Jessica Newfield

"For Those Who Died Trying": A Photo Exhibit on Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in Thailand

Jessica Newfield
"For Those Who Died Trying": A Photo Exhibit on Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in Thailand

It is an unfortunate fact that the livelihoods of human rights defenders, journalists and activists are threatened in some parts of the world for seeking to keep governments and companies accountable. To commemorate and honour the humanitarians and environmentalists who gave up their lives fighting for environmental and social justice for their local communities in Thailand, Protection International has partnered with photographer Luke Duggleby on his photo exhibition,"For Those Who Died Trying", at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre.

Thailand is known for being a country with one of the worst track records in terms of violence against Human Rights Defenders (HRD) according to Protection International. It includes a system of impunity putting HRDs at high risk of violence and unjust persecution.

Whether it be protesting against waste dumping, illegal deforestation, land grabbing, to opposing the construction of polluting coal plants, mines, and even opposing torture of a lawyer representing local communities, or a local leader who is fighting against the retribution from police officials, HRD are not safe from retribution.

Duggleby drove nearly 10,000km during his two trips, from Chiang Rai and Udon Thani to Satun province to build his project. Getting the families’ approval for the portraits and understanding how they had tried to preserve memory of the deceased relatives, was most important to him.

We were fortunate enough to visit the exhibition in Bangkok before it travelled around Thailand. In the exhibition are photographs of 59 human rights and environmental activists who have been murdered or abducted over the last 12 years. Their portraits are placed almost at the exact place where the crimes occurred.

Some examples:

 Thai-Muslim Human Rights Defender Mr Chalor Khaochua, 38, was shot on his way home from prayer at a local mosque on Lanta Island, in Krabi province on 14 February 2003. He was shot 4 times. He was a local activist condemning the illicit drug trade and was killed after presenting proof of police participation in the drug trade.

Thai-Muslim Human Rights Defender Mr Chalor Khaochua, 38, was shot on his way home from prayer at a local mosque on Lanta Island, in Krabi province on 14 February 2003. He was shot 4 times. He was a local activist condemning the illicit drug trade and was killed after presenting proof of police participation in the drug trade.

 Mr Samnao Srisongkhram, 38, was shot dead in a field near his village on 25 November 2003 in Lam Nam Phong village, Khon Kaen province. He was the President of the Lam Nam Phong Environmental Conservation Association in Ubonrat district of Khon Kaen Province, leading a fight against the dumping of waste by a paper factory.

Mr Samnao Srisongkhram, 38, was shot dead in a field near his village on 25 November 2003 in Lam Nam Phong village, Khon Kaen province. He was the President of the Lam Nam Phong Environmental Conservation Association in Ubonrat district of Khon Kaen Province, leading a fight against the dumping of waste by a paper factory.

 Woman Human Rights Defender Ms Pakwipa Chalernklin, 49, was shot dead on the 14 October 2004 near to her house in Ba Mok District of Ang Thong province. She was a community member of Baan Hua Krabu group who were fighting against the construction of a container port on the nearby river.

Woman Human Rights Defender Ms Pakwipa Chalernklin, 49, was shot dead on the 14 October 2004 near to her house in Ba Mok District of Ang Thong province. She was a community member of Baan Hua Krabu group who were fighting against the construction of a container port on the nearby river.