Thailand: `Zero protection' for defenders of rights

by ONNUCHA HUTASINGH, Bangkok Post, June 27, 2005

Suspicions over probe into monk's murder

Bangkok, Thailand -- The murder of Phra Supoj Suvacano, the abbot of the Mettadhamma Buddhist centre in Chiang Mai, is the latest proof of the government's failure to protect conservationists and human rights activists, while suspicions have been aroused over the investigation into the attack.

<< Phra Kittisak Kittisophano, deputy abbot of Mettadhamma Buddhist centre in Chiang Mai's Fang district, holds a photograph of the late abbot and conservationist Phra Supoj Suvacano, who was savagely stabbed to death on June 17. ? PHRAKRIT JUNTAWONG

Somchai Homla-or, chairman of the Law Society's human rights panel, told a press conference yesterday that Phra Supoj, who was savagely stabbed to death near the Mettadhamma Buddhist centre on June 17, was the 19th conservationist or human rights activist to be slain during the tenure of Thaksin Shinawatra's government, and this proved the government's anti-mafia policy had totally failed.

The government was unable to protect people who devoted themselves to national interests in terms of the environment and the promotion of human rights despite the fact that Thailand had ratified the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, he said.

Mr Somchai said Phra Supoj had fought to protect an 1,800-rai forest in Chiang Mai's Fang district despite threats from influential people who wanted the land and had connections with local and national political figures in the ruling Thai Rak Thai party.

He urged officials from the central government and the Special Investigation Department to investigate the murder, claiming that local police were unlikely to nail the influential people responsible.

Speaking on behalf of 14 non-governmental organisations, Mr Somchai said they would give the government some time to conduct the investigation. However, if the investigation does not bear fruit, they will complain to human rights organisations of the UN and international Buddhism organisations.

Chaiphan Praphaswat, adviser to the Assembly of the Poor, said the fight to protect natural resources and human rights had claimed the lives of many activists, but the murder of Phra Supoj was particularly serious since the victim was a Buddhist monk in Thailand, where the majority of people were Buddhists.

He urged the public to join forces to check on the activities of influential people in Chiang Mai's Fang, Chai Prakan and Mae Ai districts where influential people were fighting over natural resources and scaring the local population.

Phra Kittisak Kittisophano, of the Mettadhamma Buddhist centre, said investigators had not yet officially interrogated him or Phra Maha Cherdchai, another monk from the same centre, even though they were both close to Phra Supoj.

While the police were interested in the accounts of two community leaders in Fang district's tambon San Sai who had been charged with theft at the centre, they paid no heed to an influential person who had allegedly illegally sold a 70-rai plot belonging to the centre, he said.

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