Ensure Protections for Refugees and Human Trafficking Survivors

(Bangkok, May 24, 2016)—Thailand authorities should conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the fatal shooting by police of a Rohingya refugee on May 23, said Fortify Rights today. Thailand should end the indefinite and arbitrary detention of refugees and human-trafficking survivors.

On May 23, 2016, 21 Rohingya refugees reportedly escaped from Phang Nga Immigration Detention Center (IDC) around 1 a.m. Thai police told news media that they launched a manhunt, and, while attempting to re-arrest a group of six escaped detainees, shot and killed one Rohingya man. Three Rohingya present during the shooting are now reportedly in police custody.

“The authorities should initiate an independent investigation into this tragic incident without delay,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “The police need to demonstrate that a legitimate cause existed to justify the use of lethal force against a group of refugees.”

Phang Nga Police Chief Major General Worawit Parnprung told Reuters that the police killed the Rohingya victim—whom authorities did not name—in self-defense because “he resisted arrest and attacked the police.”

According to the police, the escaped refugees threw stones at the police at the time of the incident.

Lethal force by police is only lawful when necessary to prevent loss of life and serious injury and when proportionate to the threat at hand. The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials instructs officials to “exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved.” The U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials requires officials to “use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”

As part of an impartial investigation into the incident, Fortify Rights called on Thai authorities to conduct an autopsy into the death. Thai Criminal Procedure Code Section 148 requires an autopsy when a person dies an “unnatural death,” which includes “death by the act of another person.” When the death is due to an act of an official allegedly carrying out his or her official duties, the autopsy must involve a public prosecutor, physician, and others.

“This tragedy may have been avoided if Thailand respected the rights of refugees and surivors of trafficking in accordance with international law,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Thailand’s policies and practices towards Rohingya refugees are putting lives at risk and must be addressed immediately.”

Thai Police Lieutenant Colonel Noppadon Rakchart told reporters that the Rohingya who fled the Phang Nga detention center had “been inside [a cell] for almost a year” and that they suffered from “stress and homesickness.”

In March 2016, Fortify Rights and the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK documented the indefinite detention of scores of Rohingya refugees in Thailand, including unaccompanied boys under the age of 18, for more than 12 months in squalid facilities at the Songkhla IDC. Rohingya detainees in Thailand are protractedly confined to overcrowded cells where they sleep side-by-side on the floor, lack access to healthcare, mental health services, and opportunities to exercise or be in open air for any period of time in violation of international law and standards.

International law forbids arbitrary, unlawful, or indefinite detention, including of non-nationals. A state may only restrict the right of liberty of migrants in exceptional cases following a detailed assessment of the individual concerned. Any detention must be necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. Failure to consider less coercive or restrictive means to achieve that aim may also render the detention arbitrary.

Many detained Rohingya in Thailand were trafficked by transnational criminal syndicates, in some cases with the complicity of Thai authorities, from Myanmar to Thailand. Since December 2015, more than 40 Rohingya refugees and trafficking survivors have disappeared from government-run shelters and IDCs in Thailand’s southern provinces.

On March 15, Thai authorities passed a Cabinet Resolution that, if implemented, would grant formal witness protection to all witnesses in human trafficking trials in Thailand and provide protective legal status for survivors of trafficking. Despite subsequent orders by Thailand’s Ministry of Interior to implement its provisions, the Cabinet Resolution has yet to be put into effect.

“There’s no justification to detain refugees and survivors of trafficking indefinitely. Yet, this is the situation for Rohingya in Thailand,” said Amy Smith. “Now is the time for Thailand to end this abusive practice and fulfill its commitment to protect survivors of trafficking.”

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