Human rights activists have urged Thai authorities to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation into the tragic killing of Bounsuan Kitiyano, a former Lao political activist who held UN refugee status. Found with three gunshot wounds in the forest of Sri Muang Mai district in Ubon Ratchathani, a northeastern province bordering Laos, Bounsuan had been living in Thailand for four or five years, according to Radio Free Asia.
Before his untimely death, Bounsuan reportedly had plans to visit Bangkok to complete the necessary documents for his asylum-seeking journey to Australia. In response to his murder, Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “This cold-blooded killing of a prominent exiled Lao political activist demands an immediate response from the Thai authorities. The Thai government should urgently conduct a credible and impartial investigation into Bounsuan’s death and bring to justice all those responsible.”
At the age of 56, Bounsuan was a former member of the Free Laos group and had been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He had participated in numerous protests in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok, demanding respect for human rights. His killing in Thailand sends a frightening message that no place is safe for those critical of the Lao government, according to HRW.
Activist Anousa Luangsuphom, an online critic of Laos’ government, was shot and severely injured on April 29 in the capital, Vientiane. With fears of retribution, his family initially reported him dead but later confirmed he was alive and had been taken out of Laos for further medical treatment. HRW stated that even activists who have fled persecution in Laos to neighboring countries are not safe. Od Sayavong, a Lao human rights and democracy activist residing in Bangkok, has been missing since August 2019.
HRW claims that the Thai government has consistently failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against political critics of oppressive governments in nearby Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Pearson criticized the Thai government’s unfavorable deference to abusive neighbors, stating, “The Thai government’s unacceptable deference to abusive neighbors is once again taking priority over its international human rights and legal obligations.”
She added, “The new government … has an urgent agenda to reestablish Thailand as a place where refugees are protected.”