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Public Statement: Fifth anniversary of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen’s enforced disappearance shows Thailand has failed to investigate this crime and bring perpetrators to justice

five years billy 2019 surapong

For immediate release on 17 April 2019

Cross Cultural Foundation

Public Statement: Fifth anniversary of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen’s enforced disappearance shows Thailand has failed to investigate this crime and bring perpetrators to justice

Today (17 April 2019) marks the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, an indigenous Karen human rights defender who had allegedly been enforced disappeared by a group of government officers. The past five years reflect an utter failure of the Thai justice system and government to bring the perpetrators to justice and protect the rights of the indigenous Karen community in Baan Bang Kloy-Jai Pandin. 

The Thai government has failed to account for Billy’s disappearance even though enforced disappearance is considered a serious crime committed by state authorities. The responsible judicial personnel have been informed of this incident since the beginning. The case of Billy draws a wide national and international attention. Several facts and pieces of evidence indicate that he vanished immediately after he was arrested and detained on 17 April 2019 by Mr. Chaiwat Limlikit-Aksorn, the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park. Notably, prior to Billy’s disappearance, Mr. Chaiwat had a longstanding dispute with the centuries-old indigenous Karen community in Baan Bang Kloy-Jai Pandin where Billy lived. Many generations of indigenous Karen people had been living peacefully in this area. However, from 2010 to 2011, Kaeng Krachan National Park officers, led by Mr. Chaiwat, initiated a project of forced evictions against them by setting fire to their houses and rice barns and justified such action by accusing indigenous people of illegally encroaching on the national park. 

Government authorities, especially police officers from Kaeng Krachan Police Station, could have conducted a more effective investigation into Billy’s disappearance since they received the incident report from his family members on 18 April 2014. They could have started to immediately gather relevant evidence including forensic evidence, such as blood stains inside every national park officer’s cars. Moreover, they could have also inquired witnesses who arrested Billy or an officer who was the last person that saw Billy. However, they failed to act without undue delay, resulting in their incompetency to solve the case. Such a delay greatly jeopardized the effectiveness of their investigation. For instance, the Ministry of Justice’s Central Institute for Forensic Science had found some blood stains on one government official’s car, but their undue delay makes the evidence too damaged to be used to institute a criminal proceeding against that officer. 

On 26 June 2018, after relentless calls for justice from human rights organizations and Billy’s family members, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) accepted to investigate his case. The DSI announced that it decided to take up this case because it has received a wide national and international attention. However, up until today, there is no report of progress in their effort to solve the case. 

Moreover, in 2015, the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) took up charges against Mr. Chaiwat Limlikit-Aksorn under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, malfeasance in office. The PACC examined this case based on Mr. Chaiwat’s claim that he arrested Billy for illegally possessing wild honeycombs for sale and released him shortly after. The police investigators who submitted the case to the PACC, however, had a record that Billy was not released as Mr. Chaiwat claimed. For several years, the PACC still has not ruled whether Mr. Chaiwat is guilty of malfeasance in office for failing to bring Billy into a criminal procedure for his illegal activities. Now, not only Billy’s family but also the public are still waiting for the PACC to deliver its decision. 

The undue delay and lack of progress in the investigations undertaken by both the DSI and PACC do not only reflect the failure and willingness of the Thai government to account for Billy’s disappearance. It also demonstrates the weak rule of law and culture of impunity in Thailand where influential people, civil servants, or state officers can easily get away with the crimes they commit. 

What’s worse, the Thai government has failed to provide compensations for Billy’s family even though it is their direct responsibility. Billy had a big family consisting of his wife, his five children, and his elderly mother; all of them are indigenous Karen people. They have not only been subjected to the heinous crime of enforced disappearance committed by government officers but also state harassment by means of forced evictions and other forms of indigenous rights violations. 

On this fifth anniversary of Billy’s enforced disappearance, Cross Cultural Foundation urges the government and other relevant government agencies to take the following actions:

  1. The Department of Special Investigation shall accelerate their investigation on Billy’s disappearance to bring perpetrators to justice. The process of gathering evidence and inquiring witnesses shall be done as quickly and effectively as possible. This must also include an inquiry into the accounts of Mr. Chaiwat who allegedly arrested Billy for his possession of wild honeycomb before his disappearance. Every progress of the investigation must be consistently reported to Billy’s family and the public. 
  2. The PACC shall also accelerate their investigation and determine if there is a concrete ground of indictment against Mr. Chaiwat under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, malfeasance in office. They shall also consistently report every progress of the investigation to the public. 
  3. The government shall quickly promulgate the Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced. Disappearance Act, B.E. …. to criminalize torture and enforced disappearance. Under this law, Thailand will be able to follow its international legal commitments more effectively and comprehensively. Also, it will have concrete measures to prevent and suppress the crime of enforced disappearance to ensure that cases such as Billy’s would never happen again. Importantly, CrCF remarks that the government must not distort or remove clauses inside the Act to the point at which the law loses its spirit. 

Given that there is reasonable ground to believe that Billy was enforced disappeared by government officers, the government and other relevant agencies shall provide Billy’s family members with appropriate redress for losing their leading figure. Billy’s five children shall receive proper compensations at every stage of their lives.

The government shall attempt to solve and alleviate problems facing indigenous Karen people living in Baan Bang Kloy-Jai Pandin after they have been forcefully evicted from their homelands and their houses, farms, and rice barns burned down. The government must respect their community rights and indigenous rights by allowing them to move back to their homelands. They must strictly follow the guidelines laid out in Cabinet Resolution on the Restoration of Karen people’s Lifestyle issued on 3 April 2010. Furthermore, they must ensure that its proposal for the United Nations to declare Kaeng Krachan National Park as natural world heritage must allow active participation from indigenous Karen people living in this area. 

                                                                  17 April 2019

                                                                     Bangkok

For more information, please contact Mr. Surapong Kongchantoek, President of Cross-Cultural Foundation, Tel: 081 642 4006. 

 

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