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Some of the boatpeople who vanished after they landed on Phuket in 2011

Phuketwan Writes a Letter of Hope Beginning, 'Dear President Obama . . .'

Saturday, November 17, 2012
Dear President Obama,

WE KNOW your visit to Thailand and Burma in coming days will be fleeting but we hope you find time to raise a human wrongs issue: the oppression of the stateless Rohingya in both countries.

Although Burma is where the ethnic cleansing of this Muslim minority has been taking place, despite their claim to centuries of life there, they are also being abused in Thailand.

We encountered our first Rohingya in a Thai police cell in 2009. This was soon after we discovered that Thai authorities had been conducting secret expulsions of unwanted Rohingya boatpeople, ''pushbacks'' that claimed the lives of several hundred innocent boys and men.

Their only crime was to seek a better life.

Over the months that followed, the group we met in the police station cell were detained in Thailand in conditions so appalling that two teenagers died in custody.

When the survivors were eventually released, many were bent double and could barely shuffle because they had been confined in such a small space, deprived of movement.

In four years, Thailand's attitude really hasn't changed much.

These days the Thai military ''helps on'' boatloads of Rohingya refugees, making sure they stay at sea and don't come ashore on Thailand's Andaman coast.

If fear of drowning at sea does force them ashore, the Thais round them up and put them back out to sea as fast as possible.

Ironically, the Rohingya, who are denied Burmese citizenship, are described as Burmese in paperwork in Thailand so they can be disposed of more easily.

A boatload of 112 men and boys - some as young as 14 - landed in Thailand just last weekend, but we have been unable to find out what happened to them. They could already be slave labor on trawlers or in fish factories.

They have simply vanished.

There is no transparency in Thailand when it comes to treatment of these people. Their statelessness in Burma means they can be treated as non-people in Thailand, too.

As you probably know, Mr President, racism against the Rohingya is so widespread in Burma now that even Aung San Suu Kyi, the respected democracy hero, will not speak out in their defence.

With their homes being torched and hatred all around them, what are the Rohingya to do? They try to escape at sea and find only more ill-feeling in Thailand and other neighboring countries.

Believe it or not, Mr President, Burma and Thailand are two of the supporters of a new human rights declaration for Asean, the regional body that includes 10 South East Asian nations.

The Asean human rights declaration is, we believe, a sham. It has get-out clauses that would enable the abuse of the Rohingya on land and on sea to go on and on, without end.

We continue to be horrified, Mr President, that the world fails to understand the appalling human wrong that is taking place in this region, the persecution of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

We respectfully ask you and Ms Suu Kyi, like you a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to halt the abuse. We ask for the Rohingya to be granted citizenship of Burma immediately.

There can be no human rights in Asean until the Rohingya are treated as human beings.

Please show the world and the people of the region that a respect for the rights of fellow humans is what distinguishes the US approach in the region from the approach of China.

You were elected president because you are a man of principle, not just a politician.

There are few principles more important than a world free of racism, a world where all people have a right to call some place home, a world where all are equal.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian

PS Here is the Human Rights Watch request for your visit to Thailand:

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama should publicly raise concerns about Thailand's human rights record during meetings with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok on November 18, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

Obama will visit Thailand ahead of Burma and Cambodia for the US-Asean Summit and the East Asia Summit.

The Thai government needs to address an extensive list of human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said, including lack of accountability for security force abuses, restrictions on free expression, and the failure to protect the rights of Thailand's large population of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.

''President Obama doesn't need to tread lightly in discussing Thailand's rights record,'' said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

''An important benefit of having a close diplomatic relationship is that Obama can be frank and forthright in raising concerns.''

Obama should take up concerns about abuses by the military and police in Thailand's southern border provinces, where the government is fighting a separatist insurgency that has been responsible for numerous bombings and killings.

Thai security personnel have been implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. While abuses have declined since Yingluck took office in August 2011, no security forces personnel have been prosecuted for past or recent human rights abuses.

''Ensuring accountability is not only a matter of justice for victims of abuses, but evidence that the Thai government is committed to becoming a rights-respecting democracy,'' Adams said.

The right to freedom of expression, including on the internet, has become an increasing concern in recent years, Human Rights Watch said. Thai authorities continue to bring prosecutions against individuals deemed to be critical of the Thai monarchy under the country's lese majeste laws, as well as against activists, journalists, and academics critical of the government. Prosecutions for criminal defamation are often initiated by private individuals, including government officials.

