Thailand Hands Over Three Anti-Coup Activists to Myanmar’s Junta – One Already Confirmed Dead
Southeast Asia and Pacific and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
Thai immigration officers have detained three opposition activists from Myanmar in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, Tak province, and subsequently handed them over to the junta-aligned Myanmar Border Guard. Ko Htet Nay Win, Ko Saw Phyo Lay, and Ko Thiha are members of the Lion Battalion Commando Column, a group opposing the current military junta (or “Tatmadaw”) that overthrew its own government in February 2021.
All three men were arrested in the first week of April on charges of illegal entry into Thailand, where they were reportedly seeking medical treatment. Human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch were quick to denounce the actions of Thai authorities as violating international human rights law since the men face great abuse and persecution in Myanmar. Shortly after, at least one of them has reportedly been shot by the Myanmar Border Guard during an alleged escape attempt in the Burmese township of Myawaddy. Other informal reports indicate the death of all three men; however, this information could not be verified yet.
This is not the first incident in which the Thai government collaborated with its neighbouring military junta, indicating a strong relationship between Thailand and Myanmar – irrespective of the widespread killing of civilians that has been taking place since the 2021 coup. Just recently, the Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai arrived in Myanmar to officially meet with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and discuss “peace and stability in the border regions of both countries” (Bangkok Post, 2023). Since Myanmar plunged into a brutal civil war two years ago, the Tatmadaw is relentlessly cracking down on its opponents, burning whole villages to the ground in the course of it. Thai border enforcement officers have also reportedly partaken in the push-back, detention, or refoulement of Myanmar citizens seeking refuge in neighbouring Thailand – acts governed by Thailand denouncing their refugee status and not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, this constitutes a grave violation of international law, explicitly the principle of non-refoulement, which forbids every country to “refoul” any person to a place where they are at risk of persecution.
Sources and further reading:
Bangkok Post (2023, April 22). Foreign minister Don meets Myanmar junta chief. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2554880/foreign-minister-don-meets-myanmar-junta-chief
Bangkok Post (2023, April 12). Thai handover of anti-junta trio condemned. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2548765/thai-handover-of-anti-junta-trio-condemned
Human Rights Watch (2023, April 12). Thailand: Myanmar Activists Forcibly Returned.https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/04/12/thailand-myanmar-activists-forcibly-returned
Tommy Walker (2023, April 19). Thailand-Myanmar Ties Mean Anti-Coup Activists Risk Arrest. VOA News. https://www.voanews.com/a/thailand-myanmar-ties-mean-myanmar-anti-coup-activists-risk-arrest-/7057411.html