The Conflict at a Glance
Who (are the main combatants): The former ruling party of Thailand, the Pheu Thai party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, is supported by the political United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (also known as the Red Shirts). They are challenged by the anti-Shinawatra People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD, also known as Yellow Shirts). PAD supports the military junta that currently governs Thailand and the monarchy, and opposes the former Shinawatra governments and their allies.
Southern insurgent groups representing minority populations, particularly majority Muslim ethnic Malays, strongly oppose the Buddhist government. The Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (BRN-C) is the most prominent, seeking independence for the Malay-Muslims in the southern provinces. Other groups include Bersutu, Gerakan Mujahedeen Islami Pattani (GMIP), Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), Mai New PULO, and Jemaah Salafi. In 2014, the military ousted the government and instituted a temporary interim administration, which has not held new elections to restore democracy in Thailand.
What (started the conflict): The main political conflict stems from a controversy over former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s continuing influence on Thai politics. Despite raising the country’s GDP by 40 per cent during his tenure (2001-2006), Shinawatra was increasingly criticized for nepotistic policies that favoured his family, human rights abuses, and corruption (International Affairs Review). In 2005 and 2006, Shinawatra faced a countrywide political crisis, with protesters alleging government corruption. Demanding his resignation, the Yellow Shirts wore yellow to symbolize their allegiance to the king. The resulting 2006 military coup replaced Shinawatra with the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army. The Yellow Shirts also asserted themselves during the 2008 Thai political crisis and again in 2013-14 to protest the leadership of Yingluck Shinawatra (sister of the former Prime Minister), renaming themselves Goh Poh Toh or “The People’s Movement to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime” (New Mandala). The military took over the government again in 2014, removing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first female prime minister, from power. The Red Shirt counter-movement, which formed in 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted from power, strongly support the former Shinawatra administrations and oppose the current military junta and their Yellow Shirt supporters (BBC News).
There is also an armed insurgency in the south of Thailand, where the Malay Muslim majority feel a deep sense of alienation from the Thai Buddhist majority. In February 2013, the BRN-C and Yingluck Shinawatra’s government agreed to begin a formal dialogue to improve relations and regional stability, resulting in the Common Understanding on the Ramadan Peace Initiative that July. However, many were not sure that the talks represented all Thai Muslims. In April 2013, the BRN-C’s five demands were rejected by the government. In December 2013, talks were opened to the PULO and BIPP. However the national political crisis that eventually resulted in the removal of Yingluck Shinawatra from power (Southeast Asian Terrorism) stalled further talks.
When (has fighting occurred): Since 2004, Thailand has experienced instability in the capital of Bangkok and in its southernmost provinces. In 2006, a coup d’état removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from office for alleged financial misconduct, abuse of power, and election-rigging. The constitution was suspended and martial law declared. This coup capped 15 years of relative stability, after 17 coups between 1932 and 1991. The next Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva (2008-2011), was accused of corruption and killing protesters during 2010 political demonstrations, and lost the 2011 elections. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (2011-14), was removed from power in another military coup fueled by corruption allegations (Council on Foreign Relations). Insurgency has been active for decades in the three southern provinces closest to Malaysia, but has been better coordinated and more deadly since 2001.
Where (has the conflict taken place): The conflict has been characterized by anti-government protests in Bangkok and armed insurgency, predominantly in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, as well as Chana, Thepa, Na Thawi, Saba Yoi, and Sadao districts of Songkhla province. In 2016, it began to seep into the northern tourist areas, in provinces such as Hua Hin, Surat Thani, Patong, Trang, and Phang Nga (BBC). The Yellow Shirts are strong in Bangkok, while Red Shirts are mainly located in rural northern provinces.
2017 Separatist insurgent attacks continued in southern Thailand, wounding many and killing some civilians and military personnel. Insurgents mainly used explosive devices to target busy locations. In response, the authorities continued to enforce martial law in the southern provinces and hold arrested individuals in unofficial detention centres with no judicial oversight (Amnesty International).
2016 A national referendum was held on August 7 to decide on a new constitution that would permanently enshrine the military’s role in Thailand’s government (Council on Foreign Relations). The draft constitution was reportedly approved by some 61 per cent of voters, although turnout was only approximately 55 per cent (BBC News). That month, politically motivated insurgent violence reached its apex. More than 63 bombs were detonated between August 1 and 13. Anti-constitution graffiti in 18 locations clearly linked the violence to the referendum (Deep South Watch). Ten coordinated bombings in tourist hotspots on August 11 and 12 killed four and injured 35. Although no group claimed responsibility, the blasts were consistent with BRN strategy and tactics. Prime Minister Chan-ocha blamed pro-Shinawatra groups. Analysts described the government’s response as an attempt to delegitimize political opponents, protect the tourism industry, and minimize the significance of the Malay insurgency (New York Times). The Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that an election would occur under its provisions in 2017 (Al Jazeera). In October, King Bhumibol died and was succeeded by his son, Vajiralongkorn, a former military officer (BBC).
2015 The Erawan shrine in Bangkok was bombed on August 17. Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was charged with abuse of authority and dereliction of duty. At her Supreme Court trial in May, she pleaded not guilty (Al Jazeera). In September, she filed a lawsuit against the attorney general, alleging unfair handling of the original charges, but the Thai court threw out her case (Reuters). Acting Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha invoked Section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, granting him absolute power on April 1. The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) began drafting a new constitution). The National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Commission was created to lead the reforms. In August, the CDC presented a draft constitution to the National Reform Council, which rejected the document and requested a new draft by April 1, 2016.
2014 Conflict was spurred by anti-government and election-related protests, and, in the south, by the insurgency. Many attacks involved grenades and guns. There were reports of more than 82 conflict-related deaths. February elections that returned Prime Minister Yingluck to power were deemed unconstitutional by the court. After months of political turmoil, the military forcefully removed the government and instituted an interim government ruled by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. The military enforced a curfew (later removed); arrested many politicians, activists and journalists; and banned public assemblies of more than five people. Subsequently, the United States cut approximately one-third of its military aid to Thailand. The next elections are expected in 2016.
2013 Persistent conflict marked the year, despite attempts at negotiations between the Thai government and Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (BRN-C). The armed insurgency in the south continued violent campaigns. The Royal Thai Police (RTP) Southern Operations Centre reported 129 security force personnel, 51 insurgents, and 138 civilians killed. Insurgent bombs, shootings, arson, and Improvised Explosive Devices targeted government officials with increasing precision. In February, the Thai government and BRN-C agreed to establish a formal dialogue to improve relations and create stability in the country. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan saw the lowest number of casualties since 2007. In August, the BRN-C broke off talks; attempts to resume negotiations in November made little headway. Bangkok was subjected to occasional violent protests by citizens angry over charges of government corruption and allegations that the government was being controlled by the Prime Minister’s brother in exile.
2012 Conflict killed 150. Bomb attacks, targeted killings, and anti-personnel landmines killed many civilians. Teachers and schools were targeted. Government attempts to rewrite the constitution were seen as attacks on the monarchy and sparked unrest. Peace talks between the government and southern insurgents began in August.
2011 The level of violence in the southern provinces was largely unchanged. Shootings and bombings were used most often by insurgents; half the conflict deaths were civilians. The Pheu Thai party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, won July elections. The southern provinces remained under a state of emergency.
2010 Violence continued in southern Thailand but the death toll declined to an estimated 368, according to International Crisis Watch. At year’s end, approximately 30,000 troops were deployed in the south. Eighteen provinces (including those in the south) and Bangkok remained under a state of emergency.
2009 Violence killed approximately 510, most in the south. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government struggled with supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Four Thai soldiers were killed in border disputes with Cambodia in early April.
2008 There were fewer but more destructive and focused incidents of violence in southern Thailand. Approximately 600 were killed. A state of emergency remained in force in the south. The military and insurgents were accused of human rights abuses. Violence increased after the newly formed coalition government was charged with electoral fraud. After months of protests by the pro-monarchy group People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in Bangkok , the People Power Party (PPP) was dissolved and a new coalition government was formed under the Democrat Party led by Abhisit Vejjajiva.
2007 Attacks by southern insurgency groups were more intense, brutal and coordinated. Violence peaked in June, when, on average, five people were killed a day, making the conflict the most lethal in Southeast Asia. The first democratic elections since the 2006 coup were held in December and won by the People Power Party (PPP), which was expected to take a militaristic approach to the insurgency.
2006 Daily violence and a greater number of coordinated attacks by southern insurgency groups killed between 700 and 1,300. A new government led by interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, formed after a bloodless military coup in September, showed more openness in working with insurgency groups and extending greater autonomy to the region. However, the security situation in the South continued to deteriorate after the coup.
2005 The number of people killed since renewed hostilities in 2004 surpassed 1,000. Fighting escalated as separatist rebels and Thailand security forces increased operations in the southern provinces.
1. Government of Thailand: Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai party was prime minister from 2011 until May 2014; she is the sister of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from office in a bloodless military coup in 2006. In 2013 Yingluck was asked to step down over allegations of corruption. Instead, she called for an election in February 2014, which caused severe unrest in the country. In December 2013 former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party was charged with the murder of 90 civilians killed during a government crackdown in 2010; he was granted bail. In 2012 Interior Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan was elected leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party after the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Yongyut Wichaidit. In May 2014 the Thai government was deposed by a military coup. The military instituted an interim government, endorsed by the King of Thailand, under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Former army chief and coup leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, became prime minister.
2. Thai Royal Family: Thailand has officially been a constitutional monarchy since 1932. The monarchy generally supports and works with Thai governments, with the King respected as a fair, moral, and mediating force. After the 2006 coup, both pro- and anti-Thaksin political factions used the King’s name and image in their bids for power (BBC). The interim government instituted in 2014 by the junta was endorsed by King Buhumibol. In October 2016, King Bhumibol died and was succeeded by his son Vajiralongkorn, previously a military officer (BBC).
The king’s powers rest, above all, on his moral integrity and reputation. The image of a god-like Buddhist king was created with the help of enormous financial and media resources. Many Thais, even today, view the king in this light (Deutsche Welle). Thailand’s lèse-majesté law is one of the strictest in the world. According to Thai legislation, anyone found guilty of insulting the king, queen, heir, or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count (Public Radio International).
