On 11 March 2020, the ICJ co-hosted a panel discussion and an exhibition entitled “Committed to Memory: The Disappeared and Those They Left Behind.”
The event was held to mark the 16th anniversary of the enforced disappearance of a prominent lawyer and human rights defender Somchai Neelapaijit and other individuals who were subject to apparent enforced disappearance and whose fates remain unknown.
The event was held at Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC). More than 100 participants attended the event.
Opening remarks were delivered by Jenni Lundmark, Programme Officer, Delegation of the European Union to Thailand, and Associate Professor Dr. Gothom Arya, Adviser of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University.
Jenni Lundmark highlighted the European Union’s commitment to address torture and enforced disappearance and urged the Thai Parliament to pass pending anti-torture and enforced disappearance legislation without undue delay. Associate Professor Dr. Gothom called on the public to preserve the memory of the Thai persons who were victims enforced disappeared as well as many others whose disappearance were not recorded. He also encouraged the establishment of a network of victims of enforced disappearances to strengthen their advocates’ ability.
The event also featured photos and personal belongings of victims or potential victims of enforced disappearance, including: Somchai Neelapaijit, Thanong Po-Arn, Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, Kamol Laosophaphan, Jahwa Jalo, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Siam Theerawut and Den Khamlae. For some of these cases, there has been a failure of authorities to conduct a prompt, effective, impartial and independent investigation into their cases. During the event, family members of the victims described stories from photos and personal belongings of the “disappeared” that were exhibited.
The panel discussion focused on progress of the investigations into enforced disappearances and evaluated the progress in developing legislation in Thailand to address this critical issue. The speakers included Angkhana Neelapaijit, wife of Somchai Neelapaijit; Thipwimon Sirinupong, lawyer who is representing Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen’s family; and Sanhawan Srisod, ICJ’s legal adviser.
During the discussion, speakers expressed concern at the recurrent delays in the amendment and enactment of the law against torture and enforced disappearance which will be critical for ensuring accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearance. They also regretted that the latest Draft Act, after several rounds of revisions and public hearings, still had not addressed many of the principal shortcomings which the ICJ and other stakeholders and experts have indicated need necessarily be amended in order to bring the law into line with Thailand’s international human rights obligations.
The key concerns include the incomplete definitions of the crimes of enforced disappearance, the absence of provisions concerning the continuous nature of the crime of enforced disappearance and statute of limitations for torture and enforced disappearance crimes, and the inadequacy of provisions concerning safeguards against enforced disappearances.
Somchai was stopped at a Bangkok roadside on 12 March 2004 and pulled from his car by a group of men. He has not been seen since.
At the time, Somchai was defending clients from Thailand’s restive southern provinces who were accused of attacking a military base as part of the ongoing insurgency in the region. Somchai had alleged police tortured the Muslim suspects.
Since 19 July 2005, DSI has spent more than 14 years and eight months investigating the enforced disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit. However, there is little information in the public domain regarding its progress.
From 1980 to May 2019, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has recorded and transmitted 90 cases of alleged enforced disappearance to Thailand. Currently, 79 cases remain outstanding.
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