Justice for Billy: CSOs call for investigation into activist’s disappearance

On 3 September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference to announce that bones found in Kaeng Krachan Dam have been confirmed to be those of Karen environmental activist and community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014. Several human rights organizations have since called for the Thai authorities to conduct an investigation into his abduction and murder.

Billy (right) with his wife Pinnapa (Source: Human Rights Lawyers Association)

Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a joint statement on 4 September 2019, calling for a “renewed focus on identifying the perpetrator(s)…and bringing them to justice.” Federick Raawski, the ICJ’s Asia Regional Director, said that if “it is found that Billy was the victim of enforced disappearance, then the perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, should be charged with the appropriate, serious offences in accordance with Thailand’s obligations under international law.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas Bequelin, the AI interim Regional Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, pointed out that Billy’s case “highlights the serious risks activists and human rights defenders face in Thailand” and “underscores the long-overdue need for the Thai government to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also issued a statement calling for the Thai government to immediately conduct a credible investigation into Billy’s case.

“The discovery of Billy’s remains should prompt Thai authorities to urgently step up their investigation and pursue justice wherever it leads them,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “There should be no more cover-ups or delays, but fair prosecutions of all those responsible for Billy’s death.”

Under several international treaties, Thailand is obligated to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance, torture, custodial death, and other alleged serious violations of human rights. However, it has yet to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law. An anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill was dropped by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) prior to the 2019 general election. This lack of legislation, HRW said, hindered DSI’s investigation.

“A credible investigation is urgently needed for the sake of Billy’s family, to seek justice for this prominent defender of the ethnic Karen community, and to start to bring an end to enforced disappearances in Thailand,” Adams said. “Billy’s case will continue to hang over the Thai government until his fate is fully explained and those responsible are punished.”

The event at BACC. The sign says "Our hearts are for Bily. Punish his murderer."

Meanwhile, on 7 September, a network of artists led by Vasan Sitthikhet organized a performance at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre calling for the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. The event consisted of live music performances, a live drawing of Billy’s portrait, and a reading of the group’s statement saying that Billy’s murder is a serious violation of human rights and that the government must urgently investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators.