Self-Determination as Human Rights in the Malay Muslim Struggle in Southern Thailand
The International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs, a prominent international Human Rights group said that, “The right of self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle in international law. It is embodied in the Charter of the United Nations and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Common Article 1, paragraph 1 of these Covenants provides that: All peoples have the rights of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."
The above cited comments, especially the ones in italic, will be analyzed using the decades long Southern Thailand self determination struggle as the reference point and case study. Two groups in particular, the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional – Coordinate (National Revolutionary Front – Coordinate), will be chosen as specific case studies. The paper will look at their stated demands to see whether these demands are in tandem with the points of the above statements as well as the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The purpose is to see the real reasons behind the Malay-Muslim struggle in Southern Thailand and the possibility of alleviating the conflict by fulfilling human rights demands of the so-called “separatists” represented in this paper by these two groups – the PULO and BRN-Coordinate.
Keywords: self determination, human rights, Southern Thailand, demands
The self-determination conflict in Patani, Narathiwat and Yala Provinces is not new. It has been going on for hundreds of years but has remained dormant for about two decades before 2004. It resurfaced again in January, 2004 with renewed intensity and has steadily gained momentum since then. Dr. Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a lecturer and researcher at the Center for the Study of Conflict and Cultural Diversity, Prince of Songkhla University, argued that based on his research, 9,446 incidents had happened from 2004 till January, 2010. From the number, there were 4,100 deaths and 6,509 injured . The incidents that happened include attacks by unknown groups, of which some were carried out insurgent groups and possibility that some were also carried out by government backed forces . The types of attacks include shooting, bombing, sabotage, kidnapping, and so on, in various places including outside of the three provinces. Several groups have been the main targets especially military and police personnel, but have also included members of the public such as monks, imams, religious teachers, teachers, government officers, community leaders and the people themselves. Government schools and buildings have also been burned by arson activities in the three provinces.
Because of this, the Thai government during under the Thaksin Shinawatra period came out with new policies to control the conflict situation. Among the move was to proclaim martial law which is renewed every three mouths. This martial law has allowed the government to increase the number of military and police personnel in the three provinces. The Thai government also created and gave powers to new institutions and commissions to help find resolution to the problem in the three provinces. These include the Committee on Southern Thailand Provinces Peace-Building Policy (CSPPP), the Southern Provinces Administrative Committee (SPAC) and the Southern Border Provinces Peace building Command (SBPPC). A National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) was also formed during this period with participation by academicians, political leaders as well as community leaders. This commission concluded that the conflict is caused by a few factors including justice and the treatment of the local Malay Muslim communities by the authorities and made some suggestions to the Thai government to promote reconciliation between the people.
Unfortunately, the efforts to resolve this conflict have not been successful because of the conflicting agendas of the insurgent groups. The main agenda of these groups is to gain independence from Thailand and to create their own form of government, combining the Malay Muslims living in the territories of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat under a nation of their own. There have been a number of organisations that have been active in pursuing this, with two groups still leading the way – Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani (BRN) (National Revolutionary Front) and the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO).
This struggle for independence came out of many years of protesting against a policy of forced assimilation by the Thai state and a sense of lost-nationhood and identity amongst the Malay Muslims of Southern Thailand. Being “different” from other parts of Thailand, and practicing a different religion present them with a major dilemma, that is how to preserve their identity, language and culture in a nation overwhelmed by a policy of crafting nationalism based on a one-Thai worldview. This one Thai worldview introduced by past leaders especially in the early and middle parts of the twentieth century has deeply offended the Malay Muslims society and caused a deep rift between them and their Buddhist Thai leaders. There is a general grievance that the Malay Muslims are losing their identity because of the policies of the Thai state and that these policies would have to be challenged. However, when demands from this community were made to Bangkok along these lines, they have been largely ignored. Matters have been made worse too by the heavy handed way that this issue has been dealt with by the authorities. Military presence in these provinces continues to be the largest compared to other parts of Thailand.
The Malay Muslim struggle against the Thai State has over the years evolved into a self determination struggle. It is still unclear how popular is this struggle among the Malay Muslims people of Southern Thailand. Nevertheless, the (armed) struggle continues under the leaderships of members of the BRN and PULO, who have taken it upon them to take up the issues by resorting to armed actions against the Thai authorities. They point to their struggle as one of protecting the people against aggression on their identity, religion, way of life, well-being, and livelihood. This paper intends to look at this claim and compare it with the protection of human rights. Is their struggle viable from the perspective of human rights and can a case be made to combine their version of the self-determination struggle with the protection and pursuance of human rights for the Malay Muslim people of Southern Thailand. The next part will first look at this notion of self-determination.
