Protection International calls for action on the first anniversary of the murder of the human rights defender Chai Bunthonglek, a member of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand. His fight for communal land titles continues despite impunity and several attacks on other peasants’ rights defenders. Protection International Thailand calls for action to support and protect community-based human rights defenders to:
- Organize for and carry out trial observation and support to the community-based HRDs and their legal team on 29th February 2016 at the Krabi Provincial Court, when it will hold a Special Hearing to consider the challenge filed by the Khlong Sai Pattana community members to the ALRO eviction orders;
- Organize for and carry out trial observation and support to Uncle Chai’s family, their legal team, and the SPFT, for the verdict of the Wieng Sra Provincial Court on 15th March 2016, and any further legal action taken to work towards justice for Uncle Chai;
- Call on the Thai state to undertake exhaustive and independent investigations into the attacks against all human rights defenders, and to punish their perpetrators, as a fundamental means of preventing such attacks;
- Call on the Ministry of Justice Working Group to organize accessible and secure consultations with community-based HRDs on immediate actions that State authorities must take to protect HRDs and their constituencies in response to the context-specific threats HRDs are facing;
- Call on the Thai authorities to urgently adopt effective measures to protect the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders who are threatened, and to ensure that these measures are decided on in consultation with the defenders;
- Call on the Ministry of Justice Working Group, as coordinator for HRD protection to work with other state agencies such as the Department for Special Investigations, to prioritize the cases of killings of SPFT and other land rights defenders; given the gravity of continued land rights defenders being killed and delegitimization of HRD’s work by local authorities, it is necessary that national level authorities with a clear and comprehensive objective to work against the standard of impunity faced by land rights defenders in the South of Thailand take up this case and the case of other land rights defenders killed or forcibly disappeared;
- In every dialogue with the Thai authorities and in international Human Rights review mechanisms, address the issue of the impunity of perpetrators of crimes against land rights and environmental defenders.
For this occasion, PI also released a joint statement by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Amnesty International (AI), and FIDH and OMCT within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
Geneva/London/Paris/Brussels, 11 February 2016) – On the first anniversary of the death of land rights activist Chai Bunthonglek, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Amnesty International (AI), FIDH and OMCT within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Protection International (PI) renew calls on the Royal Thai government to ensure justice for the crimes against Chai Bunthonglek and other members of the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SPFT) – a community-based land rights organization. We also call on the authorities to protect all human rights defenders at risk of intimidation, forced evictions, killings, and other attacks throughout the country.
The first anniversary of Chai Bunthonglek’s killing marks another year of fear for SFPT community members, and impunity for perpetrators of crimes, in Klong Sai Pattana village, Chai Buri district Surat Thani, southern Thailand. The community, which has since 2008 been occupying land in Klong Sai Pattana has faced killings, death threats, judicial harassment, intimidation, destruction of property and crops, and threats of eviction. While the Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Ltd palm oil company to vacate land in Chai Buri district, the company is still there.
Chai Bunthonglek, 61, was shot dead by a gunman who arrived on the back of a motorcycle at his relative’s home on the outskirts of Klong Sai Pattana community, on 11 February 2015. He is the fourth SPFT member in Klong Sai Pattana to be killed. The body of former motorcycle mechanic Somporn Pattanaphum was found in January 2010 on the village outskirts, riddled with bullet holes. In November 2012, two women human rights defenders, trader Montha Chukaew and manual laborer Pranee Boonrat, were shot dead, while travelling back from a local market. No one has been held accountable for any of these brutal killings.
Police investigating the killing of Chai Bunthonglek submitted evidence to the Public Prosecutor about three suspects, including the suspected gunman, an individual suspected to have employed him, and the alleged motorbike driver. Only one suspect – the suspected motorbike driver – has been brought to trial –on charges of murder, jointly premeditated murder, and possession of a firearm without a permit.
While welcoming official moves to ensure justice, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Amnesty International (AI), FIDH, and OMCT within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Protection International (PI), remain concerned that only one person has been brought to trial for a crime that appears to have been part of a larger plot, and calls on the authorities to continue investigations to ensure all suspected perpetrators are prosecuted, in fair trials.
“Justice for the death of Chai Bunthonglek is of critical importance, not only for him, his family, and SPFT, but also because it would signal a new determination by the police, the prosecution, and the courts to ensure that human rights defenders’ peaceful activism is fully protected by the law. Ongoing impunity for threats, harassment and the deaths of human rights defenders perpetuates a deadly environment for human rights defenders who work on land rights and natural resources issues in Thailand” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, the Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
The persecution faced by SPFT members highlights the lack of effective mechanisms to protect human rights defenders, particularly those operating in rural areas with limited resources and access to remedies.
Our organizations urge that Thailand follow its support for the 2015 United Nations General Assembly resolution on the protection of human rights defenders with immediate and effective measures. In line with its international human rights obligations ensure that those who attack human rights defenders are held accountable and also to create a safe and enabling environment in which defenders may carry out their work. This includes ensuring that all branches of the Thai state, the executive, legislative and judicial, guided by the Department of Rights and Liberties and the National Human Rights Commission, provide effective protection – in law, policy and practice – for defenders at risk, and ensure remedies for those who have been physically attacked, intimidated or harassed.