Our planet is at a critical point in time. We understand more than we ever have about it, yet it is increasingly under threat. Today, a growing number of people find themselves defending their homeland, their villages, from corporations or state-run enterprises that seek to destroy it for their own profit, regardless of those affected. Around the world people have lost their lives for protecting a wide range of environmental values and human rights ranging from the exposing of waste-dumping, illegal deforestation, land grabs, to opposing the construction of polluting power plant.
In Thailand, backlash towards those trying to change an unjust system has been well documented dating back over a century. But the first substantial documentation of the use of violence towards rural community leaders comes between 1973 and 1976 when almost 50 leaders of the Farmers’ Federation of Thailand were killed or injured according to Nitirat’s Sapsomboon’s book The Path of Thai Farmers (1999).
More recently, research by NGO Protection International has documented 62 cases of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of Human Rights Defenders (HRD’s) in the last 30 years. This make’s Thailand one of the worst offenders in terms of violence against HRD’s including a system of impunity putting community-based HRDs at high risk of violence and injustice. Across the country, people who have become obstacles have simply been removed. Many perpetrators go unpunished as the influence of the powerful can easily override justice. The effect of such an assassination on a small community struggle can be devastating.
This project is a tribute to those Thai Human Rights Defenders who have lost their lives over the last 50 years. Tracing back to the first cases in the early 1970’s the photographer visited the families or friends of the victims, interviewed them and requested a portrait of the deceased. This portrait of the murdered HRD was then taken to and placed at the exact location, or as close as possible, to where she or he was murdered or abducted, representing the last time they were ever seen alive.
As Doctoral student Karin H. Zackari of Lund University wrote ‘The places are of seemingly no historical significance, yet the photographs refer to a historical continuity, that of the persisting state violence and impunity. By placing the victims in a photographic frame of space and time, they and their destinies are symbolically placed in a history that is geographically and juridically bounded by the Thai nation-state.’
It is vital, for the victims and their families, that their fight and their death should not be forgotten and left un-recognised. Ultimately, those that abuse their power with impunity must not go unpunished; the HRDs recognition and administration of justice are steps on the path to end these killings.