The Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation will visit the Dong Ma Fai Subdistrict in Nong Bua Lamphu to investigate the murders of local community rights defenders, but will not be able to meet with the activists' families as the visit was scheduled without consultation with the community.
On 1 October 2020, the National Human Rights Commissioners made a visit to meet with the rights defenders of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group in Dong Ma Fai Subdistrict, Suwan Kuha District, Nong Bua Lam Phu Province. They later coordinated with the various departments such as the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection and the Department of Special Investigation to serve as the protection mechanism for rights defenders in the event of death threats made against Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, advisor to the Conservation Group, along with the cases of four previously murdered community rights defenders, Mr. Boonrod Duangkota, Mr. Sanan Suwan, killed in 1995, Mr. Som Hompromma and Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam, killed in 1999.
Last week, members of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group were informed by Police Lieutenant Colonel Banwat Traisuthiwong, Director of the Special Case Operation Center Area 4 that, on 25 November 2020 at 10:00 am, the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation and his team will visit Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group. He wishes to meet with the families of the murdered four human rights defenders and Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, human rights defender and advisor to the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group who has been facing life-threatening intimidations. The conservation group has made an official letter responding that it was inconvenient to meet due to rice harvesting and other engagement and asked to meet on 7-9 November 2020 instead. DSI has not yet been confirmed in the said proposal.
Although we are pleased that after 26 years of struggles against the mine and to reclaim justice to those killed without any interests of the authorities, we finally received attention from government agencies such as the Department of Special Investigation. We hope it would be a mechanism to restore justice, which has not yet been achieved for the families of the killed human rights defenders and communities.
However, we feel it is a pity that the visit by the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation was decided without the consultation with the community based rights defenders. Had the dates been mutually agreed upon, Director-General would be able to meet with the families of four killed defenders, the group members, along with Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, an advisor to the conservation group and EHRD who are facing death threats.
As DSI will continue the same schedule to visit the area on 25 November 2020, the group hopes that in visiting the area, the DSI authorities would receive accurate, fair and useful information from relevant agencies which are the Special Case Operation Center 4 DSI, in conjunction with the Nong Bua Lam Phu Provincial Police Division and Suwan Khuha Police Station.
Previously, Ms. Sorn Khamjam a women human rights defender and wife of Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam who was killed in a quarry conflict, along with members of Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group, submitted a letter to the Royal Thai Police on 12 October 2020 to follow up on the justice of the killing of human rights defenders of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group.
It is worth noting key points in which the DSI authorities should be informed:
From a copy of the criminal investigation report No. 106/2552 of the murder cases of Mr. Som Hompromma and Mr. Thongmuan Kamjam, Mrs. Sorn Khamjam and the group have raised doubts in the investigation process as follows:
1. The assassination of Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam, which is an unnatural death, legally requires an autopsy. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 148, that "when it appears explicitly or there is reason to suspect that any person has died naturally or died during the custody of the official, there must be an autopsy except for the death by execution.” However, it was not clear if there is an autopsy report available.
2. When Mr. Warit or On Wipe, the accused, surrendered himself to the police officers on 19 May 1999, the investigating officer informed the charge of murder and illegally owning firearms. However, on the same day the accused was given a temporary release despite the gravity of such charge. It is not clear whether the police has examined the weapons carried by Mr. On and match it with the one used to kill HRD Thongmuan.
3. According to the copy of the Criminal Investigation Report No. 106/2552, it appears that the there is just one statement out of all 57 witnesses. We made the request to the Superintendent of the Police Station to Suwan Khuha to share the full copy of the interrogation of 57 witnesses, which we have now received.
4. The witness No. 46 - 52 was referred to the police by Mr. Uay Chaiwata, but why did the police officer in the case not summon Mr. Uay Chaiwata to interrogate him?
We hope that the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation And relevant agencies will visit again as proposed by the group on 7-9 December 2020, to have the opportunity to meet with the families of the killed human rights defenders, Mr Lertsak Kunkongsak and other defenders at risk. We hope DSI can support us in restoring the justice to the four bodies of Dong Mafai and find measures to protect the rights defenders. The authorities must consult and listen to the will of human rights defenders, as this is the very first principle and practice of any work to protect human rights defenders.
Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group