Thai govt urged to probe killings of activists

Thai govt urged to probe killings of activists

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is calling on Thailand to launch immediate investigations into the disappearance and killings of human-rights defenders on its soil.

At least 30 human-rights defenders - many of them activists for land and community rights - have been victims of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in Thailand since 2001, the agency's spokesperson Rupert Colville said.

The UN body highlighted the recent killings of anti-mine activist Pitan Thongpanang and land-rights activist Sumsuk Kokrang in the South. Thai authorities, meanwhile, say they are working on these cases.

"Two human-rights defenders working on land and natural-resource issues have been murdered in the South of Thailand in the space of four days," the OHCHR said in one of its press-briefing notes.

The note came out on Tuesday, just one day before Human Rights Day, which is marked on December 10 every year.

Pitan was shot dead last month in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Nopphitam district, where he was leading an active opposition against mining operations going on there.

He was also lead plaintiff in an ongoing case, in which the court had issued a temporary order to the company involved to halt its mining operations.

He was shot while he was visiting villagers to seek financial support to engage legal assistance for the case.

Four days later, on December 3, Sumsuk was fatally shot at an oil-palm plantation in Krabi province, while he was travelling to meet local villagers. The activist was leading a campaign to investigate the legality of a palm plantation.

The OHCHR said that while police investigations had been launched into both killings, it hoped that it would not be like previous cases, where alleged perpetrators were not brought to justice.

"In the absence of justice and accountability, the perpetrators are emboldened, while human-rights defenders work in a climate of fear and insecurity, which simply grows worse with every new killing or disappearance," it said.

Nakhon Si Thammarat's deputy police chief Colonel Sontichai Awattanakulthep said yesterday that investigators had narrowed down a list of suspects in Pitan's case and were gathering solid evidence.

Niran Pitakwatchara, a member of Thailand's National Human Rights Commission, is scheduled to head to the South today to follow up.

The OHCHR called for thorough, prompt and independent investigation into all cases of disappearances and killings of human-rights defenders. It also emphasised that the authorities should implement protection measures for human-rights defenders.

"Communities affected by major land projects rely on such courageous individuals to air their concerns and defend their rights," it said.

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