A Thai court has approved arrest warrants for Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn and three other forestry officials in connection with the abduction and murder of the prominent ethnic Karen human rights defender Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, known widely as "Billy," in April 2014.
After more than five years of government cover ups and delays, there is a real hope that those implicated in Billy's death will be prosecuted.
In September 2019, officials found Billy's remains in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, where he had gone missing. The Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigation concluded, based on the condition of Billy's body, he was killed and then his body was burned in an oil barrel before being dumped in a reservoir to conceal the crime.
The state investigators believe the rights defender's murder was related to his role helping ethnic Karen villagers take legal action against Chaiwat, who directed forestry officials to destroy houses and property of more than 20 Karen families who were living in the park.
Despite the spark of hope for justice in this case, the overall situation facing human rights defenders in Thailand is bleak.
The Thai government has repeatedly ignored its obligations to ensure human rights defenders and their organizations can carry out their work in a safe environment. The government has yet to develop a credible policy to better protect such defenders from harassment, threats, and enforced disappearance. Thai authorities have also not seriously investigated attacks against rights defenders and instead often told activists to give up their political activity in exchange for possible state protection.
The Thai government should make use of the political momentum generated by Billy's case to resolve other cases of enforced disappearance and killings of human rights defenders - including that of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit.
Thailand's culture of impunity for these terrible crimes needs to be brought to an end.
Source: Human Rights Watch