Without human security there can be no social security

Ranee Hassarungsee
The Social Agenda Working Group

Resolution of the escalating violence in the southern provinces of the country is the first step in addressing the issue of social security. Without human security, social security will always take second place. Reconciliation between different religious and cultural groups is necessary in the journey towards social security for all Thais regardless of race, culture, religion or gender.The policies of Thaksin Shinawatra’s administrationfrom 2001 to 2006 contributed to the recurren and escalating violence inThailand’s three southern border provinces, known for their sensitivecultural, religious and racial context. Although the Thaksin government wasousted by the 19 September 2006 coup the authoritarian mentality, particularlyamong the military and police, remains. The civil society sector must create thepolitical space needed to protect lives and bring about social justice.

This report describes the spread of authoritarianism, which disregardsinternational rules and regulations and destroys domestic social security.Violent responses to conflict have led to the closure of true political spacethat could alleviate the dispute. A case in point is the violence taking placein Thailand’s three southern border provinces. This structural violencerequires collaborative action on the part of civil society and the generalpopulation in order to achieve human security in these provinces and the countryoverall.

Authoritarian democracy

A variety of increasingly recognized international standards, treaties,commitments, statements and global forum policies is a new phenomenon in theinternational community. These standard commitments on human rights,international economic relationships and environmental protection areinterrelated. Although these agreements may be internationally recognized, it isdifficult for a country to turn such commitments into legally binding laws.

There are numerous political and economic hurdles inhibiting the transformationof these commitments into law, and as a result, these international standardsand commitments have become ‘soft laws’ (Cassese, 2005). Additionally, withthe world overshadowed by growing violence brought on by the threat of terrorismand war on terrorism, the once great potential for these ‘soft laws’ andother treaties to become international standards has been greatly weakened(Satha-Anand, 2005).

Today’s context of growing global violence has created a distinctpolitical reality. The wars and violence encountered by democratic societies atthe beginning of the 21st century are made different by two factors. First,terrorism and the war on terrorism undermine the basis of political society,whose sense of certainty is guaranteed by a state’s normal operation and theprotection of citizens’ lives. Secondly, without normality in politicalsociety, wider society regresses from a sorrowful society victimized by violenttragedy to a society eager and willing to use violence to relieve its sorrow (
Satha-Anand, 2002). In this state of fearpolitical solutions fade into the background and the rights of ordinary peopleare abandoned while civil society groups are gagged.

Violent reactions from the state, ordinary people’s terror and continuedvigilance help spread authoritarianism. This is even the case when thegovernment is elected by the majority voters, known as a democraticadministration. The loss of human security can lead to internal and externalinterest groups taking advantage of the situation and seeking profit from it.

Violence on the southern border

The violent situation in the southern border provinces began in 1948, eventuallydying down before heating up again in recent years. Forty-three violentincidents took place between November 2002 and April 2003. Most of theseincidents were ambushes and occurred mostly in the Narathiwat provinces. On 31occasions the violence targeted government buildings and officials, injuring 34and killing 30 people. Between January and 15 July 2002, there were 32explosions, extortions and killings of state officials, which took the lives of19 police officers. This violence was more intense than in 2001, while thesituation grew worse in 2003.[1]

The violence taking place in the region between 2004 and 2006 can be broken downas follows: in 2004, 1,850 violent incidents took place while 2,297 and 1,622incidents (the incidents in December were not included) occurred in 2005 and2006, respectively. Of these three years, the highest number of incidentsoccurred in 2005. When considering injuries and deaths during the three-yearperiod, more people were injured and killed in the southern violence in 2006than in 2004 and 2005. Approximately 1,699 people were injured and killed in2006; 1,643 in 2005; and 1,438 in 2004. The most recent violence saw a rise inthe number of bombings rather than arson attacks which were previously used.

Data indicates that the public continues to be on the priority list of targetsfor these violent incidents. Considering that the conflict is a political fightfor the southern region’s identity, one would assume that the state and itsofficials would be the natural targets, as a symbolic resistance to stateauthority. Instead the actual targets are ordinary Buddhist and Muslim people,making the violence terrifying for both communities (
Chitphiromsri, n.d.).

Working for peace

The Social Agenda Working Group (SAWG) started monitoring disturbances in thethree southern provinces in early 2004 when it cooperated with the Foundationfor Peace and Culture to organize a Peace Project for the Iraqi Children andheld a forum on “Peace talk by ordinary people”.

Then, in June 2004, SAWG participated in a group study on the alleviation ofviolence. The group, consisting of the Women’s Network for Progress and Peace,the Local Eco-cultural Network, the Inter-university Cooperation Network and theGroup’s Secretariat of Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute,discussed the situation and arrived at the following conclusions:

Thai society has trouble with cultural diversity and differentideologies. It is necessary to understand the complexity of the problems.Universities and educational institutes should play an active role in promotingknowledge and understanding so that people can be free from the polarity betweenBuddhists and Muslims.

Thai society does not understand the three southern border provincesadequately. The social and cultural settings of these provinces are drasticallyand violently changing. At the core of the problems is the fact that societydoes not pay enough attention to the local people, and their different culturesand religions. Neither can society distinguish the urban and rural communitiesor appreciate the relationship between the rural Muslim majority and the urbanpopulation. It cannot see the internal relations and disputes between differentgenerations. Nor can it see how the traditional structure underpinning Muslimcommunities has been replaced by external social structures and how the localculture and resources have been invaded by outsiders.

