End justice wait for Karen

End justice wait for Karen

Seven years after Karen activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen's death in 2014, issues close to his heart, like ancestral rights of fellow ethnic villagers in Kaeng Krachan National Park, remain unfulfilled. On top of that, the long arm of the law still cannot reach his killers.

Billy was a victim of enforced disappearance. He was last seen in the custody of Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, then park chief, on April 17, 2014, at a time when he was pursuing the Karen rights issue in court.

In 2011 Chaiwat led a brutal eviction of the Karen from their upper Bang Kloi village to a namesake relocation site. Park officials torched the village. The fight for those rights cost Billy his life.

It was the Department of Special Investigation that charged Chaiwat with the murder, using DNA and forensic evidence, but the latter was acquitted by the Office of Attorney-General which cited "insufficient evidence" as a reason.

Chaiwat, who was promoted to the position of chief of Protected Areas Regional Office 9, was dismissed from the government service after the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission late last month found him at fault over the 2011 eviction.

He has appealed, with support from his agency. The DSI pledged also to reopen the murder case but has made slow progress.

Two months ago, a group of Bang Kloi Karen made headlines when they tried to go back to their home village, citing hardship at the relocation site. Once again, park officials applied a heavy-handed approach, forcing them down to the lower area.

Civic and ethnic people's networks under P-Move turned up in force, camping out at Government House to press for a fair solution for these indigenous people, whose rights have been trampled by the state for so long.

It's a pity the state has no intention, nor sincerity, in reaching such a solution, but seeks to win just as if it is playing a game.

While it agreed to form a fact-finding panel, the National Park Office slapped the Karen returnees with lawsuits.

A lack of understanding, or ignorance, by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on the issue of indigenous people enables state officials to violate the rights of these ethnic people and also practise double standards.

Aerial maps by the Survey Department prove that these ethnic Karen have lived on the land long before the area was designated as part of the Kaeng Krachan National Park in 1981.

They should have rights over the land, but that has never been taken into account.

The fact that their subsistence farming is different from the typical slash and burn method has never been truly explored.

True, the Karen still burn their crops after harvesting, but they have their own knowledge. Had the Karen developed commercial farming methods for mono-crop culture like people in the lower lands, the forest would not be so lush and so green to the point that it earned national park status, which sadly, became one reason for the state to kick them out.

Without question, the Bang Kloi case is tainted with prejudice and misuse of authority by the officials involved. And this is why after seven years, justice has yet to be delivered for Billy, his immediate family and his clan.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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