Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; article 5 states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; article 9 protects people from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; and article 14 enshrines the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
Thai authorities therefore, in detaining ninety Rohingya asylum seekers, loading them onto engineless boats and setting them adrift without food and water; have this month violated at least four inalienable human rights. And it’s not the first time; back in 2009 Prime Minister Vejjajiva promised to hold an investigation after international outcry when the army towed almost two hundred malnourished Rohingyas out into open waters. The fact that three years later this sickening practice is still occurring, shows a dark side of his administration – which is either routinely indifferent to the ‘push-backs’ or actively encouraging of them. Whichever way, this still amounts to murder when the Rohingyas die through dehydration, starvation, exposure or drowning, as is so often the case.
It is little wonder that no Thai government has ever signed 1951 UN Convention which would go beyond broad declarations and basic morality by imposing additional clear, binding, legal obligations against such acts.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in this whole situation is that the Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted in the world. A Muslim minority group from Southern Burma, they are subjected to the very worst that the country’s military/pseudo-civilian dictatorship can muster. Decades of sustained human rights abuses have included massacres, rapes and widespread forced labour as well as systematic denial of citizenship, marriage rights, freedom of movement or the ability to worship. It is hardly surprising that so many attempt to flee their land each year- seeking the chance to live in some semblance of peace or freedom, yet this is rarely the case.
Those who settle in Bangladesh live in appalling conditions and are routinely harassed by the local authorities –as graphically illustrated by the destruction of Kutupalong refugee camp two years ago. Meanwhile, as demonstrated by recent events –those who make it to the perceived safety of Thailand are simply detained before being shipped away to almost certain death. Had the Indian army not found these ninety refugees it is unlikely any would have survived. Audaciously the Thai government have thus far refused UN access to other detained Rohingya ‘boat people’.
It is said that you can judge a nation on how it treats the most vulnerable – and it is hard to imagine someone much more vulnerable than a starving Rohingya refugee, having just completed a perilous journey to escape some of the worst persecution known to man. Until the Thai government drastically changes its approach to these people- Thailand does not have much hope.