The recent decision of the Thai Supreme Court in the case of the enforced disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit demonstrates Thailand must urgently ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and enact domestic laws consistent with the Treaty, said the ICJ today.
On 29 December 2015, the Supreme Court of Thailand upheld the acquittals of five police officers charged with gang-robbery and coercion. These charges related to Somchai’s abduction and the taking of his property.
The authorities have blamed the failure to charge anyone to date with Somchai’s actual enforced disappearance or presumed death, in part, on the absence of physical remains.
The Supreme Court further held that Somchai Neelapaijit’s wife, Angkhana Neelapaijit, and his children could not participate in the proceedings as plaintiffs as, under Thai law, it had to be shown that Somchai Neelapaijit was either injured or killed such that he could not represent himself.
The Court reasoned that this was not the case as “it is not currently known whether or not Mr. Somchai is alive” and the accused had only been charged with gang-robbery and coercion.
“The Supreme Court decision does not in any way end Somchai’s case,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
“The Thai government is obliged to seek and provide truth and justice for Somchai and his family,” he added.
The Department of Special Investigations (DSI), often described as the FBI of Thailand, has been conducting an ongoing investigation into Somchai Neelapaijit’s fate or whereabouts since 2005.
“The glacial pace of the DSI’s investigation and unfortunate decision of the Supreme Court after all these years is heart-breaking,” said Zarifi.
Before the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008, the Royal Thai Government pledged “to do its utmost and leave no stone unturned in order to bring to justice the case of Mr Somchai.”
“But to do its ‘utmost’ to resolve this case, Thailand must take urgent and concrete steps to ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and pass domestic laws that retrospectively recognize enforced disappearance as a distinct offence and the full rights of victims, including family members,” Zarifi added.
Promisingly, the Ministry of Justice is in the process of drafting a Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill, which, in a draft seen by the ICJ, defines and criminalizes enforced disappearance and torture in Thailand.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Regional Director, Asia-Pacific Programme, t: +66807819002 ; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Kingsley Abbott, International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 94 470 1345 ; e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org
Angkhana Neelapaijit, now Commissioner of the Thai Human Rights Commission, told the ICJ: “The decision of the Supreme Court acquitting the five accused and denying my children and me the right to participate in the proceedings shows that victims of enforced disappearance have nowhere to turn to obtain justice in Thailand. It is clear that nothing will change until Thailand urgently ratifies the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and amends its laws to ensure the rights of victims are upheld.”
Thailand signed, but has not yet ratified, the Convention Against Enforced Disappearance in January 2012. Pending the ratification, Thailand must desist from any acts that would defeat the objective and purpose of the Convention, which among other things places an obligation on State Parties to make enforced disappearance a criminal offence, to thoroughly and impartially investigate cases, bring those responsible to justice and treat family members of a ‘disappeared’ person as victims in their own right.
On 11 March 2016, the ICJ, together with Amnesty International (Thailand), Human Rights Watch, and the Justice for Peace Foundation will hold “a discussion on enforced disappearance in Thailand focusing on the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Somchai Neelapaijit’s case and the draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill” to mark the 12-year anniversary since Somchai Neelapaijit “disappeared” on 12 March 2004.
Date: 11 March 2016
Time: 10.00am -12.00pm
Location: The Sukosol Hotel, room Kamolthip 3, Sriayutthaya Road, Bangkok
The speakers will be:
- Angkhana Neelapaijit
- Kingsley Abbott, International Legal Advisor, the International Commission of Jurists
- Sunai Phasuk, Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch
- Laurent Meillan, Acting Representative, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Office for South-East Asia
- A representative from the Department of Rights and Liberty Protection, Ministry of Justice
To mark the 10-year anniversary of Somchai Neelapaijit’s “disappearance”, the ICJ released a report Ten Years Without Truth: Somchai Neelapaijit and Enforced Disappearances in Thailand, in which it documented the tortuous legal history of the case.
On 11 December 2015, the ICJ published an English version of its Practitioners Guide “Enforced Disappearance and Extrajudicial Execution: Investigation and Sanction”, originally published in Spanish in March 2015.
Thailand-Somchai disap anniversary 2016-News-Press releases-2016-THA (full text in Thai, PDF)NewsPress releases