Thailand: at fourth anniversary of enforced disappearance of “Billy”, still no resolution
On the fourth anniversary of the apparent enforced disappearance of Karen activist, “Billy,” the ICJ repeats its calls for the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) to assume responsibility for effectively investigating the case.
To date no progress has been made to establish the fate of Billy and the DSI has declined to take up the matter.
Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen was last seen on 17 April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials.
At the time of his apparent enforced disappearance, Billy had been working with ethnic Karen villagers and activists on legal proceedings the villagers had filed against the National Park, the Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and the former Chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park concerning the alleged burning of villagers’ homes and property in the National Park in 2010 and 2011.
“The very reason the DSI was created was to investigate complex cases of this kind, including where Government officials may be implicated in gross human rights violations that amount to crimes under international law,” said Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser with the ICJ.
“If the DSI continues to refuse to open a special investigation after four years of little apparent progress by the police, the DSI will risk being perceived as contributing to the pervasive culture of impunity that exists within Thailand,” he added.
This week, Billy’s wife, Phinnapha Phrueksaphan, advised the ICJ that the last time the DSI had discussed Billy’s investigation with her and her family was over a year ago.
The ICJ was further informed that on 9 April 2018, Phinnapha submitted a letter to the Director-General of the DSI seeking updates on the progress of Billy’s case and clarification as to why the DSI had not accepted Billy’s case for a special investigation.
“Thailand has a clear legal duty to continue to investigate the case until Billy’s fate or whereabouts are established and to ensure that the investigative process and any outcomes are transparent – which is especially important to victims’ families who play a crucial role in investigations,” added Abbott.
On 23 May 2017, Thailand established a Committee consisting of 18 officials, including from the DSI, to formulate policies for the prevention of acts of torture and enforced disappearance, and to investigate and provide remedies in accordance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), to which Thailand is a party, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which Thailand has signed but not yet ratified.
On 26 June 2017, the Committee reportedly stated that it would consider past, pending and new cases of enforced disappearance, including the case of Billy.
However, the Committee has yet to demonstrate effectiveness in efforts to implement Thailand’s international human rights obligations.
“While any steps Thailand takes towards accountability for allegations of torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance is welcome, the Committee should not be seen as a meaningful substitute for establishing these as crimes under domestic law,” Abbott said.