Due to this lack of understanding, Thai society attempted to explain theproblems in two ways. One group tried to present basic facts of who was doingwhat, where, when, and how, while the other attempted to describe the realityand answer the question ‘why?’. These two groups must collaborativelyanalyze the different understandings of the situation to reach a solution forall parties.

Social and cultural approaches

To mitigate the problems and create peaceful well-being in the three southernprovinces SAWG focuses on:

Building a horizontal relationship between people through collaborativeactivities with local communities so that ‘people can get to know eachother’ more and become less prejudiced with the hope that this couldcontribute to their peaceful coexistence.

Providing alternative solutions by allowing the majority of people toparticipate and voice their wider, deeper and diverse perspectives in order toseek and learn a new way of thinking and understanding of individuals’ideological pursuits. No instant success formula is available for these complexproblems related to distrust and the pursuit of violence.

Communicating with wider Thai society is essential because externalfactors such as decision-making process, authorities’ authoritarian culture,public policy processes and biased reporting in the media have contributed tothese problems. More space should be given to different thinking, opinions andassumptions to create joint social learning and urge the public to participatein tackling the problems of the three southern provinces in a peaceful manner.

Family, community and human security

SAWG has also organized local forums in order to include local peoples’ needsin the future human security policy framework, with some of the learning fromthese forums presented below.

When asked, villagers said human security starts first in the family, in theform of family security, in a situation where parents and children take care ofeach other. They said they attempted to strengthen their family bonds and gaintheir children’s trust by inviting Toh khru (an Islamic teacher) toperform their Muslim daily prayer at home and tell stories of the past to thechildren to build up their morality. This cultural tradition should bemaintained and promoted to help consolidate security of the family andrelatives.

To the villagers, community tradition and culture serve as protection for theircommunity’s security. They understand that if they let their traditionscollapse, they will never see the next world, which is very important toMuslims.

Life security was considered to be the same as spiritual security, which issustained by Islam and the pondok schooling system. The ability toconstantly and properly conduct one’s life according to Islamic teachings anddevoutly follow Muslim tradition contributes to an individual’s spiritualsecurity as well as community unity.

Local security, the villagers pointed out, depends on resource base security,whereby the sea, peat swamps, rivers, rice fields, forests and mountains providethem with plenty of food. Security can be realized when resource management isaligned with local ecosystems and takes into account the villagers’ culture.Conflict over resources between the state and the private sector on one side andthe villagers on the other is threatening the local way of life.

As for the unrest in the three southern provinces, villagers indicated that theauthorities, the government and media were not trustworthy. They alleged thatgovernment officials collaborated in filing charges against innocent people,which brought fear and insecurity to the villagers.

According to the villagers, the government regards security only as themaintenance of order and use of military forces to control the situation. Forthe villagers, human security also means having adequate food to eat and arestful sleep at night, and their families, relatives and local communitieshaving these things as well.

Reporting on Reconciliation

The National Reconciliation Commission (NRC),
[2] submitted its report to the government in June 2006. It proposed that asolution to the violence start with an acceptance that cultural diversity anddifferences do exist in Thai society. It suggested listening to the voices ofthe marginalized or minority groups.

Consequently, in the southern border provinces, the ‘voice’ of buddhistThais is important and should be considered by the local majority Muslimcommunity. Similarly, the Buddhist majority ought to pay attention to the‘voice’ of the Muslim Malays. When the entire country listens to the voiceof the suffering minority people, both the state and public can collectivelyfind ways to alleviate the violence suffered by everyone.

The NRC’s approach to tackling violence focuses on human security andnon-violence. This means the essential use of political and developmentmeasures, not suppression. An inter-religious discussion process is important topromote mutual understanding among religious adherents, and in order to treatcurrent wounds so that they can finally heal. This NRC proposal is a policyattempt
to fight authoritarianism that uses violence to address problems (NRC,2006).

A single measure is not enough to alleviate the structural violence. Inparticular, the military measure that uses violence to suppress violence willforce ordinary people to deal with a situation they have not created. SAWGrecommends that the major mission of the people and civil society sectors be toopen up political space. This space will allow non-violence to play an activerole in solving the conflict and structural violence in the three southernborder provinces, which will benefit ordinary people, whether they be Buddhist,Muslim Thai, or Muslim Malay.


Cassese, A. (2005). InternationalLaw. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chitphiromsri, s. (n.d.).“Symbolic fight and the continuity of the identity politics in the fight forpeople’s support: summary of the violence in the southern border provincesover the past three years”. A paper by the Watch Centre for the southernSituation Knowledge. Faculty of Political Science, Prince of SongkhlaUniversity.

Matichon Daily
(2002). “Sor Or Bor Tor Part 2: A new strategy to extinguish thesouthern fire”. 17 July.

National Reconciliation Commission (2006). Overcoming Violence Through thePower of Reconciliation Report. June.

Satha-Anand, C. (2002). “Understanding the success of terrorism”. Inter-AsiaCultural studies, April.

Satha-Anand, C. (2005). Authoritarian Democracy. Consequences of the violencein Thailand’s southern border provinces: knowledge and conflict resolution,the case of southern border crisis. Bangkok: School of Liberal Arts,Walailak University.


[1] Personal contactwith the authorities and based on an article in Matichon Daily (2002).
[2] The NRC was acommission set up by the Thaksin administration in March 2005 to find a solutionto the problems of the three southern border provinces. After submitting itsreport to the government, NRC ended its activity in June 2006.