Thailand: Justice for murdered land rights defenders in Surat Thani
May 8, 2015, 8:47 am
On 21 May 2015, it will be 100 days since Mr. Chai Bunthonglek, a Thai land rights defender, was killed. Mr. Chai was shot dead in front of his family. He is the fourth member of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT) killed since 2010.
SPFT was formed in 2008 and campaigns for the right to agricultural land in the Khlong Sai Pattana community and Permsub community, in Surat Thani Province and other areas in the region. Together with the killings of the 4 land rights defenders of SPFT, there has been an ongoing campaign of intimidation against SPFT members, several leaders under the death threats. They have been threatened with eviction by the military, houses have been searched without a search warrant, one leader was summoned and detained for several days by the military and gunshots have been heard at night. This is taking a heavy toll on the morale of SPFT and community members who continue to live in fear and worry about who would be the next victim.
We call on the Thai authorities to investigate the killings, grant reparations for the families and ensure protection for human rights defenders working on land rights, who are particularly vulnerable to attacks and killings. #JusticeforChai
For more details surrounding the killing, please see below the petition initiated by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha
Office of the Permanent Secretary, Prime Minister Office
Facsimile: +66 (0) 2282 5131
Mr. Paiboon Khumchaya
Minister, Ministry of Justice
Facsimile: +66 (0)2143 8242
Col. Naras Savestanaa
Director General, Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice
Mr. Chatpong Chatputi
Surat Thani Governor
Facsimile: +66 (0)7728 2175
I write this letter to express my grave concern over threats, harassments, and killings of members of the Khlong Sai Pattana community in Chaiburi District, Surat Thani Province, and the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT). Members of the Khlong Sai Pattana community have been entangled in an ongoing land conflict with palm oil company Jiew Kang Juy. Meanwhile, SPFT has been active in supporting the community’s efforts in reclaiming ownership of their land.
Since 2010, four Khlong Sai Pattana community members have been killed. Most recently on 11 February 2015, land rights defender and SPFT member, Mr. Chai Bunthonglek was assassinated by unknown gunmen. On 26 February, the Chaiburi police arrested four people in connection with Mr. Chai’s killing. However, all were later released on bail. Following the killing, unidentified men in black clothes were reportedly monitoring the community. Despite receiving credible threats, none of the SPFT members in the Khlong Sai Pattana community, and other villages where members of SPFT reside, have received protection from the government. Neither provincial nor national authorities have intervened to investigate the source of those threats or adopted any protective measures for SPFT members and members of the Khlong Sai Pattana community.
Prior to the killing of Mr. Chai, three other Khlong Sai Pattana community members have been targeted in fatal attacks. In 2012, Ms. Montha Chukaew and Ms. Pranee Boonrat, members of the SPFT and women human rights defenders, were shot and killed by unknown individuals while on their way to a local market in the district. In 2010, Mr. Somporn Pattanaphum, an SPFT affiliate, was also shot and killed in the area. Out of the four killings, two cases were brought to trial, but defendants were later acquitted due to lack of evidence.
The consistent failure to conduct comprehensive and transparent investigations has fostered impunity for these crimes. The situation of constant intimidation makes it extremely difficult for community-based human rights defenders and SPFT leaders to pursue their work of advocating community rights and securing community land title deeds. Community members and members of the SPFT continue to live in fear.
I recall that, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Thailand has the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights protected under these treaties. Particularly, at a time when the country undergoes review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in early June, I reiterate the urgent call to the Thai government to address human rights violations, defend land rights of its citizens, and protect its natural resources.
I wish to point out that Article 12(2) of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders outlines the obligation for the State to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.” I exhort the government of Thailand to pay serious heed to the rights of human rights defenders under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Finally, I strongly urge the government of Thailand to:
- Immediately provide updated information on the investigation of all four killings of SPFT members to the victims’ family;
- Carry out credible, independent, and rigorous investigations to identify perpetrators and hold them accountable;
- Grant reparations for the families of the deceased human rights defenders;
- Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of leaders and all members of SPFT, their families, as well as other community activists;
- Urge the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection under the Ministry of Justice to extend their legal framework to provide protection to human rights defenders at risk, and provide further preventive steps to ensure their safety, and physical and psychological security;
- Ensure that the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) transfers the disputed lands to the community members of Khlong Sai Pattana in the form of a community land deed as ordered by the Supreme Court in November 2014; and,
- Encourage the Office of Community Land Titles (OCLT) under the Prime Minister’s Office to issue letters stating the community’s right to remain on their land; forward the letters to the Governor of Surat Thani Province and relevant authorities and ensure they fulfill their responsibility to protect the community.
- Guarantee in all circumstances that SPFT leaders, members and other human rights defenders in Thailand are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including extrajudicial punishment and judicial harassment.
I thank you for your attention and action.