The right to self-determination is recognized as a right of all peoples in the United Nations International Bill of Human Rights and of indigenous peoples in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the General Assembly in 2007 . According to article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) treaty on December, 16, 1966 all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they can freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Ho-Wong Jeong in his book defines self-determination as a basic principle for realizing the freedom to control one’s own life. It serves as the prerequisite for achieving positive human conditions for a decent life and self-fulfillment . Both definitions view that every person or groups of people have the rights to determine their destiny without intervention from others, whether to suppress, ignore, or assimilate them. Individual human beings are endlessly looking for various group identities to satisfy their aspirations for a form of social being. Personal freedom can be interpreted in the context of an individual human being’s ability to have control over his or her own life.
The notion of self-determination determines the entitlement of members through both subjective and objective components. The members of the group have to think of themselves as distinctive from others and share certain objective characteristics composed of language, religion, history and ethnicity. Generally, a common culture and ideology are used to support claims for autonomy and independence. In addition, to the existence of a distinctive identity from the rest of the country, a claim for autonomy and independent can be sympathetically heard by the experience of systematic political and economic discrimination . The concept of self-determination has also both an internal and external dimension. The internal dimension is explained by the relationship between the minority group and the ruling government. Previously, the minority group has control of their own sovereign and legitimate territory. They seek then a return to this status political power and control of their own people. Demands for autonomy can be satisfied by legitimizing the exercise of the right to internal self-determination. Greater autonomy not only allows them to protect their culture and identity but also the promotion of collective economies and political interests. The external dimension includes relationship between the minority group and the outside world. International treatises have recognized the freedom for the all people to determine their political status and to pursue their economic, social cultural development.
However, translating these principles into political institutions has been difficult because the nature of the people who owns the right to self-determination has not been clearly defined. There is no consensus and consistent standard on how to determine which people are validly pursuing the struggle for independence. Thus, confusion persists due to lack of agreed elements at the international level amid the controversial nature of the concept, and how it is perceived by the state. As a consequence, many groups struggling for self-determination groups do not have support from outside, even under international laws. In reality, self-determination struggles have been supported when their claims are consistent with the geopolitical interests of great powers.
Usually, a self-determination struggle manifests when a minority group challenges the authority of a dominant power to control over their territories in various ways. The way they express their claims depend on the contents of they want to achieve in the struggle. It is usually comprised of issues such as cultural, religious and education to the ultimate step of struggling for territorial or state power. Different forms of the struggle depend on the terms of internal regulation of a people’s affair within a country and external regulations of people status from the outside world. The minority group pursuit of cultural and economic autonomy is distinct from political independence. Claims of territorial sovereignty stem from the demand for national liberalization in a decolonizing setting or are made by separatists in multi-ethnic state.
Human Rights and the Conflict in Southern Thailand
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “freedom, justice and peace in the world” are founded on the basis of “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” At the same time, every man, woman and child has the right to peace and the absence of violence. The human rights are the rights of all individuals regardless of sex, race, colour, language, national origin, age, class or religious or political
beliefs to certain fundamental freedoms . The UN Charter establishes the legal and conceptual framework for contemporary international human rights law. Article 1 of the UN Charter recognizes that one of the UN’s purposes is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Article 55(c) states that the United Nations shall promote universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. The human rights in the UDHR include the following:
• right to non-discrimination
• right to life, liberty and security
• prohibition of slavery
• prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
• right to equality before the law
• prohibition of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
• right to a fair and public hearing
• right to privacy
• freedom of movement and residence
• right to nationality and citizenship
• right to marriage and family
• right to own property
• freedom of thought, conscience and religion
• freedom of opinion and expression
• freedom to peaceful assembly and association
• right to representative government
• right to social security
• right to work
• right to adequate standard of living
• right to education; and
• right to participate in cultural life.
