues and be capable of winning support from local Thai Buddhists and also capable of winning solidarity from social movements in the central, north and north-eastern regions of Thailand. The experience of the IRA struggle against the British state or the struggle of other minority separatist movements shows that the demands for freedom cannot be won through armed struggle but must be achieved through political means.

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