Since December 2011, more than 5000 webpages with alleged lese majeste content have been blocked by Thai authorities, Human Rights Watch said.

Lese majeste prosecutions also target intermediaries, such as web masters and magazine editors, which has led to widespread self-censorship. Often people charged with lese majeste offenses have been denied bail and remain jailed for many months awaiting trial.

In many cases, those convicted receive very harsh sentences. Amphon Tangnoppakul, known as ''Uncle SMS,'' who was sentenced in November 2011 to 20 years in prison for sending four lese majeste text messages in 2010, died in prison at age 62 on May 8, 2012.

''Thailand's lese majeste laws are being used to create a climate of fear and self-censorship, undermining Thailand's development as an open society,'' Adams said.

''President Obama should press Prime Minister Yingluck to reverse course and reform these laws in line with international human rights standards.''

Attempts by Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners to pass an amnesty law for those responsible for violence during the 2010 political upheaval is an affront to justice, Human Rights Watch said.

At least 90 people died and more than 2000 were injured during political confrontations that occurred in Bangkok and other cities from March to May 2010.

Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2011 report 'Descent into Chaos' that both anti-government Red Shirts, particularly their armed Black Shirts wing, and state security forces were responsible for the violence, though the latter was responsible for the majority of casualties.

The Thai government should prosecute all those responsible, regardless of political affiliation or position, Human Rights Watch said.

''Thailand has faced extensive political instability in the last decade, and may face more if it fails to come to terms with the need for investigating and prosecuting past abuses,'' Adams said.

''Those found responsible for bloodshed should be held accountable for their actions, not allowed to cut deals in the interest of escaping accountability.''

Obama should also discuss the rights of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said.

Thailand's decision to join the US-supported negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which will be announced during the visit, will put pressure on Thailand to improve its labor rights record.

Thailand's labor record is marred by pervasive abuses against more than two million migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, many of whom produce goods for export to the US market.

In September, the US Labor Department listed Thailand's fishing, shrimp, and garment sectors as continuing to use child and forced labor, and noted the use of child labor in sugarcane production.

For the past three years, the US State Department has given Thailand a poor grade on human trafficking.

Obama should also press Thailand to protect refugees and asylum seekers, including Burmese fleeing persecution or war, and not engage in deportations without adequate safeguards and processing.

''Thailand has long been a temporary home to many Southeast Asian refugees, but the prohibition against returning refugees to countries where they face persecution remains fundamental,'' Adams said.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


On Deaf BIG Ears,
That's correct you just wasted your time think that jerk can help another country when he will certainly guide the USA down the wrong path in the next 4 yrs. Already 1 week in and the man that knocked Mitt Romney about taxes is going to WHAT ?? Raise middle class taxes. I will be retiring in Phuket for what he is going to do in the next term. BYE BYE Home and here I come Thailand. The Israel people asked for help during the last 4 months and look what is happening now. The US Trade isn't worth much as a leverage. Go ask China for help not the false hope by Obama. He got voted in by THE 47% living on a government aid programs that want extensions. What a joke of a person he is. You need a business person to run a country not popularity or Kim Kardashian would be president.

Posted by John on November 17, 2012 10:41


For the life of me I can't wrap my head around the fact the writers of this rag are actually asking the help of a US president that can't even keep his own country in order, let alone not realizing the carbon print American government leaders leave in their wake...Are you kidding me...? Without fail, everything the US government touches, without a doubt, fails. By doing this you have admited that Thailand can't, nor will it ever, be able to solve its OWN PROBLEMS... The last thing this country needs is to be beholding to a country like America. I am very disgusted and hang my head to even think Obama could make a change to ANY situation...America is about to implode and has been on this route for years. They are the VERY last country I would seek help from...I moved here to S/E Asia because I could not deal with American ideals, politics, immigration, lack of jobs, etc. etc. I had better success opening my boat design/build shop in Cambodia than I would have had back in America. I think it might be time to go back to Cambodia. At least in Cambodia, they admit to being a rather "third world" country. I am still shaking my hed...I can't believe this "paper" actually asked for Americas help. Puke.

Posted by Ted Davis on November 17, 2012 11:04


As a long-term Phuket expat who now works in Myanmar, I can say that the level of 'hatred' by ordinary Burmese (non-Muslim)citizens towards the Rohingya is truly shocking and almost universal. The views of the international community and those of the Burmese people are light years apart.