3. Southern militant insurgency groups: Several groups have contributed to the violent unrest in the south. In 2007, attacks on civilians and military personnel became more coordinated and sophisticated, as well as more intense and frequent. The insurgency, which in the past was fragmented, seems more unified, sharing a common goal of independence for Muslim-dominated areas. Groups associated with the unrest include:
a. Bersutu: This umbrella organization was founded in 1989. Members include Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Pattani Coordinate (BRN-C). Bersutu was formed to unify all militant insurgency groups in Thailand. Core leaders, including those from PULO, Mai (New PULO), the original PULO, Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Pattani (BRN), Barisan National Pember-Basan Pattani (BNPP) and Mujahadeen Pattani, met on August 31, 1989 at “the gathering of the fighters for Pattani.” They agreed to set up the Payong Organization to unify all the movements and coordinate the struggle to avoid confusion in accepting financial donations from foreign countries. The groups deploy small armed bands to carry out guerrilla activities and have not set up permanent bases on Thai soil. The organization changed its name to Bersutu (the United Front for the Independence of Pattani) in 1991. Increased precision of attacks is leading to speculation that the insurgent groups have become more united.
b. National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate (BRN-C): The largest and best organized of the rebel groups, the BRN-C is the last remaining armed faction of the BRN, which was first active in the 1960s. Fighting for an independent Pattani state, the BRN-C has actively recruited from religious schools. The BRN-C includes the Pemuda, a separatist youth faction, and the 500-strong Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK), trained in Indonesia.
c. Gerakan Mujahedeen Islami Pattani (GMIP): Established by Afghani veterans in 1995, GMIP fights for an independent Islamic state. It has suspected to have connections to Malaysian counterpart Kumpulan Mujahedeen Malay.
d. Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO): Kabir Abdul Rahman founded PULO in 1968 to fight for an independent Muslim state. Quiet in the mid-1990s, it returned to the forefront in 2010. PULO was not invited to take part in discussions with the Thai government and the BRN-C in February 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.
e. Mai New PULO: This offshoot of the former Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) is also fighting for an independent state.
f. Jemaah Salafi: Muhammad Haji Jaeming, who trained in the Sadda Camp with Indonesian jihadists, founded JS in the late 1990s. Its involvement in violence is probably minimal, as the group’s leader has been under scrutiny by Thai officials.
Political Opposition Groups
4. The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD): Known as the Red Shirts, the UDD formed in 2006 to oppose the military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of the now defunct People’s Power Party (PPP). The UDD is viewed as a pro-Thaksin organization. Members are frequently imprisoned under lèse-majesté laws that state that individuals who violate the dignity of the reigning sovereign are breaking the law. In May 2010, UDD protests against the government headed by Abhisit Vijjajiva turned violent. The UDD supported the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, elected in 2011. In 2010, one of the most prominent Red Shirt leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, was arrested for his role in large pro-democracy demonstrations. He was released on bail, but violated his bail conditions and was jailed again in 2016 after making sarcastic comments about the ruling junta on television (Asia Times).
5. People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD): Known as Yellow Shirts, PAD was established in 2006 to oppose the democratically elected Thaksin administration. After the military coup in 2006, the group disbanded. It reformed in 2008 in response to allegations of corruption by the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and also opposed the subsequent government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Most PAD members are middle- and upper-class residents of Bangkok. The Yellow Shirts supported the new 2016 constitution, which gives the military a greater and more powerful role in governing Thailand (The Economist).
6. People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC): Formed in 2013, this umbrella group for anti-Thaksin Shinawatra protesters was led by Suthep Thaugsuban. In 2014, the PDRC boycotted the elections and promoted a “people’s council” tasked with instituting political reforms and tackling corruption prior to elections. Also known as the “People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State” (PCAD), the PDRC disbanded shortly after the 2014 coup.
2017 Insurgent attacks and bombings characterized most of the violence. Bombings were common in the far southern region, where most Muslim separatists and political dissidents are based. On May 9, separatist insurgents bombed a Big C shopping mall in Pattani. Two bombs were detonated, one near a food court and the other in a pickup truck in a parking lot. Although no deaths were reported, at least 61 people were seriously injured. It is suspected that the perpetrators, likely separatist insurgents, intended to maximize civilian casualties.
On May 22, a pipe bomb was detonated in a hospital waiting room in Bangkok. The attack injured 24 people, some severely. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the timing of the explosion, which occurred on the third anniversary of the Thai coup, is suspicious. Muslim separatists or political dissidents, unhappy with the coup that ousted Thaskin Shinawatra in 2006 and Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, were viewed as the likely perpetrators by the army. The previous week (May 15), a bomb in Bangkok’s National Theatre went off, wounding two people. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
Roadside bombs were also commonly employed by Muslim separatist insurgents. On September 15, a bomb went off in the province of Yala. Eighteen people, most enforcement officers, were wounded. One soldier was killed. Then on September 22, a bomb allegedly planted by Muslim insurgents in southern Thailand killed four army rangers.
2016 On August 11 and 12, bombings and arson attacks took place on tourist destinations in seven different provinces, killing four people and injuring 35, including 10 foreigners (New York Times, Guardian). Although these incidents were consistent with BRN operations, no group claimed responsibility (Reuters). While local police linked these attacks to insurgents, the government blamed pro-Thaksin groups. The violence coincided with the lead-up to, and passage of, the August 7 referendum on Thailand’s new constitution, which granted the military substantially more power in governance (Council on Foreign Relations). On December 6 and 7, Muslim separatists killed six civilians in the southern provinces of Pattani and Narathiwat (New York Times).
2015 Violence intensified, especially in the south, with rebels often using car bombs. After a grenade attack at the Bangkok Criminal Court on March 7, two suspects connected to a Red-Shirt conspiracy were arrested. The bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok on August 17 was the most vicious and deadly terrorist attack in recent Thai history, killing 20 and injuring 120 (International Crisis Group). On August 18 a man was seen dropping a bomb in the Chao Phraya River that later exploded without causing any casualties. In December Russian security officials told Thailand about alleged IS attacks in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket (International Crisis Group).
2014 Violence related to anti-government protests was strongest in February, when elections were held. On February 18, police attempted to disperse protestors; in the resulting violence one police officer and four protesters died and 64 people were injured. Thirty people were injured and three killed during an attack on the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) rally. An explosion at a protest rally in Bangkok killed three and injured 23. On February 25, 20 grenade explosions took place in Lumpini Park where PDRC supporters had organized a campsite. Following the coup in May, the military arrested hundreds of politicians, including former Prime Minister Yingluck, as well as many media representatives and pro-democracy activists. Yingluck and some others were later freed. In May, 100 protestors defied the ban on public gatherings in Bangkok, reportedly intending to march to the Thai army headquarters. They were stopped by riot police. Insurgency-related violence continued in the south. Four bombs in the town of Yala on April 6 killed one person and injured at least 28. In October insurgents murdered a village leader in Pattani. On October 3 a police officer was killed by an IED in Nong Chik and a Muslim villager was killed in Mayo district. Grenades and guns were widely used.
2013 Violence persisted in the southern provinces, despite ceasefire negotiations that began in late February between insurgent groups and the Thai government. Opposition groups have become more skilled in their attacks, reflecting what the International Crisis Group called a “growing professionalization.” Insurgent tactics included bombings, shootings, arson, and Improvised Explosive Devices, targeting government officials with increasing precision. In May, following the second round of negotiations, the BRN threatened to kill non-combatants if their demands were not met. The government responded by invoking the Internal Security Act, which, as of September 18, 2013, had been used 33 times since 2005.
Civil unrest in Bangkok intensified as Yellow Shirts continued to protest the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for alleged connections to her exiled brother and financial corruption. Violent demonstrations occurred in late December 2013 when groups of protestors (some armed) tried to break into a stadium where the electoral commission was registering citizens. Police use of tear gas led to the death of one officer and scores of injured civilians. Protestors claimed violence would not stop until the prime minister stepped down. Protestors also opposed the use of laws of lèse-majesté to detain many political prisoners; on January 23, Somyot Preiksakasemsuk was sentenced to 11 years in jail for publishing two articles that were deemed insulting to the monarchy.
2012 Insurgents’ bomb attacks and targeted killings threatened political figures and civilians, including teachers and schools. Insurgents admitted to using anti-personnel landmines. In December, protesting teachers closed provincial schools; then the authorities closed all state-run schools in south Thailand for five days. Responding to insurgent threats, many shopkeepers closed on Fridays. In October the killing of a Muslim couple caused violence to escalate and dozens of deaths.
2011 Levels of violence remained steady in the southern provinces. Shootings and bombings were most commonly used by insurgents. In October, armed insurgents attacked the motorcade of Panu Uthairat, Secretary-General of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre. No one was injured in the attack. Later in October, a series of 10 bomb attacks was carried out in Narathiwat, injuring none. In November, police arrested Asmadi Jehmoh for the bombings.
2010 Violence in the south was more targeted, focused on protests and political rallies. The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center estimated in June that there were 9,417 militants in the southern provinces. In May, two months of relatively calm political protests by opposition Red Shirts ended in violence in Bangkok that killed 90 civilians and injured 1,900. In response, the government extended the state of emergency in most regions.
2009 Levels of violence remained steady. Most fighting took place in the south. People connected to the Thai state, including police, soldiers, government officials and teachers—Muslim and Buddhist—were frequent targets. Two human rights activists were killed in separate incidents early in the year. Four Thai paramilitary rangers were killed and decapitated in two separate incidents. In early April, a standoff between Thai and Cambodian troops killed four Thai soldiers; two civilians were killed in political riots staged by pro-Thaksin supporters. In June, several teachers and Buddhist monks were killed. On June 8, gunmen–reportedly paramilitary troops–attacked the Al Furqon Mosque in Narathiwat, killing 10 to 12 people and injuring several more. In August, 16 civilians were killed in one week.
2008 Local media sources reported a 47 per cent decline in the number of violent incidents, from 1,992 in 2007 to 1,056 in 2008. But the incidents, including bombings and shootings in the south and the capital, were more deadly. In January, at least 12 soldiers were killed in insurgent ambushes. On April 28, 120 alleged militants were killed in southern Thailand. In October, protests in the south killed 80; conflicts between police and protesters in Bangkok killed two and injured 443. In November, two bombing attacks wounded more than 70 people and killed one. Also in November, a bomb in Bangkok killed one and injured 20. Abuses of human and civil rights by insurgents and government security forces continued. Meanwhile, two people were killed in a border dispute with Cambodia, which began in July.
