Will justice serve 'Billy'?
The decision of the Office of the Attorney-General to press charges of premeditated murder, illegal confinement, coercion and concealing a human's body against former chief of Kaeng Krachan national park, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn and his three subordinates represents the first major step in the right direction to bring justice to the late Karen activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen and his family.
Kudos must go to officials of the Department of Special Investigation for their tireless effort to clear the air over the mysterious disappearance of Billy, which led to the discovery of a burnt oil barrel at the bottom of a creek near the suspension bridge in the park in September 2019. Forensic officials from the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) of the Justice Ministry should also be commended for their success in extracting DNA traces from a small fragment of human skull found in the oil barrel which matched a DNA sample of Billy's mother.
The matching of the DNA samples was the final piece of a jigsaw which allowed the OAG to prosecute on the grounds that a crime had been committed and there was a crime case to answer. In other words, the whispers of injustice surrounding the death of a man have now been heard.
But the case has been a tough nut to crack and there remain few witnesses prepared to testify over the circumstances of the Karen man's disappearance from police custody besides the four suspects. The victim was last seen in their custody on April 17, 2014. The four claim that they freed the victim after temporarily holding him for questioning on suspicion of collecting forest products in the park area.
The trial, if it goes through all three courts, is likely to drag on for several years. Due to the interest in this enforced disappearance both at home and abroad by human rights organisations, it is to be hoped that the court will make sure that the trial proceeds quickly with few of the obstructions and postponements that have been allowed to blight the pursuit of convictions in similar cases over the years.
This will be a test case of the Thai judicial process's ability to shoulder the responsibility of cracking down on a crime, which since 1980 has seen more than 80 people suspected of state-sanctioned disappearance, according to a 2016 UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances' report. None of these cases was heard in a court of law for the simple fact that the victims' bodies were never recovered and it could not be proved that a crime had been committed, let alone one of such a gravely serious nature.
Take the case of anti-establishment activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit who was reportedly abducted in front of his hotel in Phnom Penh on June 4, 2020. He has not been seen since yet Thai authorities have at times appeared less than eager to find those behind his abduction.
Thailand has won praise from international human rights organisations for the initiation of its first bill against torture and enforced disappearance. The bill won approval by the upper House early this month. Currently, the approved legislation is waiting for MPs to give their final nod to the latest amendment by senators. If cleared by MPs, this legislation, which spent 16 years in drafting, and a further five waiting to be deliberated, will be promulgated soon.
But legislation alone is not enough. To rid the country of this heinous crime, the justice system must be seen to deliver justice on Porlajee's behalf.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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