The Southern Insurgency

Clip_65Thailand has faced a secessionist movement by the majority Muslim southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat since they were annexed in 1902. Those provinces used to be part of the independent Sultanate of Patani.

Since the annexation, the Thai authorities imposed policies of forced assimilation; but local traditions were practiced in secret.

The start of the uprising

A series of opposition uprisings were staged between the 1940s and 1980s. In the 1980s, the Thai government stopped its assimilation policy and supported cultural rights and economic development in the historically marginalised southern provinces, which calmed the separatist movement for a period of time.

A new series of separatist attacks against the government in the southern provinces began when Thaksin Shinawatra became Prime Minister in 2001. The aggressive response from the Government exacerbated tensions between the government and the separatists.

The violent insurgency since 2004

The conflict reignited in 2004 and has been intensely violence, claiming the lives of more than 5000 people to date. Since then, attacks on government sector services and local villagers – both Buddhist and Muslim – accused of working with the government have become endemic. The violence is also attributed to local criminal gangs and drug runners and state security forces carrying out retributive attacks.

The insurgents have increasingly targeted persons taking no active part in hostilities, particularly in the aftermath of the period of military rule in Thailand which followed the coup d’état by the Royal Thai Army in September 2006 against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Even after a civilian government came into power in 2008, the southern provinces continued to be under martial law and governed by the emergency decree, granting more power to security forces. The government justified this under the need to address the security issues in the south.

Political Tensions

Thailand has been beset by political instability since the military coup of 2006. The coup came after widespread accusations of corruption and nationwide protests against Thaksin Shinawatra.

The military rule

After taking power, the military cancelled the upcoming elections, abrogated the Constitution, dissolved the Parliament and the Constitutional Court, banned protests and all political activities, suppressed and censored the media, declared martial law nationwide, and arrested Cabinet members.

Elections were held in December 2007, after a military-appointed tribunal outlawed the Thai Rak Thai party of Thaksin Shinawatra and banned TRT candidates from contesting elections for 5 years.

The violent crackdown on protesters in 2010

Protestors from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) also known as the “Red Shirts” occupied downtown Bangkok in April and May 2010 demanding new elections.

The Government responded with a brutal crackdown on protesters, leaving nearly 100 people dead and thousands injured in the worst political violence in Bangkok in nearly 20 years, for which no one was ultimately held responsible.

Elections were finally announced in May 2011. The Pheu Thai Party[1] won a majority of 265 seats. Its leader Yingluck Shinawatra became the first female prime minister in the history of Thailand.

The Internal Security Act

Thailand’s Internal Security Act (“ISA”) is increasingly being invoked to address a variety of potential issues. For example, the Act allows the Cabinet to grant the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) exceptional powers to replace civilian authorities and to suppress any activity considered to pose a threat to internal security.

The increased use of the ISA raises important issues of human rights and democratic governance, especially given the current realities of political polarisation in the country.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has expressed concerns about how Thailand intends to strike a balance between security and rights protection through the ISA. According to ICJ: ”experience from around the world, including Southeast Asia, shows that these laws are often used to empower executive authority and security forces, suppress political opposition and undermine the rights of citizens.”

Children and armed conflict

Insurgents have committed widespread human rights abuses, including targeted killings and numerous bombings against civilians. In response, the Government has imposed special security legislation and significantly increased the number of regular and paramilitary troops to around 30,000 in the southern provinces.

As a result of the violence and insecurity in the south, many people have decided to leave the region. Buddhists account for a large share of this movement.

Human rights abuses have reportedly been committed by both insurgents and by Thai security forces. Prosecutions of alleged perpetrators of human rights violations have been limited entirely to insurgents, while those committed by Thai security forces have been poorly investigated.

According to the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (April 2012) and Child Soldiers International (CSI), children have been targeted for recruitment by armed opposition groups and have been used in various roles, including intelligence gathering, diversion tactics and arson attacks.

CSI reports that “children suspected of links with armed groups have been detained under security laws including for the purposes of intelligence gathering and possibly as a method of demobilizing children from association with armed opposition groups.”

In 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented attacks on teachers and schools by insurgents and the use of schools as military bases by the Thai government. Insurgents have also used Islamic schools to indoctrinate and recruit students into their own movement. The vast majority of teachers and other education personnel killed by insurgents have been ethnic Thai Buddhists, although ethnic Malay Muslims who have resisted efforts by these groups to use classrooms for indoctrination and recruitment have also been attacked.

The Government has frequently established camps inside school buildings and school compounds; sometimes for several years. According to the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (April 2012) “armed groups reportedly continued to carry out targeted attacks against schools, teachers and students [in 2011], purportedly because they were perceived as a symbol of Government authority”. The report states that armed groups were also allegedly responsible for the killing of at least 31 government teachers and educational personnel in the southern border provinces during 2011.


The Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict.

– International Crisis Group, Thailand: The Evolving Conflict in the South, December 2012.

– Inside on Conflict, Thailand country profile.

– Council on Foreign Relations, the Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand.

– Human Rights Watch, “Targets of Both Sides”, Violence against Students, Teachers, and Schools in Thailand’s Southern Border Provinces.

– Amnesty International, “They took nothing but his life”: Unlawful killings in Thailand’s southern insurgency

– Child Soldiers International:

Thailand, country profile;

Thailand: OPAC Shadow report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, September 2011;

Priority to Protect: Preventing children’s association with village defence militias in southern Thailand, February 2011.

– CRIN, Children’s Rights Wiki.

[1] The Pheu Thai Party was founded on 20 September 2008, as an anticipated replacement for the People’s Power Party (PPP), which the Constitutional Court of Thailand dissolved less than three months later after finding party members guilty of electoral fraud. The People’s Power Party was itself a replacement for Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party that the Constitutional Court dissolved in May 2007 for violation of electoral laws. See: