Bangkok Post Sunday July 20, 2008
Thailand condemned for kicking out refugees
Karen civilians face violence in Burma
New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday blasted Thailand for forcing 52 Karen refugees to return to a conflict zone in Burma on Asarnha Bucha Day.
On Thursday, paramilitary troops forced the Karen civilians, most of them women and children, to leave two refugee camps in Mae Hong Son province and cross back to Burma, where they had fled a military offensive early this year.
”The Thai government cynically launched this illegal operation during the first day of a major Buddhist holiday,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
”This, along with the Thai media’s preoccupation with escalating border tensions with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple, provides effective cover for Thailand’s serious breach of international law,” said Mr Adams in a statement issued from New York.
Thai media attention has been focused this week on the Thai-Cambodian border, where both countries’ troops have amassed over an escalating row over the ancient Hindu temple, perched on the border and subject to a territorial dispute.
Thailand, a magnet for hundreds of thousands of refugees and illegal workers from its less developed neighbours _ Cambodia, Laos and Burma _ has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, but Mr Adams argued that Bangkok is still bound by the principle of non-refoulement, a prohibition in customary international law, from returning refugees to any country where they are likely to be persecuted or their lives are at risk.
”The Thai government has ignored its obligations to protect refugees fleeing violence in Burma,” Mr Adams said.
”Sending these people back to conflict zones dominated by the Burmese army is disgraceful. Forcing civilians back into an active war zone may be an easy answer for Thailand, but it’s brutal _ a completely inhumane and unacceptable solution,” he said.
Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the European Union, the United States and other countries to pressure the government to immediately cease the refoulement of refugees and continue to provide sanctuary to people fleeing fighting or persecution in Burma