Thailand: Hold Perpetrators Accountable for 2014 Attack on Loei Residents

Organizations call on authorities to reopen investigation, ensure effective remedies

(BANGKOK/LOEI, May 15, 2017)—Thai authorities should reopen the investigation and ensure accountability for attacks against human rights defenders in Loei Province in 2014, said Fortify Rights, Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG), and the Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC) today. Last year, Thai authorities identified and convicted only two of an estimated 150 masked-men involved in attacks that occurred three years ago today against residents protesting a controversial gold mine.

“Three years later and justice is still unfulfilled for those attacked in Loei Province,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Thai authorities have a responsibility to hold all perpetrators to account and ensure remedies for those harmed during the attack.”

On the evening of May 15, 2014, at least 150 men armed with sticks, knives, and guns surrounded and attacked dozens of residents in Na Nong Bong village, Loei Province. The unknown militia detained and forced some villagers to lie face down with their hands tied behind their backs for several hours. They beat and assaulted dozens of others.

Many of those attacked are members of KRBKG, a community-based organization actively engaged in protesting local gold mining operations. Local residents allege the controversial gold mine contaminated local streams, soil, and groundwater, and KRBKG is calling for redress for alleged adverse health and environmental impacts potentially linked to the mine. The attacks on May 15, 2014 appeared to have been connected to KRBKG’s opposition to the gold mine, the organizations said. During the attack, residents observed trucks transporting material out of the mine site and village.

Thai authorities subsequently charged 22 residents with allegedly violating the 1992 Highway Act for blocking the road to the mine site in the months leading up to the attack. Tungkum Limited, the company that operated the mine site, has also brought 19 criminal and civil complaints against villagers in Loei Province, including criminal defamation complaints against a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

“Our community has not received justice. We were attacked for protecting our community, and only two people were convicted,” said Viron Rujichaiyavat, a woman leader of KRBKG. “The sentences they received are also not proportionate to the gravity of their actions.”

On May 31, 2016, the Loei Provincial Court convicted two military personnel—Army Lieutenant-Colonel Poramin Pomnak and retired Army Lieutenant-General Porames Pomnak—of causing bodily harm, depriving others of liberty, and the unnecessary use of a firearm in public in relation to the attack in Na Nong Bong village. They received sentences of three years’ and two years’ imprisonment respectively and were ordered to pay compensation to nine villagers ranging from 2,600 to 25,000 Thai Baht (US$72 to US$700). The two men are currently free on bail while their case is pending before the Appeal Court. The authorities have not identified or charged any other perpetrators involved in the attack.

Thai authorities should immediately pursue a thorough investigation into the attack in Loei Province, bring all perpetrators to account, and ensure effective remedies for those attacked, said Fortify Rights, KRBKG, and CRC.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders protect human rights defenders in the context of their work, including their rights to association, peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression. Article 12 of the Declaration obliges states to ensure protection “against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of” the “legitimate exercise” of these rights. Article 2(3) of the ICCPR also ensures the right to an effective remedy for all persons whose rights have been violated.

During Thailand’s Universal Periodic Review—a process at the U.N. Human Rights Council in which the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member states are reviewed periodically—in May 2016, Thailand accepted recommendations from six U.N. member states to investigate reports of intimidation, harassment, and attacks on human rights defenders and to ensure accountability. The U.N. Human Rights Committee—a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the ICCPR by states that are a party to it—reiterated these recommendations during its March 2017 review of Thailand’s compliance, calling on Thailand to “[e]nsure that prompt, impartial and thorough investigations are carried out into all allegations of [ill-treatment of human rights defenders],” that “perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with appropriate sanction,” and that “victims are provided with full reparation.”

“Conducting a thorough investigation into the 2014 attack would prove to the international community that the Thai government is serious about human rights and accountability,” said Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, Coordinator of CRC, a nonprofit organization providing pro bono legal services to affected Loei residents. “The work of human rights defenders is integral to ensuring the environment is protected in Loei Province and throughout Thailand. This work should be safeguarded.”