NONTHABURI — Karen activists are demanding authorities secure justice for the murder of a prominent community rights activist, who went missing for five years until officials confirmed his death yesterday.
Dozens of Karen gathered at Mida Hotel in suburban greater Bangkok on Wednesday to demand authorities both swiftly prosecute those behind the murder and uphold cabinet resolutions on revitalizing indigenous communities.
“We appreciate the work of the Department of Special Investigation and the forensic institute which were able to locate significant evidence on Billy’s case,” reads the statement. “We demand the state and relevant authorities accelerate their efforts in bringing the offenders to trial as soon as possible.”
The demands came after the Department of Special Investigation revealed yesterday it uncovered burnt bone fragments matching Billy’s DNA inside an oil drum in May, suggesting the missing activist could not possibly be alive.
Karen activists also urged the authorities to investigate the arson of Karen communities in Kaeng Krachan National Park during a series of raids in 2011 led by the former national park chief, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn. Billy had been campaigning for the rights of Karen villagers to reside in disputed parts of the national park prior to his disappearance in April 2014.
Although the villagers won compensation from Chaiwat in a court case in 2018, the court did not allow them to resettle in the same area from which they had been evicted since they were not given land ownership rights from the government.
Prayong Doklumyai, the director of The Northern Development Foundation, said Karens are defending their rights under cabinet resolutions promulgated during Abhisit Vejjajiva’s administration in 2010. The resolutions allow ethnic Karen communities to reside in disputed areas in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
Prayong said he saw steady progress towards the protection of community rights under governments until current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha came into power in 2014.
“The current government sees these people as illegal settlers in forest areas,” Prayong said. “They even try to accuse them of being a risk to the environment and national security.”
The statement called further for the protection of activists’ rights through a law against torture and enforced disappearance. Thailand signed the UN convention against torture in 2012, but never ratified it in domestic law.
The Karen activists handed their statement to Future Forward MP Nattapon Seubwongsak, an ethnic Hmong, to further their voices in Parliament.