Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia have strongly condemned the decision by Thai authorities to hand over three members of Myanmar opposition forces to junta allies, where they are likely to be tortured or worse.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called on the Thai government and the international community to ensure such an incident does not happen again.
APHR Chair and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, Mercy Barends, said that for far too long, the Thai authorities have been forcing asylum seekers and refugees back to Myanmar, where they are at risk of persecution, adding that it is a clear violation of international human rights law, norms, and principles.
According to information APHR received from local civil society organizations, on 1 April, three members of a Myanmar opposition group crossed into Thailand to seek medical treatment.
On their way to Mae Sot, the three men were stopped at a checkpoint and taken into custody by Thai immigration. Then, on the morning of 4 April, the Thai authorities handed them over to the Myanmar junta-allied Border Guard Force (BGF), despite efforts from opposition groups to negotiate a release.
Witnesses say that BGF troops shot at the men after the handover. According to media reports, 26-year-old Saw Phyo Lay was killed, while the fates of the other two remain unclear.
Despite sharing an extensive border of more than 2,400 kilometres with Myanmar, the Thai government has not been welcoming to refugees who seek to escape the brutal violence of the Myanmar military.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Thailand for sending back those who cross the border. Asylum seekers from Myanmar in Thailand also face a precarious situation where they lack legal protection and risk being deported at any time.
Earlier this year, the Thai government officially adopted the UN Convention Against Torture, which states that “no government organizations or public officials shall expel, deport, or extradite a person to another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or enforced disappearance.”
The decision to release these three men into the hands of the Myanmar junta, which has repeatedly arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and at times even extrajudicially executed dissidents, is clearly in violation of this convention.
APHR urges the Thai government to allow those fleeing conflict in Myanmar to enter Thailand safely and prioritize their protection.
It said Thai authorities must immediately halt the deportation of citizens from Myanmar who face immense risks to their physical well-being in the hands of the junta.
In light of the upcoming Thai elections, APHR urged all Thai political parties and candidates to address human rights concerns on their platforms.
Lastly, the organisation called on ASEAN, its member states, and the international community to put pressure on Thailand to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and that their rights are respected and upheld. No person who faces persecution in the country they are fleeing should be detained and forcibly returned.
The incident is the latest example of the challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers fleeing the ongoing violence and instability in Myanmar.
Human rights groups have documented numerous cases of refugees and asylum seekers being forcibly returned to Myanmar by Thailand, China, and India, despite the well-known risks of persecution, torture, and death at the hands of the military junta.