Disappearance of a Karen Hill-Tribe Human Rights Defender
Demanding Immediate Explanation and Investigation by Relevant Officials Regarding the Disappearance of a Karen Hill-Tribe Human Rights Defender
According to a news report, Mr. Billy or Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen has disappeared since the afternoon of April 17th 2014. At the time of his disappearance he was believed to be travelling from his village in the mountains to Kaengkrachan district. Mr. Billy has been helping his fellow Karen villagers in their struggle for recognition of indigenous land rights in the Kaengkrachan National Park, specially in the case against the authorities that at present is pending before the courts.
On April 18th, the Head of Kaengkrachan National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Office Mr. Chaiwat Limlikitaksor admitted that Mr. Billy had been detained and taken for interrogation as a wild honeycomb and six bottles of wild honey had been found in the possession of Mr. Billy. Mr. Limlikitaksor also claimed that Mr. Billy had been released.
However, activists allege that neither the report of detention nor any evidence of release of Mr. Billy from detention had been disclosed by the authorities.
It is almost 73 hours since Mr. Billy's disappearance. His fellow villagers have made several attempts to contact Mr. Billy, but there is no information about his whereabouts and well being. On April 19th 2014, the villagers filed a complaint with the local police regarding his disappearance.
According to information received, at the time of his disappearance Mr. Billy was travelling from his mountain village to the Kaengkrachan District in order to meet with his fellow villagers and activists and prepare for the upcoming court hearing in the lawsuit filed by the villagers against the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment, and the Head of Kaengkrachan National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Office. In the lawsuit the villagers have claimed that in July 2011, the authorities were responsible for the destruction and burning of houses and property of more than 20 Karen hill-tribe families who were living in the Bangkloybon Villages in Kaengkrachan National Park. Research studies have confirmed that the villagers belong to an indigenous Karen ethnic group who has been living in the area near of Bangkloybon Villages since many generations for more than 100 years.
The case between the authorities in Kaengkrachan National Park and the Bangkloybon villagers is a clear example of the structural problems, which lead to lawsuits demanding recognition and protection of indigenous rights to land and traditional ways of life. This struggle has also led to the assassination of a human rights defender Mr. Tassanakamol Aobeaom on 10 September 2011. Although Mr. Chaiwat, the Head of Kaengkrachan National Park Office was accused of hiring someone to kill Mr. Aobeaom and the case is pending court decision, Mr. Chaiwat continues to hold office as the Head of the Kaengkrachan National Park Office. No action was taken to suspend him from his official duties pending investigation as required under disciplinary regulation and practice governing state officials under Thai law.
Mr. Billy is a human rights defender and a witness in the case villagers' lawsuit against the National Park Office as above mentioned. His disappearance is a matter of grave concern as it may affect the case and the struggle of the villagers for rights and justice.
Enforced disappearances often occur when authorities refuse to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons arrested and detained by them. Such an act violates the fundamental rights and freedoms, most importantly the rights to life and security of a person as well as human dignity. The State, therefore, has the obligation under international law to ensure full respect for and protection of such rights.
Cross Cultural Foundation demand immediate explanation from relevant authorities regarding the disappearance of Mr. Billy. We also urges all parties throughout the line of command of responsible authorities including police to investigate the matter such that information about the whereabouts of Mr. Billy is disclosed promptly.
It is universally respected principle of human rights which demands that no States shall practice, permit or tolerate enforced disappearance. As reaffirmed in the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 18th, 1992, that States shall take effective action to prevent, terminate and investigation the acts of enforced disappearance and, most importantly, to find and rescue victims and bring perpetrators to justice as soon as possible. Furthermore, any persons alleged to have committed any acts of enforced disappearance shall be suspended from any official duties during the investigation.