Cases of violence against SPFT members keep piling up while Thai authorities fail to end culture of impunity
[Thailand] On 21 January 2021, Mr Dam Onmuang, a land rights defender from the Santi Pattana Community, attended the first court appointment on the case of his attempted murder last October. The Santi Pattana Community is a party to the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT). The court accepted both of Mr Onmuang’s requests, which included the financial compensation of 100,000 baht (approx. 2775€) and for his own participation as co-plaintiff alongside the prosecutor during the case against Somphon Chimruang, the alleged perpetrator of the attack, who denied charges against him and decided to fight the case. The preliminary hearing is to take place on 8 February 2021 at the Wiang Sa Court, where his testimony will be heard and the evidence of the case will be examined.
In recent years, four members of the SPFT have been tragically assassinated: Mr Somporn Phatphum in 2010, Mrs Pranee Boonrak and Mr Monta Chukaew in 2012 and Mr Chai Boonthonglek in 2015. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
Protection International calls on the international and diplomatic communities to closely monitor the progress of Dam Onmuang’s case in order to best ensure that those responsible for his attempted murder are held accountable. Mr Onmuang’s case is just one of many community human rights defenders who face retaliation for their human rights work. Yet, Thailand’s justice system continues to fail to hold any perpetrators accountable.
Deeply-Rooted Culture of Impunity
Mr Onmuang’s assassination attempt took place during the night of 20 October 2020 when he was on guard duty at the Santi Pattana Community’s security checkpoint. Around 1:00 am, a gunman who was later identified as Somphon Chimruang approached him, pointed a gun at his head and fired a gunshot. Fortunately, Mr Onmuang was able to narrowly dodge the bullet and survive the attack. It is believed that Mr Chimruang acted with the intent to kill him.
Mr Chimruang allegedly has close ties with a palm oil corporation with whom the Santi Pattana Community has been battling for years over a disputed plot of land. The palm oil company has repeatedly tried to forcibly evict SPFT members from the land where they live and has falsely claimed to be the legal owner of this territory — even though the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the villagers were legitimately residing there. Furthermore, the National Human Rights Commission and the Thai Department of Special Investigation have both ruled that the oil company had illegally obtained land title deeds to that area, nullifying their vailidity.
Mr Chimruang is known to have regularly accompanied the oil company’s lawyer during the negotiations with the community members. He was also involved in an incident in September 2020 where a group of men insisted on entering the territory illegally.
This year, the United Nations Human Rights Council will review human rights standards in Thailand. “The Thai government must ensure that human rights defenders can perform their duties in a safe and supportive environment,” said Ms Pranom Somwong, Protection International representative in Thailand. The Thai government must guarantee “an end to all harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders and implement effective measures to prevent violence and crime against them,” she added.
To end the culture of impunity, it is critical that the police, the attorney general, and the court conduct a thorough examination of all evidence related to the land dispute between the palm oil company and the SPFT. This is the only way to determine who is involved and responsible for the attempted assassination of this land right defender.