2007 Coordinated bombings that were blamed on the government, not insurgents, targeted tourist areas during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Bangkok. Insurgent violence was contained in the three predominantly Malay-Muslim provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani. Violence peaked in June, when an average of five people a day were killed. Insurgents targeted civilians of all faiths, specifically people suspected of cooperating with the government, those working in government offices and schools, and those working in critical economic sectors. Buddhist villagers in the conflict areas began to arm themselves. In late June, the military launched Operation Southern Protection, an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign that significantly decreased fatalities. At year’s end, approximately 20,000 government troops remained in the troubled provinces; they were accused of abusing human rights and employing heavy-handed tactics.
2006 The rising number of attacks by insurgency groups in the southern provinces resulted in the highest annual death toll since violence re-erupted in 2004. Coordinated attacks involved bombings, arson, and shootings. Early in the year, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government reported improved security relations with the Malay-Muslim population. Reports surfaced of arbitrary arrests and allegations that security forces had participated in extrajudicial killings. After the September coup, there was a surge in attacks, despite efforts by the new government to engage in peace talks.
2005 Rebels carried out daily shooting and bombing attacks on both military and civilian targets in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Songkhla. Rebels launched several large-scale attacks on government forces. Early in the year the government moved 40,000 troops to the region, but later switched to mainly counterinsurgency operations.
Total: According to Deep South Watch, between January 2004 and April 2014, Thailand experienced 14,128 incidents of political violence, causing 6,097 deaths and 10,908 injuries. In 2016, these totals climbed to over 6,330 deaths and 11,200 wounded, in more than 14,400 incidents of violence since 2004 (ACLED, 2015 and 2016 Realtime Monthly Asia Files, filtered for Thailand). CIA World Factbook reported 35,000 IDPs due to the resurgence in southern separatist violence since 2004 (Central Intelligence Agency).
2017 In 2016, 35,000 people were internally displaced due to a resurgence of ethno-nationalist violence in the southern provinces. Thailand also hosted 102,633 refugees from Burma. A large majority of children born to Burmese migrants are stateless as they do not qualify for either Thai or Burmese citizenship. A total of 487,741 people are stateless in Thailand. Rohingya refugees from Burma are detained in inhumane conditions or expelled as illegal migrants.
Thailand has been regularly scrutinized for its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, especially its incarceration of children. The detention centres are often “overcrowded, provide inadequate food, have poor ventilation, lack access to medical services, and other basic necessities” (Human Rights Watch). Children are often separated from family members and incarcerated in cells, sometimes for 24 hours a day and with unrelated adults.
2015 According to Deep South Watch, since conflict began in 2004, 6,097 people had been killed and 10,908 injured (Deep South Watch). The total number of casualties from January to December 2015 was 113 (ACLED, 2015 Realtime Monthly Asia File, monthly results filtered for Thailand and each month’s total summed together). In the first eight months of 2015, 15 civilian deaths were related to the conflict; in 2014, there were 50 civilian deaths in the same period (ACLED). Thailand sheltered approximately 106,349 Burmese refugees.
2014 According to International Crisis Group, there were more than 82 conflict-related deaths.
Refugees and IDPs: According to UNHCR, there were 246 refugees and 194 asylum seekers originating from Thailand in July 2014. Thailand hosted 132,838 refugees of 40 nationalities (including 57,500 unregistered persons from Burma) and 8,336 asylum seekers. In 2011 there were 506,197 stateless persons in the country.
2013 According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the escalation of the Malay-Muslim conflict in south Thailand led to a doubling of military casualties over the previous year. Clashes between the Thai military and the BRN remained high despite ceasefire negotiations. The Royal Thai Police (RTP) Southern Operations Centre reported the deaths of 129 security force personnel, 51 insurgents, and 138 civilians in 2013. A further 352 military personnel and 70 police were wounded. According to Human Rights Watch, 157 teachers had died since 2004. As a result of talks between the government and the BRN, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan experienced the lowest number of casualties since 2007, with 23 deaths.
Refugees and IDPs:There were 214 refugees and 150 asylum seekers from Thailand.
2012 According to International Crisis Group, conflict killed 150, including 42 security forces personnel and 95 civilians; militants accounted for less than 10 per cent of the deaths.
2011 According to International Crisis Group, at least 165 deaths occurred this year. Most were the result of bombings or targeted political killings. During a protest in October, 85 people were killed by security forces.
2010 According to International Crisis Watch and the Bangkok Post, approximately 368 civilians were killed in the south in the first 10 months. An estimated 90 civilians were killed and 1,900 injured in clashes between the government and anti-government protesters during May riots in Bangkok.
2009 According to the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report, 510 conflict-related deaths were reported, including 389 civilians, 78 government officials, and 43 insurgents.
2008 An estimated 600 were killed. According to local media sources, 546 deaths were “registered,” including those of 74 state officials, 422 civilians and 50 suspected militants. Another 1,075 people were reported injured.
2007 It is estimated that between 800 and 1,300 people (or more) were killed.
2006 An estimated 700 to 1,300 people were killed.
2005 More than 500 people were killed.
2017 A constitution passed in August 2016 was promulgated on March 6, 2017, ensuring that members of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will not be held accountable for human rights violations during their military rule and encouraging a continuation of human rights abuses without impunity (Human Rights Watch).