The human rights declaration introduced by the United Nations (UN) on 10 December 1948 constituted the protection of human civilization after the destruction brought about by the Second World War . The declaration established several objectives to protect the rights of individual as a human at both the international and national levels. At the international level, various countries agreed to give their commitment of mutual respect and maintain a level of high human dignity among the nation states. The proposition specified especially on state member to avoid disasters brought about by war. At the national and regional level, every state must follow the terms of the declaration and implement the protection of these rights in their policies.
The points from the human rights declaration seems to be ignored in Southern Thailand, by both sides of the divide. The insurgents claimed that their rights are not protected and infact have been abused by the Thai authorities. They specifically mention three articles from the declaration that need to be addressed.
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it is independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. Articles 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks .
Next part will look at the insurgent groups and highlight their demands, especially those that relate to the points on human rights in their struggle for self-determination.
The Insurgent Movements:
There are a number of insurgent groups in Southern Thailand. For the purpose of this paper, only two groups will be investigated in detail. They present the two most active groups presently working in the area – the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and the Patani United Liberation Organisation.
Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN)
The BRN was started on 13 Mac 1960 by Ustaz Abdul Karim Hassan at the school of Haji Harun or Thanwitya Mulniti in the Yala province . Ustaz Abdul Karim as the founder of the
organization was assisted by Dr. Haji Harun, Wan Muhammad Bung, Ustaz Razali, Harun Yaacob, Yussoff Chapakiya, Ahmad Shariff, Abdul Qayoom and others. The ideology of the BRN is Nationalism- Islamism-Socialism which was influenced by the struggle of Sukarno in his struggle to achieve independence for Indonesia from the Dutch . There were some allegations including by the Thai government that said that the BRN was influenced by communist ideology and that they had collaborated with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) while hiding in the Southern Thailand area. However, this was denied by the BRN who argued that they are willing to die as a Patani warrior rather than be accuses as a Communist terrorist . In reality though, the BRN did have connections with the CPM but for the purpose of strengthening their army by learning guerilla techniques and the procurement of weapons.
The ambition of the BRN is to struggle for independence and create a Republic of Patani. This organization was famously known as ‘Puak B’ or ‘Parti B’ among the Malay Muslims in the three provinces. The activities of the BRN include influencing the students especially those studying at the ‘Pondok’ or Islamic religious school to support their ideology and to become members of the BRN. The scope of their operation area includes Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and several areas within the Songkhla province. Between 1963 and 1968, several ‘Pondoks’, especially in the provinces of Yala and Narathiwat have been infiltrated by the BRN ideology. They move about mostly in the rural areas and rarely ventured into the town areas.
The BRN has a systematic administration which consists of several levels. At the top level, several leaders sit in the Dewan Pimpinan Pusat (DPP) to make the decisions. At the middle level, the organization consists of branches and armed wings that are responsible for daily operations. Among them are the Angkatan Bersenjata Revolusi Patani (ABREP), Briged Gerila Bandar (GURBAN), BRN Kongres (KOGAP) and Pasukan Komando Revolusi Rakyat Patani (PKRRP) . The existence of ABREP was influenced by the Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia (ABRI). This wing was led by a BRN leader called Pak Yeh who with his band of guerillas would do sabotage and provocative activities against the national security of Thailand . In 1974, BRN’s activities were enhanced with the creation of GURBAN whose responsibility was to expand their operations in the own areas. GURBAN, led by Lukman Iskandar, and in collaboration with ABREP attacked many military posts in the area.
By 2004, the most active branch of the BRN was their right wing called BRN-Coordinate. Their strategy has been to recruit new members among the youth living in the rural areaa, the religious schools or ‘Pondoks’, and university students. They were then trained in the different strategies
of organizational management, politics, military strategy and ideology . They would then be asked to go to the ground to practice what they have learned from the BRN-Coordinate. These groups have been called the “Runda Kumpulan Kecil” (RKK) (small group patrols) by the Thai government due to the nature of their activities – which is to patrol in small groups of between 4 to 7. Their activities include attacking military and police posts, killing soldiers and policemen as well as those identified as government workers and sympathizers, bombings, and so on. They use a unique strategy which is different from previous ones. For example, they do not live in camps in the jungle, but instead live amongst the people in the villages and towns in the three provinces. One suspect caught in Narathiwat on 29 Mac 2007, mentioned that he was trained in the five mountain areas in Southern Thailand and then dispatched to operate among the civilians. It has been difficult for the Thai authorities to identify and locate the leaders of these groups because of the nature of their operations. The members of RKK know only people within their own small cells and receive orders from people whom they do not know. They follow the orders because they feel that they are contributing to the struggle to protect their identity, culture, and homeland. This is part of the ideology that has been given to them in their trainings – that it is compulsory for suppressed Muslim communities to free themselves from oppressive colonial powers. They are also doing this as part of the strategy to internationalise the conflict and show to international actors that there is injustice in Southern Thailand perpetrated by the Thai state.
