Thailand: Bones found in Kaeng Krachan confirmed to be missing Karen activist
At 13.00 today, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference to reveal that DNA tests have confirmed that bones found in Kaeng Krachan Dam are those of the missing Karen environmental activist and community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who disappeared in 2014.
A search of the area under the Kaeng Krachan Dam suspension bridge conducted by special investigating officers using an underwater vehicle and divers on 22–24 May 2019 found two pieces of human bone, a 200-litre oil drum, 2 steel rods, 4 pieces of charcoal, and fragments of the oil drum lid.
The bones were sent to the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) for testing, and were found to be burnt pieces of a human skull. DNA testing later found that the mitochondrial DNA from the bones matched that of Billy’s mother. The investigating officers therefore concluded that the bones were Billy’s, and speculated that his body was burnt to destroy evidence. However, the cause of death is unknown.
Billy was last seen on 17 April 2014. He was arrested by then Kaeng Krachan National Park superintendent Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn and four other officers for allegedly collecting wild honey illegally. Chaiwat later claimed that Billy was released on the same day as his arrest, but there are no official records of his arrest or detention. Billy’s wife Pinnapa “Minor” Pruksapan filed an emergency trial request to the Appeal Court on 16 September 2014 after the Court of First Instance ruled that there was insufficient evidence of his unlawful detention. On 27 February 2015, the Appeal Court dismissed the request, citing lack of evidence.
Last Tuesday (27 August), Pinnapa, along with a lawyer from the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) and the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), filed a request with the Phetchaburi Provincial Court to have Billy declared legally dead. The Court has set the hearing for 28 October at 9.00.
The DSI said that this case can be categorized as murder by torture and enforced disappearance, which are serious violations of human rights according to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), and the DSI will be conducting an investigation in order to bring those involved to justice.
According to the 2018 report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Thailand has 86 individual cases concerning enforced or involuntary disappearances outstanding. Among these cases, several victims have already been found dead. Most recently, in January 2019, two mutilated bodies were found in the Mekhong River near Nakhon Phanom. They were later proved to be those of Kraidej Luelert and Chatchan Bupphawan, two political refugees who went missing along with political activist in exile Surachai Danwattananusorn in December 2018. Surachai has yet to be found.