On April 6, Thailand’s new king, Maha Vajiralongkorm, signed a constitution that would clear the way for Thailand to have democratic elections. While elections could take place within 19 months of the announcement, they will likely be delayed because of the many steps involved in drafting the process and the government’s tendency to change the timelines of polls. The new constitution would give more power to the constitutional court and create an army-appointed upper house that reserves six seats for the military. This new constitution has been criticized for “laying the foundation” for prolonged military control even after the planned 2018 election (Human Rights Watch).
Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra fled to Dubai after failing to appear in court to hear the ruling on alleged corruption and negligence charges. She was accused by army generals of mishandling a costly rice subsidizing scheme, a claim that she has denied. Yingluck Shinawatra explained that her failure to show up was due to an ear problem, but the court rejected her claim and moved the verdict hearing to September 27. Yingluck’s government was overthrown in the 2014 coup by the Thai army. In 2015, she was found guilty in a different impeachment trial and banned from political involvement for five years (The Guardian). On September 27, Yingluck was found guilty of negligence and sentenced to five years in prison (The Guardian).
According to Human Rights Watch, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was responsible for many human rights violations, including failing to investigate forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings and hindering freedom of expression. The junta has been heavily condemned in the media for their use of the lèse-majesté laws (prosecution of people criticizing the monarchy). At least 105 people have been charged under these laws since the 2014 coup. In addition, the junta’s use of the Computer-Related Crime Act, which outlaws criticism and even nonviolent opposition to military rule, was revised and became effective in May. The revisions allow the government to impede free speech and censor. At least 66 people have been charged and arrested as a result since 2014, most prominently politicians Pichai Naripthaphan and Watana Muangsook (Human Rights Watch). In 2017 alone, academics, Thai and foreign journalists, and a television station were charged with either sedition or defamation and faced jail time or suspension from the media. According to Human Rights Watch, the murders of more than 30 human rights defenders and civil society activists since 2001 are still unsolved.
Thailand has been criticized for its ongoing maltreatment of migrant workers and refugees, especially in the wake of the Rohingya crisis. Migrants are vulnerable to extortion, prolonged detention, and physical abuses by the state, and are more susceptible to labour rights abuses and human trafficking (Human Rights Watch).
2016 In mid-January, the corruption trial of Yingluck Shinawatra on charges relating to her rice subsidy scheme began (Council on Foreign Relations). In October, the Thai Junta fined her $1-billion and ordered her assets seized (South China Morning Post). Supporters of the Shinawatra administration (Red Shirts) said that the charges were aimed at curbing her family’s political influence (Channel News Asia). In October, King Bhumibol died, bringing his 70-year reign to an end. He was succeeded by his son, Vajiralongkorn, previously a military officer. The severity of Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws have prevented any open discussion of the new king’s suitability (BBC News).
On March 29, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) released a final draft of a new constitution, which enshrines a government role for the armed forces and codifies emergency decrees passed by the junta without any parliamentary screening (Council on Foreign Relations). The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, expressed concerns about the increasing political, social, and economic power of Thailand’s military government (Council on Foreign Relations). On August 7, the new constitution passed in a national referendum, primarily supported by the Yellow Shirts (PAD). Two days later, the chief of the military government announced that Thailand would hold a general election in 2017 (Al Jazeera).
In September 2016, Amnesty International cancelled the launch of a report on torture that focused on 74 alleged cases of torture by Thai soldiers and police (The Guardian). The cancellation followed a warning from the police in Bangkok that Amnesty staff would be arrested and prosecuted for visa violations. This cancellation was seen as further evidence of harassment of human rights defenders in the country.
2015 On April 1 Prime Minister Prayuth invoked Article 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, which gave him absolute power. On April 20 the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) delivered to the National Reform Committee a new draft constitution, which included a new guideline limiting the power of elected politicians and political parties. On May 13 the CDC recommended that Prayuth hold a referendum on the new constitution. The government approved this move on May 19. The CDC received a one-month extension on July 21 to complete the draft, with the aim of presenting it to the National Reform Council on August 22. The CDC established the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Commission (NSRRC) in late July to lead the reforms following the next round of parliamentary elections, giving the NSRRC the ability to overrule the government in times of distress. On September 6 the National Reform Council rejected the draft constitution created by the CDC and the CDC then disbanded. On October 5 the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) appointed a new CDC of 21 members, with a mandate to draft a new constitution by April 1, 2016.
Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was charged with criminal negligence; her Supreme Court trial began May 19. In the summer, the government held peace talks with Majlis Amanah Rakyat Patani (MARA Patani), the umbrella organization for Thailand’s separatist movements. This marked the first discussions since the overthrow of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. While welcoming Malaysia as a facilitator in peace talks, representatives from Thailand’s largest insurgent group, the BRN, denounced the discussions for bearing no relation to those that occurred between the BRN and the government in 2013 (Prachatai).
2014 Political protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck and reform of the political system began in November 2013. Instead the government called a February election. But 59 of 152 polling stations were closed by protests, most in Bangkok and some in the south and some opposition groups boycotted the election. The election was later ruled unconstitutional by the court, because the election was not held in all parts of the country on the same day. The court also ordered the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck for abusing power. In May the Thai army took control of the government and suspended the constitution, announcing their intention to stabilize the political situation. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the coup and warned that it jeopardized relations with the United States. After the coup, the military enforced a curfew (later removed) and banned gatherings of more than five people. In August the King of Thailand endorsed army chief and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was formed to lead the country. Elections were expected early in 2016.
