UN gravely concerned over killings of land rights activists in southern Thailand

The United Nations has released a communication to urge the Thai government to investigate the murders and harassment of land rights activists in southern Thailand.

On 2 June, a Working Group of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a letter sent to the Thai government on 19 February, which expressed grave concerns over the murder, attempted murder, and detention of land rights activists.

Moreover, the letter also urged the Thai government to halt eviction of landless communities in the country’s south.

The letter urged the Thai authorities to take steps to investigate the murders of Pitan Thongpanang, 45, an anti-mine activist of southern Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Somsuk Kohkrang, 47, a land rights activist of Krabi Province, and Chai Bunthonglek, 61, a community land rights activist of Surat Thani Province, and the attempted murder of Suwit Jeh-Soh, a community rights activist of Phatthalung Province, and his family.

The murders and attempted murder occurred towards the end of 2014 and in early 2015. The four had been active in campaigning for the rights over land and resources of their communities against state policies and private business interests.    

In addition, the letter also requested the Thai authorities to provide legal grounds concerning the detention incommunicado of Pianrat Boonrit, a prominent land rights activist from Surat Thani Province, who was summoned to an ‘attitude adjustment camp’ at a military camp from 3-5 February 2015 and was forced to sign an agreement not to resist the authorities’ eviction order upon his release.        

The communication says that the Thai authorities should take efforts in ensuring the physical and psychological safety of persons working on issues related to the environment and land rights in accordance to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Given that many environmental rights and land rights defenders in Thailand have been attacked and killed in the recent years, please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that anyone working on environmental and land rights issues can conduct their peaceful and legitimate activities in a safe and enabling environment without fear for their safety,” states the letter.  

The communication was published three months after it was sent to the Thai government in order to allow the Thai authorities to respond to the UN findings.