Thailand, also called the “Kingdom of Freedom”, ประเทศไทย in Thai, is famous for tourist sites such as Phuket. In fact, according to the data released by the United Nations World Tourist Organizations (UNWTO) in 2016, it was the 9th most visited place by tourists in the world. Many tourists remember Thailand for its beautiful landscape and peaceful lives.
However, if you take a closer look in places distanced from Phuket, people in the Southern region are far from enjoying peaceful lives, having been caught in the midst of armed conflicts for several decades.
The conflict was triggered by the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 through which the northern region of Malaysia was integrated into Thailand. Since then, Thailand, with the majority of the population identifying as Buddhists, has also governed the southern region where its people hold closer ties to the Islamic faith and Malaysia, both culturally and ethnically.
Since the 1930s, the central government of Thailand has enforced the acculturation of its people in the South. As a result, resistance from the Malay Muslims quickly grew into an annex movement that was meant to protect its independence as well as its identity. There have already been 16 coup d’états up until today (World War Watch data released by KIDA).
Despite many attempts by the government to bring peaceful reconciliation between the two faith groups, Thai people still do not fully enjoy the religious freedom that is supposed to be protected by the constitution of Thailand.
To make matters worse, anti-government protests in the Malays region are now deteriorating into hate crimes. Indiscriminate assaults toward schools, family members of local officials, Muslims who have assimilated with the majority of the people of Thailand and others are quickly spreading throughout the region.
The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) reported a death toll of 21 citizens due to the bomb explosion in the Yala province on 22 January 2018. Such incident is not uncommon as there have been over 16,000 terrorist attacks, taking away 6,600 lives in the Deep South since 2014.
Several peace talks have been mediated between the Thai government and the leaders of the Muslim Annex Movement without much success. The International Crisis Group points out the following as the underlying reasons for the failure to reach an agreement: deeply rooted distrust from over a decade of conflict and a growing uncertainty from the collapse of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and death of the former king Bhumibol Adulyadej. Peace talks between the separatists and the government present clear setbacks to safeguarding peace.
We must continue to seek the means of resolving conflicts, taking into consideration the lessons learned through the past peace-building efforts. For instance, the Philippines’ and Colombian governments have both experienced the frustrations of finding common grounds on which to hold peace talks. Despite UN interventions, they have not found ideal positions that satisfy both parties. Not only are the two parties far from reaching an agreement, but both the government and separatists have set their positions without the support of the citizens. To prevent a further loss of lives, collaborative efforts in peace-building should be found not in particular organizations or governments but rather with the support of all citizens.
HWPL’s approach to peace-building is accomplished through multidimensional efforts. The articles of the DPCW presented by HWPL find the core values of peace-building in both legal approaches and the creation of a group of friendly states. The articles also emphasize spreading the spirit of interfaith harmony rather than creating division and conflicts, as well as the value of the importance of education in instilling the spirit of peace. We believe that public support for peace should come from the culture of peace. The situation today calls for citizens to speak up in a unified voice advocating for peace as the basis for bringing about peace in Thailand.