Commentary on Southern Thailand: Media should take up role of bringing peace to the region

A special highlight:

My friend and colleague Pokpong Lawansiri wrote this commentary jointly with another political activist. It was sent to some English-language media based in Thailand (although to the best of my knowledge, none have featured the commentary or published excerpts or used the information in any way, so far).

Southern Thailand
: The media bears the role of ending friction and bringing peace to the region

By Pokpong Lawansiri and Kwanravee Wangudom

With the situation in Southern Thailand continuing to deteriorate, made especially clear through the recent killings of nine people when their van was en route to Yala Province yesterday, the media bears the responsibility to maintain a culture of understanding, not a culture of hatred and vengeance.

Upon presenting these issues in the media, words or phases such as the “Muslim separatists” or “Malay Insurgents” are used carelessly without realising that these terms can lead to hatred and stigmatisation of Malay-Muslim populations.

There is also a misunderstood view on the role of human rights organisations – which have been assisting the victims and those affected by the ongoing conflict in the region – regarding the slow response toward this atrocity. Questions were raised as to why human rights advocates did not raised their voices promptly on this particular incident.

Human rights theory is based on the principle that violence committed against civilians, no matter their race or ethnicities must be condemned. But in this case, the identities of the perpetrators remain unknown. Without knowing the identity of those responsible for the violence, we should not act as though one group is behind it. It is unprofessional for the media and press to assume that the “Muslim separatists” or “Malay insurgents” are behind the killings since no clear evidence justifies this claim.

Furthermore, the media should maintain their impartial role of feeding information to the audience; journalists and reporters should not support violent tactics or policies that could lead to the reduction of people’s rights. Many newspapers and excerpted reports from television and radio have expressed acceptance of deploying paramilitary rangers to Southern Thailand and to impose curfews during night time. These policies will not result in positive developments as the presence of military personnel in the region for more than three years has not guaranteed any safety to the people at all. Curfews under martial law will not guarantee any improvement either.

What civil society actors and people in the region have been praising for years is for the establishment of the credible and concrete rule of law, where people’s participation in the process is emphasised. With the recent commemoration of the third year of the abduction of lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, proposals from civil society organisations still have not been implemented. Continuing cases of police brutality, torture, disappearances, and extra-judicial killings will give the pretext for the alleged insurgents to justify their actions against civilians.

The means to end the ongoing conflict is not to eliminate the insurgents, but to secure a space of understanding and end the culture of impunity that exists today. If the government guarantees safety to the families of the suspects, by giving them their right to get access to lawyers and for families to visit those relatives in prison, and give assurances to their families that their husbands or sons would not be tortured or killed in police custody, then the villagers will not resort to protests for the release of the suspects, sympathise with the militants, or in extreme cases, become motivated to join the insurgent movement.

If the government can bring police reform, especially putting an end to the unfavourable actions mentioned and put the issue of Somchai Neelaphaijit’s disappearance on the national agenda and bring the perpetrators to justice, this will surely secure a better relationship between the government and the people and lessen the militants’ justification of their use of violence.

It is up to the media to present unbiased and informed reporting that includes a rule-of-law, peace-building approach to be heard by both the government and the public, so that concrete steps to build peace can truly come to Southern Thailand.

Pokpong Lawansiri and Kwanravee Wangudom are writers and human rights activists based in Bangkok, Thailand


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