2013 On February 28, the Thai government and the BRN-C agreed to a formal dialogue to improve relations and create stability, with Malaysia acting as facilitator. A temporary agreement in June to decrease violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended August 6 when the BRN suspended negotiations.
The government experienced severe backlash from Yellow Shirt activists over allegations of corruption. In December, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was charged with the murders of 90 civilians killed in a government crackdown in 2010. He proclaimed his innocence and was granted bail.
In November, the Red Shirts and the Pheu Thai Party created an amnesty bill that would excuse Vejjajiva from his alleged crimes and allow former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return from exile. The lower house passed the bill on November 1, but the senate blocked it on November 11. This sparked massive protests involving 100,000 people. Nine Democrat members of parliament, including Suthep Thaugsbhan, resigned to help lead protests. On December 2, Suthep was charged with sedition.
2012 In September, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report on the 2010 political violence. It urged the Yingluck government to “address legal violations,” emphasizing that security forces were responsible for most deaths and injuries. Malay Muslim victims of abuses perpetrated by Thai security forces were offered $60-million in compensation by the government. However, security forces personnel faced little or no punishment for their actions. Early in 2012, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra stated that there would be no negotiation with militants. This position softened later in the year; in August, the government announced peace talks with insurgents in the south. In October, the Supreme Court ruled that restricting freedom of expression was constitutional. Laws against lèse majesté—the act of violating, insulting, or threatening the monarch—remained in place.
2011 Southern provinces remained under a state of emergency throughout the year. Major parties said little about southern conflict during campaigning for July 3 elections. The Pheu Thai party won a majority and Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, became prime minister. The new government appointed Thawee Sodsong the new director of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, tasked with coordinating civil and economic development affairs. In September, Amnesty International released a report accusing insurgency groups of deliberately targeting civilians, which in some cases constituted war crimes. The report also outlined abuses, including torture, committed by Thai forces. In December, the Supreme Court upheld the life sentences of three PULO members, including former field commander Haji Da-oh Thanam.
2010 The state of emergency was renewed in the southern Provinces as violence persisted. Pro-Thaksin Red Shirts demanded Parliament be dissolved and an immediate election held. In May, 90 civilians were reportedly killed and 1,900 injured in political riots. The government placed much of Thailand under a state of emergency. On July 6, the state of emergency was lifted in five relatively stable provinces; 18 provinces (including all three provinces in Southern Thailand, which had been in a state of emergency since 2004), and Bangkok remained under a state of emergency at year’s end.
2009 On March 26, thousands of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began a sit-in outside Government House, demanding the resignation of the King’s advisors and the dissolution of Parliament. On April 11, street protests in Pattaya led to the cancellation of the ASEAN Summit. Accompanying demonstrations in Bangkok turned violent, killing two and injuring 120. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Pattaya on April 11 and in Bangkok on April 12. Both were lifted by April 24.
In March, the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva approved a plan to improve the justice system in the south and sent an additional 4,000 soldiers south to help “improve relations with local people.” In June, Songkhla Provincial Court ruled that no officers would be charged in the deaths of 78 ethnic Malay Muslim detainees in TakBai in 2004, The government unveiled a $1-billion stimulus plan for the south.
2008 On January 19, the government announced a new six-party coalition, led by the People’s Power Party (PPP), with Samak Sundaravej as Prime Minister. The military council disbanded. The United States responded with renewed financial and military aid in February. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was allowed to return from exile and released on bail in relation to charges of abuse of power. In April, three of the coalition parties, including the PPP, faced allegations of vote-buying and electoral fraud. In July, bilateral talks with Cambodia failed to resolve a border standoff; two were killed in this dispute in October. The government approved mobilization of 2,500 additional paramilitary troops to the south in August. At the same time, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) occupied Government House to protest alleged electoral fraud and forced Samak from office. He was replaced by PPP candidate Somchai Wongsawat in September. Protests intensified in November and a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok airports. On December 2, a court ruling dissolved the PPP, ending protests. Several smaller parties joined the opposition Democrat Party to form a new government, with Abhisit Vejjajiva as prime minister. Meanwhile, Thaksin fled to the United Kingdom and was found guilty of abuse of power in absentia.
2007 A new constitution was approved in a referendum in August. On December 23, the first parliamentary elections since the 2006 coup were held. Some informal meetings were held between Thai government officials and insurgent representatives in Geneva.
2006 There was growing opposition to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on grounds of corruption. Thaksin’s party won a snap election in April, but nearly 40 per cent of voters spoiled their ballots and Thaksin resigned. On September 19, the government was overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army. The new government, led by retired General Surayud Chulanont, agreed to peace talks with southern insurgents. However, violence in the southern provinces escalated in October.
2005 Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party won a majority of parliamentary seats in February elections. In March, the government created the National Reconciliation Commission to explore ways to end the conflict in the south. A state of emergency in the disputed provinces was declared in July and remained in place for the remainder of the year.
