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Press briefing notes on Thailand / land rights defenders, Indonesia / Papua killings and Human Rights Day: #Rights365

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 9 December 2014

(1) Thailand / land rights defenders

Two human rights defenders working on land and natural resource issues have been murdered in the south of Thailand in the space of four days, as they challenged the legality of large private sector projects in the area. Land rights defenders in Thailand, particularly in the southern region, have long been exposed to intimidation, harassment and violence, and these latest cases indicate such attacks may be intensifying. They also underscore the need for the authorities to take urgent measures to ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable human rights defenders.

Pitan Thongpanang was shot nine times in Nakhon Sri Thammarat Province on 30 November. Mr. Pitan had been active in opposing mining operations on his community’s land in Nonpitam district. He was the lead plaintiff in an ongoing case in which the administrative court issued a temporary order to the company involved to halt its mining operations. The shooting occurred as he was visiting villagers to seek their financial support to engage legal assistance in the case.

Four days later, on 3 December, Sumsuk Kokrang was fatally shot at a palm oil plantation in Krabi province, while he was travelling to meet with local villagers. Mr. Sumsuk, a land rights activist, was leading a campaign to investigate the legality of the palm oil plantation.

At least 30 human rights defenders – many of them land and community rights activists – have been victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Thailand since 2001.

While police investigations have been launched into the killings of both Mr Pitan and Mr Sumsuk, in most of the previous cases, alleged perpetrators have not been brought to justice. In the absence of justice and accountability, the perpetrators are emboldened while human rights defenders work in a climate of fear and insecurity, which simply grows worse with every new killing or disappearance.

We urge the relevant authorities to conduct thorough, prompt and independent investigations into all cases of disappearances and killings of human rights defenders. We also call on the authorities to implement protection measures for human rights defenders, in particular those working on land rights. Communities affected by major land projects rely on such courageous individuals to air their concerns and defend their rights. It is up to the authorities to ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders and the communities they work with, to enable them to speak out and organise freely without fear of persecution.

(2) Indonesia / Papua killings

We are alarmed at the reported killing of five Papuan teenagers in the highlands region of Paniai in Indonesia yesterday. While the exact circumstances are unclear as there are conflicting accounts of the events leading up to the killings. reportedly, a group of young people gathered outside a police station in the town of Enarotali yesterday to protest against the beating of a local boy by security forces on Sunday night. The police then reportedly opened fire and five teenage boys were killed. A number of other people were injured.

We have been concerned about regular reports of violence in Papua in the last few years and we urge the authorities to facilitate an independent and thorough investigation into yesterday’s incident. We will continue to engage with the new Government of Indonesia on this issue of concern.

(3) Human Rights Day: #rights365

On 10 December every year, Human Rights Day commemorates the date on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaiming its principles as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

2014 will be remembered as a year of daunting human rights challenges. In places where only recently there had been progress in achieving human rights, there has now been retreat. Nonetheless, there have also been significant global advances in achieving our human rights, and many incremental improvements in many countries.

This year’s Human Rights Day slogan, Human Rights 365, encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.

Support for the Declaration, and all that it has led to, continues to grow: this year the Convention against Torture reached its 30th year, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is 25. In 2015, the very first of the international agreements giving effect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination will mark its half century.

Human Rights 365 on social media: Join our Thunderclap to support Human Rights 365: http://thndr.it/1xxm6MR. This is going well, but the more the merrier. At 16h00 Geneva time tomorrow, a message will go out from all those who signed up to show their support for Human Rights 365 on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Human Rights 365 on Vine: In six seconds, tell us why human rights matter 365 to you and post it on Vine: https://vine.co/UNrightswire. Tag your video with #rights365 and we will collect the best videos in our Storify and tell the story on 10 December.

Read the statements marking Human Rights Day by High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (written statement in all official UN languages, video statement in English and Arabic) and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (written statement in all UN languages), on our special web page: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/HRDay2014/Pages/HRD2014.aspx.


For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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