Posted by Simon on November 17, 2012 12:03


Since No Bama doesn't do anything for his own country, he will send you all the aid and money you ask for, especially if you are in a Muslim country.

Posted by Randy on November 17, 2012 12:35


Good grief! Who yanked (no pun intended) the chains of 'John' and 'Ted Davis'?

Ignore them, Ed. and Chutima, they have political axes to grind. It is a good article and makes some very points. Now, if only we could get Obama to read it...

Posted by Buster on November 17, 2012 14:00


Years ago in 1988 after the rioting there was a brief lull when journalists could get into Burma. At the time I interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi. Towards the end I asked her about the minorities, Kachin, Karen etc. of course bigger things were happening but she gave me the strong impression she was BURMESE and did not see them as minorities as such.

So while she is a remarkable woman I have always been ill at ease with that side of the equation. The Karen and Kachin have of course killed a lot of Burmese and sided with the Briish against her father - until he changed sides against the Japanese. But I'm sure that's irrelevant.

Posted by andrew on November 17, 2012 14:42


Simon, et tu, brute? 555

Well, yes so many people to help who all just want a better life.. I really would love to see a solution for the rohingha people. But you just cannot invite them all into your house. Hope that with Myanmar's growing economy, not long there will be the need for the Rohingha workforce. Wealth and work will settle this dispute over land and culture. Nothing else will.

Posted by Lena on November 17, 2012 15:51


Absoltely right Buster. Sorry Ted and John but most of the world is happy to see Obama back. You say he can't do anything - from what I saw, all the people he was trying to help had some brainwashed mentally against him - but maybe that's just my political bias (or conscience as I see it). I like your 'turn your back on the problems at home' attitude. Reminds me of a lot of narrow minded Brits round here.

As for the letter - excellent - I hope he sees it, and can bring up these issues with K. Yingluck (and I don't remember reading the US ever being asked to FIX these problems ...)

Posted by James on November 17, 2012 17:07


Every election invariably raises that old chestnut of taxing the rich more and giving it to the poor. History has shown this never works. The poor either do not get the money in the first place, as it is siphoned off by the bureaucrats in charge of distributing it, or if they do get some money, they don't know what to do with it. Many just spend the money until it's gone and the money finds its way back into the pockets of the wealthy business owners. Ambitious politicians know the promise to re-distribute the wealth is popular among many people - the guilty rich who know their wealth has been obtained corruptly, the idealistic middle class who naively think it will help the poor and the greedy bureaucrats who see opportunities for graft and pork barrelling. Greedy people will always find ways to avoid contributing and giving back to society.

Posted by logbags on November 17, 2012 20:18


Thanks for posting MY Opinion ED,
I don't have an axe to grind I do however live and work in the system that is failing. Just like the housing bubble that started here in USA, it was wrong way to do things. So is the US debt, that is growing daily. They "in office" can't claim bankruptcy for the USA and wipe it clean.
As for the Rohingya people I wish them well. If they Burmese really want them out and won't accept them have the Burmese GOV. bring the people that want to leave on Real Ships with safe passage to where they want to be.
I value all human life. No one asks to be born, Especially into poverty. But no one should be harmed because they are no desired.

Posted by John on November 17, 2012 23:20


Hey Buster...I am sending about 500,000 latinos to your house to live just for starters...Then some 2,000 Kachin rebels, since you are such a caring bleeding heart. Maybe you can go live in Gaza where the USA is helping the Israelies destroy everything in its path. I don't care who is president either...It is a very screwed up country. And I am ashamed to admit that I was born there. The USA can't and will not ever even clean its mess in Lao and Cambodia. I do NOT have a political ax to grind. I just see it laughable that someone would actually waist their time asking second rate country for help when Thailand should "man up" and handle its own crap. And do it without having to grease palms to do it. Pathetic at best.

Posted by Ted Davis on November 18, 2012 00:37


All I know is the world sighed a big relief when Obama got back in.. Anyway this isn't about America, this is about Burma and the influence western countries have on Asia.

ED - You can send Obama this letter if you wanted to -

Posted by Tbs on November 18, 2012 00:54


Simon, Good point about Aunty, even a Nobel Peace Prize winner can be a bigot, when her heritage dictates it.
I'm beginning to discover just how racist and shockingly anti humane Asia really is. Maybe it is time to appreciate my home country in a more forgiving light.

Posted by CBF on November 18, 2012 13:55

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