9 December 2014 – The murders of two human rights defenders working on land and natural resource issues in the south of Thailand underscore the need for authorities in the country to take urgent measures to ensure the safety and protection of such people, United Nations said today.
The two men, Pitan Thongpanang and Sumsuk Kokrang, were shot dead within four days of each other, as they challenged the legality of large private sector projects in the area.
“Land rights defenders in Thailand, particularly in the southern region, have long been exposed to intimidation, harassment and violence, and these latest cases indicate such attacks may be intensifying,” said Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“Communities affected by major land projects rely on such courageous individuals to air their concerns and defend their rights.”
Mr. Colville urged authorities to investigate all disappearances and killings of human rights defenders thoroughly, promptly and independently, noting that although police investigations have been launched into the killings of Mr Pitan and Mr Sumsuk, in most previous cases, alleged perpetrators have not been 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,” he said. “It is up to the authorities to ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders and the communities they work with, to enable them to speak out and organise freely without fear of persecution.”
According to OHCHR, Mr. Pitan, who was killed on 30 November, opposed mining operations on his community’s land and was lead plaintiff in an ongoing case in which the administrative court had issued a temporary order that stopped the mining company’s operations.
Mr. Sumsuk, who was killed four days after Mr. Pitan, was shot at a palm oil plantation. He was leading a campaign to investigate the legality of the plantation.
The two men join a list of at least 30 human rights defenders, many of them land and community rights activists, who have become victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Thailand since 2001.