The separatist insurgency in southern Thailand has roots in Thailand’s 1902 annexation of the Malay Kingdom of Pattani, which comprises the provinces of Patani, Yala and Songkhla. The people of this territory have a long history of independence and are ethnically and culturally distinct from most other Thais. The large majority of people in the three southern provinces are ethnic Malay, speak Yawi, and are 80 per cent Muslim, as distinct from the rest of Thailand, in which most people are Buddhist and speak Thai. Many in the south have never accepted the loss of independence. Repeated attempts by Thai governments to repress local culture, language, and religion, as well as widespread and often official discrimination against ethnic Malays have fueled resentment. Most local residents believe that the region has been neglected by successive Thai governments, leading to underdevelopment and higher levels of poverty. In the 1960s, rebel groups demanding independence instigated a period of major violence and unrest that lasted until the early 1990s. A series of political and economic reforms and a broad amnesty for the rebels all but ended the insurgency.
Resentment rose again in the late 1990s. Key reforms were rolled back. Thai Buddhist security forces were accused of grave human rights abuses against local majority Muslim, Malay populations. Economic conditions deteriorated after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. While the 1997 constitution promised more local autonomy for southern states, these policies were reversed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra when he came to power in 2001.By the end of 2001, four major rebel groups had emerged or re-emerged, all demanding independence from Thailand. Violence escalated dramatically in 2004. On April 28 at the Krue Se mosque, military personnel stormed militants taking shelter in the mosque, killing 32. On October 25, Muslim protesters were attacked in the town of Tak Bai while protesting in front of a police station. Eighty-five people were killed, most crushed while being transported to detention facilities; 1,200 people were held in custody; 58 were eventually charged with criminal offences. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to bring those responsible to justice.
On September 19, 2006, a coup d’état removed Prime Minister Thaksin from office, suspended the constitution, and instituted martial law. Thaksin was accused of financial misconduct, abuse of power, and election rigging. This was the first coup in 15 years, but Thailand has alternated between military junta and parliamentary democracy since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932; between 1932 and 1991, there were 17 coup d’états.
Subsequent administrations have not been able to maintain stability. Prime Minister Abhisit (2008-11) was accused of murder and corruption; Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (2011-14) was unable to convince many that she was not being controlled by her exiled brother Thaksin. In May 2014, the military removed Yingluck from power and instituted an interim government under the National Council for Peace and Order. Military officials justified the coup as a means of restoring order after months of political deadlock, but it was criticized for suppressing democracy. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup, is the country’s current prime minister.
In 2010, Thailand increased military spending by 19 per cent, one of the largest increases in arms spending in the world (SIPRI Yearbook 2010). Between 2012 and 2015, Thailand’s annual defence budget was approximately $5.5-billion (The Military Balance, 2016, 293). The rebels steal arms from Thai security forces, mainly in raids on local police stations. They also allegedly receive arms and other support through transnational Islamist networks.
For much of the period since 1950, the United States has provided Thailand with military equipment, essential supplies, training, and assistance (Department of State). In 2014, the Thai military received arms from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, China, Sweden, Israel, and Ukraine. In 2015, the German Ministry of Defence announced plans to share sophisticated satellite data with 35 partner nations, including Thailand (Defense News). However, in response to the 2014 coup, the United States suspended approximately a third of its military aid to Thailand (Defense News). It continued to urge a return to civilian rule and democracy, although it still conducts about 40 joint military exercises a year with Thailand, which is considered a key partner in its defense strategy in the region (Department of State). Since 2014, the Thai military has turned toward China, which embraced Thai generals in both the 2006 and 2014 coups (Defense News). In December 2016, Japan sought to counter the growing Chinese influence in Thailand with a contract to supply Thailand with an air defence radar system (Reuters).
In 2017, the defence budget was 6.16-billion USD (The Military Balance). The military government proposed a defence budget of 6.5-billion USD for 2018 (Jane’s 360), an increase of 5.5 per cent.
In early 2017, the government approved a 10-year modernization plan for the military known as Vision 2026, which will likely result in increased spending on defence (The Military Balance).
The southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Songkhla, where the vast majority of ethnic Malays live, have historically been among the poorest and most underdeveloped in Thailand. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 led to a further deterioration of economic conditions. Most of the local population believe that successive Thai governments have ignored the region’s development in favour of the rest of Thailand.
Deep South Watch reported that between 2004 and 2009, the country’s ethno-national conflict caused economic losses surpassing $3.1-billion and suggested that the government would spend $8.6-billion fighting the conflict during the period 2009-19.
The 2014 coup, and particularly its imposition of a curfew between 10 pm and 5 am, disrupted the tourism industry, which accounts for 10 to 20 per cent of Thailand’s GDP (BBC). After a few weeks and industry reports of financial damage, the coup leaders first reduced the hours of the curfew (Herald Sun) and then removed it.
Historically, Thailand had a strong economy; however, it experienced an economic slowdown from 2013-15, with the GDP growth rate dropping from 7.5 per cent in 2012 to 2.8 per cent in 2013 and 0.9 per cent in 2014 (World Bank). The slowdown resulted from domestic political turmoil as well as the coup, which caused tourism to decline by six to seven per cent. In 2015, tourism revenues and the economy began to improve (Central Intelligence Agency). In August 2016, however, major bombings occurred in tourist towns (BBC News). It was projected that as many as 365,000 tourists were deterred by the bombings from visiting Thailand. This number amounts to as much as $170-million in lost revenue, according to the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (Voice of America).
In 2017, the Thai economy grew at the fastest pace in four years, although political uncertainty continues to affect private sector investment (Bloomberg).
map: CIA Factbook