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Thai court issues verdict in Rohingya mass graves case

A Thai court has found dozens of people guilty in the country's biggest ever human trafficking case, which began in 2015 after the discovery of 30 mass graves. The dead bodies are believed to be of Roghingya migrants.

The trafficking case involves 103 defendants on various charges, including murder, torture, rape and money laundering.

Although the court started issuing rulings on Wednesday, it was not immediately clear when they would be concluded.

Thai police officials, bureaucrats and Myanmar nationals are among the defendants. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Thai officials initiated the case in 2015 after the discovery of more than 30 bodies at an abandoned human trafficking camp in the southern Songkhla province close to the Thai-Malaysian border.

The authorities believe the graves contained bodies of possible Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh. At least two of them were children.

Thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims, who have been fleeing Myanmar's Rakhine state since 2012, are smuggled into Thailand every year.

It was not immediately clear what caused the deaths, although police said they believed the people were Rohingya because human traffickers often put the immigrants in temporary shelters before taking them across the border to Malaysia.

Thailand is considered to be one of the worst places when it comes to human trafficking, according to the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries by their efforts to deal with human smugglers.

Just weeks after the discovery of dead bodies in Thailand, Malaysian authorities unearthed mass graves near the Thai border. A total of 139 graves were found at 28 abandoned squalid detention camps believed to have been used by human traffickers to hold people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Rohingya plight

The mass graves in Thailand and Malaysia highlighted the largely-ignored plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh that are regularly exploited by human traffickers.

Myanmar's Rohingyas live predominantly in the western state of Rakhine. They are not officially recognized by the government as an ethnic minority group, and for decades the nation's Buddhist majority has been accused of subjecting them to discrimination and violence.

Read: Myanmar's Rohingya conflict 'more economic than religious'

Viewed by the United Nations and the US as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh flee their countries every year in a desperate attempt to reach Malaysia and Indonesia.

Beyond verdicts

Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based human rights organization, believes it is necessary for the Thai government to carefully examine the entire process in order to avoid similar problems and difficulties in the future trafficking cases. Furthermore, it says that judgments alone won't be effective to tackle the issue.

"Thailand has a long way to go to ensure the rights of those trafficked and killed by human traffickers," the organization said.

"We hope that the events of 2015 will not be repeated, but the risks exist."

Vivian Tan of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Bangkok told DW that since mid-2015, the UN has not recorded any Rohingyas fleeing the region by boats. However, he noted, some 74,000 Rohingyas have fled the country to Bangladesh by road since then.



On Sunday, May 10, a group of about 600 people arrived in the Indonesian province of Aceh on four boats. At about the same time more than 1,000 others landed in three boats on the northern Malaysian resort island of Langkawi. At least two of these overcrowded boats were towed by local fishermen to the shores. Those rescued were rounded up by the police.


© 2017 Deutsche Welle

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