End impunity for unjust killings

End impunity for unjust killings

Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was a passionate advocate for the indigenous rights of the hill tribe people. Six years ago, he was shot dead at an army checkpoint.

After multiple court setbacks, his family's attempt to get justice and clear his name of a drug accusation finally succeeded. Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the military to pay compensation of 2,072,400 baht to Chaiyaphum's mother.

But until the perpetrators receive punishment, justice remains elusive.

The violence against the young human rights defender and his family's legal battle shows systematic discrimination against hill tribe people. The court's verdict, overturning previous decisions, also highlights how judges' understanding of reality can affect justice for the vulnerable.

Chaiyaphum, a Lahu teenager in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district, was a talented high school student known for his music, documentaries, and films advocating for hill tribes and the stateless. Some of his work received awards at film festivals, but his outspokenness made him unpopular with local officials.

On March 17, 2017, he was arrested and shot dead at the Ban Rin Luang checkpoint in Chiang Dao. The soldiers claimed they found 2,800 drug tablets in the car he was in. They also claimed the extrajudicial killing was necessary because Chaiyaphum resisted arrest and threw a grenade at them while trying to flee.

Since it is not far-fetched that innocent people might be framed, Chaiyaphum's death raised questions and prompted calls for transparency. The military's refusal to surrender CCTV footage of the incident only deepened public suspicions.

Meanwhile, top politicians, including then Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, defended the extrajudicial killing. Military and police chiefs also condemned Chaiyaphum as a criminal, perpetuating the stereotype of hill tribe people as drug traffickers.

The Third Region Army commander back then, Lt Gen Vijak Siribansop, went so far as to say he would have fired an automatic gun to kill Chaiyaphum in the same situation.

This thoughtless remark led critics to brand him as "Ti Auto" Ti being his nickname and Auto for the automatic gun. He later offered an apology.

With such powerful figures supporting his extrajudicial killing, the soldiers involved faced no investigation. The police did not file criminal charges. Napoi Pasae, Chaiyaphum's mother, had no choice but to take the military to the civil court.

The First and Appeal Courts absolved the military of power overreach. But Ms Napoi overcame her fear of retribution to fight in the Supreme Court. Her attempt to clear her son's name finally paid off.

On Nov 16, the court dismissed the army's evidence, ruling it as suspicious. This included the absence of fingerprints and DNA on the grenade handle, the grenade being intact without signs that it was prepared for use, and the army's refusal to provide CCTV footage in the area.

In addition, the army checkpoint's report said nothing illegal was found upon his arrest. The testimonies of the three soldiers involved were also inconsistent; while one said the grenade was in Chaiyaphum's hands, others said it fell far from him.

By contrast, witnesses from the local community gave consistent accounts, saying the soldiers attacked Chaiyaphum, who ran for his life without carrying anything.

The court viewed the fatal shooting as unintentional, but still a violation of the rules which the military must follow.

The court ordered the army to pay the compensation with a 7.5% annual interest rate. Needless to say, the fine will be covered by taxpayers.

Chaiyaphum's violent death is part of a larger problem of unjust killings and opaque judicial processes: false drug charges, and dubious or even fabricated evidence, mostly affecting the poor and powerless.

Thanks to his determined mother and support from rights groups, justice is now a step closer for this young human rights advocate.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court deserves praise for breaking the usual pattern of favouring state officials' testimony over villagers'.

It also highlights the need for the judiciary to understand the suffering of marginalised groups facing state abuse to uphold justice.

But the army's actions should not end with paying compensation. It should also release the CCTV recordings, prosecute wrongdoers, and ensure police bring cases to court, to help ensure that such unjustified killings cannot happen again.

For the military, ending its sense of being immune from the consequences of its actions is crucial.

Pursuing truth and justice is not just about honouring Chaiyaphum's memory; it's a step towards a fairer society for everyone, not just the marginalised hill tribes.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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