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Thai army must compensate family of killed Lahu rights defender

A landmark decision by Thailand’s Supreme Court orders the Royal Thai Army to provide compensation to the family of Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old human rights defender who was shot dead by a soldier six years ago.

Jittrapon Kaicome / HaRDstories
Napoi Pasae holds a photo of her son Chaiyaphum in her house in Chiang Mai province. He was shot dead by soldiers at a military checkpoint in northern Thailand on 17 March 2017, and she has been fighting for justice in court ever since. Jittrapon Kaicome/HaRDstories

BANGKOK – On Thursday, Thailand’s Supreme Court ordered the Royal Thai Army to compensate Napoi Pasae, the mother of Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Lahu human rights defender who was fatally shot by a soldier six years ago. 

The court reversed the decision made by the Appeals Court, stating that the Royal Thai Army failed to provide CCTV camera footage as evidence to prove its innocence, despite six out of nine CCTV cameras being functional. Additionally, the court noted that Chaiyaphum’s fingerprints were not found on the grenade the soldier claimed he was throwing.

The court’s ruling determined that the soldier had shot the young Lahu man to prevent him from escaping at the checkpoint and did not intend to kill him. Consequently, the Royal Thai Army, which supervises the officer in question, was found guilty for violating a law on tortious liability of officials.


Long-awaited justice

Napoi expressed her relief, saying, “Today I can tell my son that we finally received justice. Chaiyaphum was the main provider for our family, and his absence has caused us great suffering.”

Chaiyaphum Pasae encountered the soldier when his car was searched at a checkpoint in Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, on 17 March 2017. The military claimed that the soldiers shot him in self-defence, claiming that the teenager was attempting to assault them and accusing him of involvement in drug dealing.

Chaiyaphum was a passionate advocate for indigenous rights and culture. As an active member of various Lahu community groups, he taught indigenous youth to create music as a means to avoid drugs and assisted stateless individuals in obtaining citizenship.

Compensation for emotional distress excluded

The Royal Thai Army has been ordered to pay compensation totalling 2,072,400 baht (about $58,800), with an annual interest rate of 7.5 per cent. This amount was calculated based on the cost of the funeral and the potential earnings Chaiyaphum could have contributed to his family if he had graduated with a bachelor’s degree. However, it does not include the emotional compensation sought by the family, which was twice the awarded amount.

“We hope there will be punishment for the wrongdoer and additional compensation for Chaiyaphum apart from the court’s order to set the standard and benefit the public in the future,” said Pranom Somwong, director of Protection International, a civil group closely following the lawsuit with the family.

Vorapoj Osathapiratana, a member of Din Sor See, a youth empowerment group that collaborated with Chaiyaphum and various ethnic communities across Thailand, highlighted the considerable pressure the family and friends have endured, even within their own community, throughout this lengthy legal battle.

“Chaiyaphum might not be the last case,” he said. “How can we learn from this and act to reduce the public bias [against members of ethnic minorities] and the injustice?”

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