HRW: Rohingya graves in Thailand require independent probe

Thailand's human trafficking problem is "out of control" says Human Rights Watch, urging UN to join the probe to bring those responsible to justice

Updated Jul 28, 2015

International organizations are attempting to pressure the Thai government into authorizing an independent investigation with United Nations assistance into the discovery of mass Rohingya graves at a human trafficking camp in southern Thailand.

The ruling junta has said it has made the fight against trafficking a top priority after the country was downgraded to the lowest level in a US State Department Trafficking in Persons report in June last year.

But organizations such as Human Rights Watch say local officials remain complicit.

“The finding of a mass grave at a trafficking camp sadly comes as little surprise," Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch director for Asia, said in a statement Saturday.

"The long involvement of Thai officials in trafficking means that an independent investigation with UN assistance is necessary to uncover the truth and hold those responsible to account.”

Thai police and rescue workers, alerted by a villager, discovered Friday an abandoned human trafficking camp located in Sadao district of Songkla province, just 300 meters north of the Malaysian border.

Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang has described the area as a "virtual prison camp" with migrants held in bamboo cages.

At least 32 graves were found, and a forensic team has begun to exhume the bodies. Thai police chief told reporters in Bangkok that there could be 20 more graves near the camp.

One man from Bangladesh, starved and exhausted, was also found. He has been hospitalized and his condition is stable.

Police investigators have said that they think 200 to 300 ethnic Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar and Bangladesh were kept as prisoners in the camp by human traffickers, waiting for their families to pay ransoms before letting them cross the border to Malaysia.

The traffickers are reported to have apparently left the camp during the week with the surviving Rohingya.

The Bangkok Post reported that “most of the suspected Rohingya buried in the camp seem to have starved to death or died of disease while awaiting payment of ransom.”

Rohingya, fleeing persecution in Myanmar, are frequently forced to pay smugglers large amounts of money to take them on rickety boats to the Thai coast.

Once there, they frequently fall victim to more gangs who force them to stay in hidden jungle camps until their families back home pay ransoms.

Adams called on Thailand to publish any investigation findings and bring those responsible to justice, "including any government officials involved.”

“This discovery should shock the Thai government into shutting down the trafficking networks that enrich officials but prey on extremely vulnerable people,” added Adams.

“Instead of sticking Rohingya in border camps or immigration lockups, the government should provide safety and protection."