Bones of ‘disappeared’ Karen activist ‘Billy’ found after 5 years

Porlajee “Billy” Rackchongcharoen, his child and wife Pinnapha Phrueksapan prior to his 2014 disappearance. Photo: Pinnapha Phrueksapan
Porlajee “Billy” Rackchongcharoen, his child and wife Pinnapha Phrueksapan prior to his 2014 disappearance. Photo: Pinnapha Phrueksapan

The Department of Special Investigation is expected to confirm this afternoon that the discovery of a missing land-rights activist believed to have been killed while in custody five years ago.

DSI investigators told Human Rights Watch that skeletal remains believed to be those of Porlachee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen were found earlier this year in a 200-liter oil drum near a bridge in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, where he disappeared in April 2014, the rights organization said today.

The DSI reportedly found the remains back in May but kept it under wraps until Friday, which Sunai Phasuk, a researcher for the rights group in Thailand, noted was the International Day of the Disappeared.

Update: Karen Activist ‘Billy’ was burned and stuffed in oil drum: DSI

Billy was on his way to meet other members of the Karen ethnic community protesting eviction from their lands in the national park on April 17, 2014, when he was arrested by park superintendent Chaiwat Limlikit-akson on a spurious charge.

Chaiwat is the chief suspect in his disappearance and presumed murder, but although investigators later determined Billy was never released from custody, there was no legal mechanism to hold anyone accountable because Thailand has no “enforced disappearance” statute.

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The case has put the Thai justice system and into the international spotlight, Sunai said, and torpedoed Thailand’s bid to get UNESCO World Heritage recognition for Kaeng Krachan, the nation’s largest national park.

The DSI took up the case in 2018. The breakthrough could press the government to reconsider shelved legislation to adopt the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Draft legislation to criminalize torture and enforced disappearances looked set to sail through the junta’s parliament three years ago but was never ratified.

Related:
Human rights concerns torpedo Thai UNESCO hopes as Bagan gets nod
U.N. says Thailand leaves legal loophole for torture, disappearances
Special Investigations cops to re-open book on rights activist — four years after he disappeared

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