The recent arrest in Yala province of a militia member linked to numerous murders and other crimes raised hopes that the Thai government was finally getting serious about countless abuses carried out by its security forces in Thailand's restive southern border provinces.
Abdulhakeem "Hakeem" Darase is allegedly responsible for a long list of murders of ethnic Malay Muslim men and women accused of involvement with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist movement.
But since his arrest on June 13, there are growing suspicions whether he will ever face justice.
Citing martial law powers, the military is holding Hakeem in their custody - claiming that they need to question him about his possession of assault rifles and other military-grade weapons - instead of handing him over to the police. As a result, the police cannot press charges against him. And so far, no criminal investigation into any murder cases has begun.
BRN insurgents have cited Hakeem's alleged abuses as a justification for reprisals. Of course, Hakeem has not acted alone. Since the armed conflict in southern Thailand began 15 years ago, the government has not prosecuted a single member of the security forces for unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, or other serious abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims. In many cases, authorities have given financial compensation to the victims or their families in exchange for their agreement not to pursue criminal prosecution of officials. Activists and others who speak out face intimidation and prosecution for damaging the reputation of the military.
The BRN insurgents have committed countless abuses during the war, including bombings of crowded civilian areas such as markets and targeted killings of teachers, monks, medical personnel, and others considered to be representatives of the ethnic Thai Buddhist state. Although claiming to be acting on behalf of ethnic Malay Muslims, most of the BRN's victims have been from that population. Since January 2004, more than 6,000 people have been killed in southern Thailand.
The government should take an important step to break this cycle of violence by ordering the military to transfer Hakeem to police custody for a transparent and impartial criminal investigation and to be prosecuted as the evidence warrants it. There can be no excuses.
Source: Human Rights Watch