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One of the saved Rohingya who turned out to be not so fortunate after all

Human Rights a Key Issue for Asean in Hua Hin

Monday, August 24, 2009
Phuketwan Opinion/Analysis

THE ASEAN Plus Six Summit will be held in Cha-Am/Hua Hin, the Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, confirmed today, with the Internal Security Act to be applied as on Phuket in July.

One issue that should be discussed when the leaders of 16 nations meet in October is the fate of one of the world's most opressed and downtrodden people, the Rohingya.

And with the Rohingya comes a second point for discussion: whether Thailand sincerely agrees with the principles of human rights, without compromise.

Back in January, when Phuketwan reporters met the first boatload of Rohingya who had been saved from the infamous ''pushbacks'' orchestrated by the Thai Army, we thought a significant change had taken place.

Thailand, under a new young Prime Minister, appeared then to have a more compassionate view of the world than the faceless, nameless men who conceived the appalling idea of towing refugees out to sea and waving them good riddance.

How wrong we were.

The first hint that nothing had really changed came as we stood outside Ranong Jail and watched the Rohingya, some still in hospital garb, stumble and hobble and carry each other to the jail entrance and inside.

Healthy, fit and strong Thai jailers looked on. Not one stepped forward to help. Some of these boatpeople told us earlier in the day of their desperate journey south, of being captured, battered and in some cases sadistically burned by the Burmese military.

Last week it was revealed that two of the young Rohingya had died in custody in Ranong, and that most of the group spent months in the detention centre without proper exercise facilities and without access to sunlight. They had the choice indoors of sitting or standing, and that was about it.

The boatpeople ''pushbacks,'' which probably resulted in the deaths of hundreds of men, were recognised by Thailand as inhumane.

But the treatment of this boatload of survivors, who were once viewed as being the lucky ones, is almost as bad.

The incarceration of the Rohingya in horrendous conditions was taking place while the Foreign Minister of Thailand, Kasit Piromya, sat down with other foreign ministers in July on Phuket to talk about improving human rights within Asean.

While fine words were spoken, a second teenager was weeks from dying and others were falling sick.

Who knew that the conditions for the Rohingya were so appalling?

The original concept, before the ''pushbacks'' idea, was to isolate the Rohingya on an Andaman island, to show others that attempting to reach Thailand would be a pointless exercise.

For all the horror, the ''pushbacks'' and the treatment of Rohingya in detention send that same message.

One way or another, Thailand has achieved the prime objective . . . a halt to the flow of would-be refugees. Were the Rohingya survivors mistreated in Ranong through thoughtless lack of care, or was it policy?

That's what the leaders of Asean Plus Six need to ask themselves in Cha-Am/Hua Hin when they sit down to talk about human rights.

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