Statement on the sixth anniversary of Billy’s disappearance: The government must bring the perpetrators to justice and adopt legislation criminalizing torture and enforced disappearance
It has now been six years since the disappearance of Mr. Porlajee Rakchongcharoen or “Billy.” Billy was an indigenous Karen human rights defender and grandson of Kor-ee Mimi, the spiritual leader who fought for community rights of the Karen people in Bang Kloy Bon – Jai Pan Din area in the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (KKFC) which has been designated as a national park.
On 17 April 2014, he disappeared after he was arrested and taken into the custody of national park officials; his whereabouts remain unknown since then. Later, on 3 September 2019, Police Colonel Paisit Wongmuang, Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), announced that the DSI has found two bone fragments inside a 200-liter oil drum, as well as its burned lid, two steel rods, and four pieces of charcoal in a creek inside Kaeng Krachan National Park.
The Central Institute of Forensic Science tested the bone fragments and found that they “came from the left side of the human skull. They have been burned, cracked, and shrunk as a result of being burned at around 200-300 Celsius degrees. The DNA samples extracted from the bones match that of Ms. Porojjee Rakchongcharoen or Billy’s mother. Considering the crime scene and other additional pieces of evidence, special investigation officers are of the opinion that these bone fragments belong to Mr. Porlajee Rakchongcharoen who had disappeared.”
Later, on 11 November 2019, the DSI has requested issuance of arrest warrants for Mr. Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, and four other park officers. The Criminal Corruption Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases approved the request, charging all of them under five offenses related to serious crimes against Billy. The Court also granted a temporary release for all five suspects. Upon its consideration of the charges, the public prosecutor from the Department of Special Litigation 1 ordered not to indict the five on almost every charge proposed by the DSI including the charge of premeditated murder. At last, Chaiwat and four other officers were only charged with malfeasance under Section 157 of the Criminal Code.
In pursuit of justice for Billy, his family and Karen community in KKFC have faced many struggles, harassments, and reprisals throughout the past six years. Up until now, Billy’s family and the society at large still do not know the truths about what happened. The Thai government still fails to bring the perpetrators to justice, provide reparation for Billy’s family, and resolve ongoing human rights abuses in the Karen community in KKFC.
Enforced disappearance committed by state officials or with the acquiescence of state officials constitutes a serious human rights violation under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED). Thailand is a State Party to CAT and has received parliamentary approval to ratify CED. However, the country’s attempt to adopt the law which criminalizes torture and enforced disappearance to facilitate investigations and prosecution of these violations has currently been subject to indefinite delay.
Accordingly, the Cross-Cultural Foundation calls for the Thai government and relevant authorities to take the following actions:
- Continue the investigation until the perpetrators can be brought to justice and prosecuted without undue delay. All relevant officials and government agencies must cooperate with inquiry officers without any fear.
- Relevant authorities must offer witness protection programs and ensure that Billy’s family be free of any harassment and intimidation.
- Relevant authorities including the DSI should promptly file a dissenting opinion against the public prosecutor’s order of non-indictment. The process of preparing the dissenting opinion must be independent, transparent, and effective to charge the suspects with serious criminal offenses.
- The Thai government and the Parliament to promptly promulgate the Draft Bill on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance in strict and full compliance with CAT and CED to ensure protection and prevent the recurrence of grave violations like the case of Billy.
- Should it be established that the violations against Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen could have been attributed to any public officials, the authorities in charge must either remove the officials from office or suspend their office to prevent any possible abuse of power to interfere with the investigation. If it can be proven that the officials have committed the offense as alleged, they must face disciplinary action and criminal punishment under the law without any exception to restore public trust in the justice process
- The Thai government must promote and protect human rights including the community rights of indigenous Karen people- not only those residing in the KKFC but also anywhere else across the country. Such an effort will reflect the government’s recognition of the meaningful struggles of Karen people in Thailand led by both Billy and his grandfather Kor-ee.
Released on 17 April 2020