BANGKOK (17 April 2018) – The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia is concerned with the lack of progress on the investigation of the enforced disappearance of prominent Karen human rights defender Mr Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen who has been missing for four years.
Billy was last seen when he was arrested by Kaengkrachan Park officials on 17 April 2014 for allegedly possessing illegal bottles of wild honey. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown. Billy had been campaigning on behalf his community for justice after the homes and properties of Karen villagers were burnt down by park officials in 2010 and 2011.
In 2015, Ms Pinnapa Prueksaphan, the wife of Billy, submitted a petition to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to take up his case. It was two years before DSI announced in 2017 that she could not petition the Department on grounds that she was not legally married to Billy. DSI also stated that the investigation could only proceed if his body is found, thus highlighting the legal loophole in Thailand as enforced disappearance is yet to be criminalised.
The investigation against the concerned park official has been pending with the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission since 2014 with no concrete developments in the case. “The disappearance of Billy remains an emblematic case in Thailand as it highlights the myriad of challenges faced by victims of enforced disappearances, notably the lack of transparency in the investigative process”, said Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights Office. “His disappearance has also served to create a climate of fear and to underscore the risk for other human rights defenders, particularly those working on land and community rights as well as those defending the rights of indigenous peoples across the country.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly urged the Royal Thai Government to take decisive and sustained action to investigate the whereabouts of those who have disappeared so as to establish the truth and to bring perpetrators to justice. The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia urges Thailand, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to allocate sufficient human and financial resources and to strengthen its efforts to undertake a transparent and thorough investigation into Billy’s case as well as all those that remain unresolved.