BRUSSELS, 13 February 2015- Protection International has strongly condemned the killing of Chai Bunthonglek , land right activist and member of the Southern Peasant Federations of Thailand (SPFT). Mr Bunthonglek was from the Khlong Sai Pattana Community in Chaiburi District of the southern Surat Thani Province in Thailand. The Klong Sai Pattana community, and SPFT have been entangled in a struggle against a palm oil company, Thai Buoonthong Co. Ltd. The company has been illegally occupying land that is home to 12 communities, including Klong Sai Pattana.
Mr Bunthonglek was shot six times and killed at 18:30, 11th February. He was aged 61 years old. At the time of his death, Mr Bunthonglek was visiting his relative outside Klong Sai Pattana community. He is the 4th member of the SPFT to have been killed due to the struggle to secure the land rights of peasants and communities in southern Thailand.
Alongside this campaign of intimidation against the SPFT, the wider regional context is extremely tense and hostile to community-based activism on issues of human rights, community rights, land rights and environmental rights. Notably, two prominent Human Rights Defenders were shot and killed in late 2014 in neighbouring provinces, Mr. Pithan Thongpanang and Mr. Somsuk Kohklang. The use of violent gunmen to intimidate or kill rural-based activists, who are fighting in the interest of communities, has become all too common. Most significantly, such practices are often committed by former police officials and are committed in a climate of impunity. This harassment, violence and impunity are taking a heavy toll on the morale and hope of these HRDs and their communities.
The killing has been equally condemned by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), together with its member the People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF) from Thailand. “This deplorable act is one of a series of killings designed to intimidate communities who are seeking to protect their land and livelihood against encroachments of destructive agricultural industries in the province,” according to Evelyn Balais-Serrano, FORUM-ASIA’s Executive Director.
SPFT have demanded that Thai authorities take immediate action in their statement that was released following the killing of Mr Bunthonglek. Their statement is published below.
1. The authorities must conduct a thorough investigation into Mr. Chai’s murder and the previous 3 murders of SPFT members;
2. The state must solve the land issue problem immediately. The Agricultural Land Reform Office (ARLO) must guarantee that SPFT members are able to legally stay on their land and transfer this land to them. The permission has been granted as per a resolution made during the meeting of the Committee to Solve Problems of the Land Reform Network of Thailand no. 1/2009, chaired by Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister, on 11 March 2009 at the Parliament;
3. The government should provide compensation for all four families of the deceased;
4. We call on all stakeholder and duty bearers including the state security forces in Thailand to utilize all powers and take all necessary steps to put an end to the harassment and killing of the members of the Klong Sai Pattana community and all members of Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT), and demand that necessary action be taken to protect their rights.