Thailand: “Disappearance” of Billy demands special investigation

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The decision of a Thai criminal court today to dismiss the habeas corpus petition on behalf Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen highlights the need for the Thai Government to launch a special investigation into his possible enforced disappearance, the ICJ said.

“This case should be investigated by the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) because it raises the possibility of the involvement of Government officials in a very serious human rights violation,” said Kingsley Abbott, International Legal Adviser at the ICJ. “Billy’s disappearance has already attracted significant attention inside Thailand and at the international level, and it requires the Royal Thai Government to demonstrate its commitment and ability to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation.”

Today, a judge at the Petchaburi Provincial Court dismissed the petition, finding there was insufficient evidence that Billy (photo) was still in detention.

On 24 April 2014, Billy’s wife, Phinnapha Phrueksaphan, filed a habeas corpus petition at the Petchaburi Provincial Court seeking an inquiry into the lawfulness of her husband’s detention after he was last seen in the custody of National Park authorities on 17 April 2014.

As the Court considered there was insufficient evidence that Billy was still in detention, the court did not rule on the lawfulness of the detention.

A total of 12 witnesses over six days gave evidence, including Billy’s wife and the former Chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, who claimed to have released Billy not long after taking him into custody for the unlawful possession of honey.

“Our monitoring of the habeas corpus inquiry has not dispelled fears that Billy was forcibly disappeared,” said Abbott. “It is now time that the DSI recognizes this is a special case that urgently requires its specific expertise.”

The DSI was created by The Special Investigation Act B.E. 2547 (2004) and is sometimes referred to as the FBI of Thailand.

The DSI has the power to assume jurisdiction over special criminal cases including complex cases that require special inquiry; crimes committed by organized criminal groups; and cases where the principal is an influential person.

“Any perpetrators who are identified must be charged with crimes that reflect the extreme seriousness of the crime of enforced disappearance, even if no body or remains are found,” Abbott added.

At the time of his apparent “disappearance,” Billy was working with ethnic Karen villagers and activists concerning legal proceedings the villagers had filed against the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn.

The villagers allege that, in 2011, authorities burned and destroyed the property and houses of more than 20 Karen families living in the National Park.

The apparent “disappearance” of Billy follows the assassination of another human rights defender and associate of Billy, Tassanakamol Aobeaom, on 10 September 2011.

Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn was accused of hiring someone to kill Mr. Aobeaom and the case is currently before the Phetchaburi Provincial Court.

Thailand, pursuant to its international legal obligations, including as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is required to promptly, independently and effectively investigate, and where appropriate prosecute, punish and provide a remedy and reparation, for the crime of enforced disappearance.

“In this case an effective remedy for Billy’s wife and family includes knowledge of the facts leading to the possible enforced disappearance and regular updates on the progress of the investigation,” Abbott said.

The Royal Thai Government has signaled its recognition of the gravity of the crime of enforced disappearance, and its commitment to combating it, by signing (but not yet ratifying) the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on 9 January 2012. The Convention affirms the absolute right not to be subject to enforced disappearance and places an obligation on states to make it a criminal offence punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account its “extreme seriousness.”

Contact:

Kingsley Abbott, ICJ International Legal Adviser, via telephone at +66 (0) 94 470 1345 or e-mail at kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org.

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