Thailand: Court of Appeal overturns conviction in Somchai disappearance case
The Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Pol. Maj. Ngern Thongsuk due to insufficient evidence in the case of enforced disappearance and presumed murder of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit (photo).
The Court also denied the right of Angkhana Neelapaijit and her daughters to appeal the case to the Supreme Court as co-plaintiffs.
- Thai law does not recognize a separate criminal offense of enforced disappearance: because Somchai’s remains have never been located, the five accused police officers were charged only with the minor offences of coercion and robbery.
- The investigation, first by the police and later the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), was flawed and compromised. Crucial evidence has been mishandled or itself “disappeared”, including the original records of the five accuseds’ mobile phone calls from the night of the enforced disappearance. According to Pol. Lt-Gen Thanee Somboonsup, the lead investigator, “this case was hard to solve mainly because evidence has been destroyed.”
- The police officer convicted of coercion and sentenced to three years jail in the first trial, himself “disappeared” in a natural disaster two years ago. Also, one of the main witnesses, one of Somchai’s clients who accused the police of torture, himself “disappeared” last year while officially in the DSI’s witness “protection” program. The DSI has not successfully investigated either of these “disappearances”.
- The accused police officers never faced discipline for their alleged involvement and were allowed to continue working without any restrictions throughout the entire criminal process; the convicted police officer was on bail when his family reported him missing. Meanwhile, eyewitnesses (and the Neelapaijit family) have complained of facing pressure and threats as the case has dragged on. As a result, some testimonies have changed, providing grounds for the Court of Appeal to disregard their evidence as being inconsistent and not credible.
The international community is following the case closely as a bellwether of Thailand’s capacity to hold state
officials responsible for serious human rights violations. The United Nations Working Group on Involuntary and
Enforced Disappearances has accepted 57 cases from Thailand, of which 54 are still outstanding, including the
The ICJ calls upon the Royal Thai Government and all elements of the criminal justice system to ensure that
justice is finally done in the Somchai case, and also urges the Government, in its position as President of the UN
Human Rights Council in Geneva, to demonstrate commitment to human rights and rule of law by ratifying the
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and enacting
legislation to make enforced disappearance a serious crime in Thailand.
For further information, please contact Roger Normand at +66 84 524 1133 or the ICJ at +66 2 619 8477