The BRN has also had negotiations with the Thai government before. This took place in 1991 when the Thai government had a policy of encouraging dialogues with insurgents to know their needs and demands as part of the process to find solution to the problem. The BRN was represented by the PKRRP while the government was represented by the Fourth Division of the Military. A twenty two (22) points demand was made by the BRN. They are as follow:
1. Thai Government must recognize the formation of supreme council of the southern border provinces of Thailand with the following powers (i) Executive (ii) Legislative and (iii) Judiciary.
2. Thai Government must appoint a Malay Muslim to be Governor General of the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
3. Thai Government must appoint all Governors in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand from the Malay Muslims.
4. Thai Government must recognize Malay language as second official language in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
5. Thai Government must recognize Islam as official religion in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
6. That fifty percent (50%) of government officials and stuffs shall comprise the Malay Muslims.
7. The Shariah court be established in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand: a. Shariah high court in each province b. Shariah lower court in each district
8. All economic development must be approved by the supreme council of the Southern Border Provinces.
9. All resources collected from the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand must be spent for the development in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
10. The Malay language must be taught as a compulsory subject in the Thai medium of interactions in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
11. Islamic studies must be taught as compulsory subject among the Muslim students in Thai National Schools in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
12. All social development in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand must be in accordance to the Islamic principles.
13. Prostitution and gambling, and drug abuse must be abolished in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
14. Special radio and television stations and channels in Malay language must be established in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
15. That cultures, usage, customs and practices of the Malays must be practiced in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
16. All liberation and freedom fighters be allowed to return to the homeland with families with full amnesty.
17. All qualified liberation and freedom fighters be accepted as government officials in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
18. That Thai Government must form a peace keeping force comprising all liberation and freedom fighters to protect the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
19. That Thai Government must form a peace keeping constabulary unit to promulgate laws and orders in Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
20. Additional demands, if any, shall be submitted to the King of the Kingdom of Thailand for his Royal Assent.
21. Any peace agreement or peace treaty or other written agreement regarding the affairs of the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand shall receive the Royal Blessing and / or Royal Assent from His Majesty the King of the Kingdom of Thailand.
22. Members of supreme council of the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand or His Majesty’s representative or agents must be protected and respected in accordance to the Constitution of Thailand. (Submitted by Pasukan Komando Revolusi Rakyat Patani (PKRRP) on 18 November 1991)
Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO)
A second prominent insurgent group in Southern Thailand is the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO). It was formed on 22 January 1968 under the leadership of Kadir Abdul Rahman, who is also known as Tengku Bira Kotanila. He started the organization at Aligarh
University in India before moving it to Saudi Arabia because of the high number of Patani students studying there, and their interest in joining the organization. Kadir was tasked with the mobilization of Patani students and workers in the Middle East to join the struggle and to connect with the OIC. He eventually brought the issue of Patani to the OIC in 1981.
PULO’s strategies and policies are heavily based on Islamic teachings and ideals. For example, they subscribe to the UBANGTAPEKMA policy,
which means: 1. Religious = Islam is a right way. 2. Nation = Language and culture. 3. Homeland = Land and economy. 4. Humanity = Recognize our self.
