Human Rights Watch Calls For Citizenship and Fair Treatment of Moken Sea Nomads

 | Fri 26 Jun 2015 04:20 ICT

CityNews – Human Rights Watch has today criticised the governments of both Burma and Thailand for blatant discrimination and other rights abuses against the Moken, sea nomads who are among the few remaining hunter-gatherer populations in Southeast Asia.


Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Around 3,000 Moken live on small boats in the Mergui archipelago, located on Burma’s southern coast. Another 800 have settled in Thai waters.

The 25-page report, “Stateless at Sea: The Moken of Burma and Thailand,” describes a series of violations of rights of the Moken people by state authorities, including extortion, bribery, arbitrary arrest, and confiscation of property.

Most Moken are stateless, making them extremely vulnerable to human rights abuse and depriving them of access to medical care, education, and employment opportunities.

“Far from the idyllic image that tourism promotes of the Moken people, these sea nomads face increasing restrictions and attacks at sea, and systematic discrimination on land,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By effectively denying them citizenship, the Thai and Burmese governments make the Moken easy targets for exploitation and other threats to their very existence.”

Moken_boatThe report also stated that the Moken are listed as one of the 135 recognised “ethnic races” of Burma under the 1982 Citizenship Act, but the issuance of national ID cards to the Moken has been inconsistent, hindering their travel within Burma.

The Burmese government is required to provide the Moken equal access to social welfare, education, health, and other services provided to other Burmese citizens, but in reality often suffer violent attacks and seizure of property by the Burmese navy.

In recent years, more Moken have given up their nomadic ways and decided to reside permanently in Thailand and Burma.

“Burma and Thailand need to recognize and respect the rights of the Moken people to live as they always have,” Adams said. “Protecting them from abuses, ensuring a path to citizenship, and providing access to basic services is best way forward for these indigenous and too often exploited people.”

“I used to be a diver. When I was a teenager, there was no limit for Moken fishermen. We could go anywhere from Phuket to the Surin Islands and beyond to catch fish, shrimps, lobsters, and shellfish. We brought our catch ashore to the middlemen, who would sell them in downtown markets or to beachside restaurants…. Life was not comfortable, but we had freedom to go wherever we wanted to go…. But then around 16 years ago, government officials told us we could not fish around Surin Islands anymore.… They set so many rules and restrictions on our ways of life…. My family now cannot earn enough from fishing. I come out on the beach, talking to tourists and begging money from them.… It is embarrassing. But at least I could bring cash back to my family.”

Jui, Moken man, Thailand

“Stateless at Sea: The Moken of Burma and Thailand” is available at:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Thailand, please visit:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Burma, please visit: