As Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s southern provinces continue to target schoolteachers in religiously motivated attacks, an international human rights organization has demanded that the Thai government take decisive action to protect those at risk.
A separatist group of ethnic Malay militant Islamists known as the Pattani Freedom Fighters has been implicated in the deaths of more than 150 teachers and school personnel of Thai Buddhist origin since 2004, according to HRW.
“Insurgents in southern Thailand who execute teachers show utter depravity and disregard for humanity,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, in a statement.
“These attacks harm not only teachers and schools, but the Muslim students, their families, and the broader Muslim community the insurgents claim to represent.”
Most recently on Dec. 11, five men armed with assault rifles entered a school in Pattani province and executed the principal and one teacher, both Thai Buddhists.
The Thai government subsequently shut down 1,300 state schools serving some 200,000 students in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Songkhla provinces until greater security can be guaranteed.
HRW is imploring Thai officials to develop a security strategy in consultation with educators in the region that can be tailored to local conditions in each school.
“The Thai government should immediately develop a clear security strategy in consultation with teachers, principals, and other educators,” read an HRW statement.
“Teachers should be provided with full discretion to decide whether or not to participate in measures such as security escorts or convoy travel.”
HRW points out that some security measures, such as military or police escorts, have been counterproductive in stemming the violence.
“While some teachers favor such strategies, others have expressed concerns to Human Rights Watch that such measures compromise their own efforts to build trust with local communities, and fear that their proximity to soldiers places them in increased danger,” HRW said.
The rights group has also supported educators’ demands for installing security cameras at schools, increased pay due to the hazardous nature of their jobs and appropriate compensation for the families of victims.
“Teachers are courageously risking their lives to ensure children’s access to education in southern Thailand,” Adams said. “But the government is still stuck in a cycle of ineffectual responses to the deadly threats teachers and students are facing every day.”