Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Thailand

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Thailand, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In July, Thailand elected its first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai party, younger sister of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Her supporters, mainly rural poor from the north, had previously filled the streets of Bangkok with their protests. Her leadership has since been tested by flooding in the central provinces and increasing violence in the south.

Conflict continued to plague Thailand's four southern-most provinces, where Malay-Muslims are a majority in this majority Buddhist state. Since 2004, these provinces have endured a violent separatist insurgency. Insurgents target civilians for extra-judicial killings and regularly detonate explosives in public areas. From 2004 to the end of 2011, nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Thai military and security forces have been accused of arbitrary arrests, detention without charge and torture of Malay-Muslim suspects, under the Emergency Decree and martial law.

Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai party won no seats in the south, but her campaign promises included increasing the number of Muslims permitted to attend the hajj and more public input into decision-making processes. According to Deep South Watch, a local conflict-monitoring organization, violence spiked in the month after Yingluck Shinawatra's appointment.

In December 2010, then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva attempted to quell the unrest through changes to the recently revived Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), a civilian body that oversees development and policy-creation. It can now receive complaints on mistreatment by security forces and has the power to discipline or remove officials or police officers. But by October Yingluck Shinawatra's Cabinet had replaced the administrative head of the SBPAC, to the disappointment of southern Muslims who saw this as a political appointment that did not reflect their interests. In December, the Cabinet extended the Emergency Decree for another three months.

Human rights defenders working to achieve justice for victims in the southern provinces continue to face threats. In April, the AHRC reported that Yaena Salaemae was being harassed by security forces for her work to achieve justice for the seven Muslims shot by security forces while peacefully protesting in 2004. A further 78 protesters had died after the group had been herded into trucks to be taken into detention.

In the case of the 2004 disappearance of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who had also fought for the rights of Muslims, the defendants were acquitted in March on technical grounds.

Thailand's diverse indigenous peoples have also been engaged in a long struggle to defend their rights. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have been denied Thai citizenship, stemming from state neglect, corruption or rejections on the basis that many have migrated from Burma. In cooperation with NGOs and UN agencies, the government has enabled some to receive Thai citizenship, but in 2011 approximately 30 per cent or 296,000 of Thailand's indigenous peoples still lack citizenship. They are consequently denied access to health and education services, face restrictions on their movement and endure harassment by state authorities.

For decades, indigenous peoples have been forcibly evicted and relocated from their lands on grounds of national security, development and resource conservation. In the north, smaller mountain-dwelling ethnic groups, including Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Mein, struggle to survive economically and culturally in the face of development projects, land-ownership issues and the influx of ethnic Thais.

In July, officials at Kaeng Krachan National Park, Phetchaburi province, stormed and burned a total of 90 homes and rice barns in a Karen village. Officials justified this as a means to prevent forest destruction, even though it is the constitutional right of these Karen to reside in the forests, as they have been on the land for generations. Many of the families remain displaced, some reportedly hiding in the forest without sufficient food or shelter.

On 3 September, Tatkamol Ob-om, a Karen community activist brought the case to the National Human Rights Commission. He was shot and killed on 10 September. A warrant was issued for the arrest of the park director Chaiwat Limlikitauksorn, who later turned himself into police, denying the charges. He has since been released on bail and has retained his role as park head, still justifying his violent evictions of the Karen village.

Forest officials have blamed Karen traditional swidden agriculture – pejoratively known as 'slash and burn' – for contributing to forest degradation and global warming. From 2005 to 2011, 38 cases of 'global warming' were brought against Thailand's indigenous forest-dwelling peoples, nine of which have been settled resulting in fines of over 18 million baht. Marine park conservation has also pushed indigenous Moken and other sea nomads off their territory, making it illegal to fish in protected waters. These and other such cases criminalize indigenous groups for practising their traditional livelihoods and residing in areas to which they have ancestral land rights claims.

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