They view the verses in the Quran, and especially the Al-Ikhlas verse as calling them to continue their struggle. They proclaim the Quran as their guide and interpret their struggle according to it and the teachings of the Prophet. Anything that deviates from these teachings are not accepted. Even nationalism and the values of nationalism should be in harmony with the religion to ensure that their struggle can create brotherhood under the leadership of PULO. In terms of operations they divide the areas according to divisions with their own names such as Sri Patani (Patani province), Sri Hikmah (Narathiwat province), and Sri Negara (Yala Province) . Lastly, they professed an interest to be independent, free, non-aligned, and living in harmony and peace. Some of their constant demands include the following:
Four Demands as a Basic Guidance
1. The Thai government must to return back the territories of Patani to Malay Muslims so that they can determine their fate and future. 2. The Thais, Chinese and other foreigners who have dominated the local economy must leave the Patani territories. 3. The Malay’s language must be made a formal language at the government counters, schools, radio and television stations, news papers and others. 4. The Thai military and police must pull out without any conditions. There also mentioned some other demands, which give us and understanding of their goals and mindset. These include the following : 1. To resist the Thai-Buddhist actions aiming at exterminating Islam and Muslims. 2. To search for cooperation methods with liberal student organizations in the fight against occupation, imperialism and Zionism. 3. They will focus on two main issues: a. Colonization Issue (Independence or autonomy) b. Oppression Issues: economy, politics, education, identity (ethnic, religion, history and language) and culture (practices, usage, customs). The general administration of PULO includes sections for administration, politics, economy, military, bureau of ulama, and foreign affairs. At the administration level, the structure of organization is divided into three main categories each managed by one leader. They include a center of high administration, branches of administration, and a center of guerilla military movement. While they have a base in Saudi Arabia, they also have branches in Malaysia and Indonesia. The branches worked as intermediaries between the center of high administration in Jeddah and the Center of guerilla military movement in Southern Thailand. The center of guerilla military movement also created several military stations in the jungle and mountains and organize guerilla technical trainings. They also do recruitment of youth and others who might be interested to join the struggle. The members who have completed their trainings will be sent back to the society to persuade more people to join and to explain the goals of the struggle. The public in return, and especially in the rural areas, would provide support such as foods that is needed during the trainings in the jungle. In terms of finance, they have mostly relied on donations from members and the community. They also received donations from Libya and Syria in the past as well as from the profit of a shared hotel in Hamburg, Germany . Conclusions: Self-determination and the Human Rights in Southern Thailand
The self-determination struggle in Southern Thailand is a struggle for the human right of the people living there. This can be seen from the grievances of the people as manifested by the demands of the two insurgent groups highlighted in this paper. The two groups have based their struggles on the premise of Article 1 of the Human Rights Declaration that says that every people are born independent and have the same rights and dignity. They feel that this has been neglected by the Thai government in its policies in Southern Thailand. This has also neglected Article 2 which says that everyone is “entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without any distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Furthermore, no disctinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it is independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
Besides the demand for independence, the insurgents have also claimed discrimination against their identity, culture, language and ways of life. Their rights have been neglected by the assimilation policies and processes. As such they argue that theirs’ is not merely an independence struggle but also the struggle for human rights of the people of Southern Thailand.
As a conclusion, the conflict in Southern Thailand is clearly related to both the self-determination and human rights concepts. Historically, the Patani, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun provinces constituted parts of the territories of the Sultanate of Patani, until they were conquered by the Siam Kingdom. The struggle is not only about territory but also about the suppression of the Malay Muslim identity through the assimilation process which have attempted to suppress their language, culture, and identity. This suppression has not been successful because of the strong passion of these people to uphold what they believe was right. In fact they responded by organizing themselves and putting efforts to stop the encroachment of the Thai state into their lives. The insurgent movement is an example of this. Unfortunately, because of the heavy handed way that this struggle has been managed by the Thai state, the people have had to resort to violent means to protect themselves. There can be no justification for the use of force, but the insurgents argue that these actions have been made necessary not only to pursue their cause but more importantly to protect their human rights.
Efforts need to be made by all stakeholders and actors to start a dialogue to solve the conflict in Southern Thailand. The demands put forward by the insurgents need to be addressed. The demands of the Thai state also need to be taken care of. One possible meeting point can be the human rights factors – what are they and how can they be protected to ensure a win-win situation for all. It is clear that the self-determination struggle in Southern Thailand is not only about territory and control of this territory, but more importantly about the Malay Muslims and their rights. The fulfillment of these rights can go a long way towards resolving this issue once and for all.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/4981947/pendekatan-dakwah-dalam-negara-yang-Islam-menoriti-4-wilayah-Patani Militan dilatih di Thailand bukan Malaysia (2007) [Online],[ Accessed on 30 Mac 2010]. Available in the Website: http://www.utusan.com Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO).[Online]. [ Accessed on 27 April 2005] Available in the Website: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/pulo.htm
By Pahlawan Dagang.