A new ICJ report criticizes the Thai Government’s failure to take the steps necessary to establish the fate and whereabouts of missing lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, saying it illustrates the challenges of achieving justice in cases of serious human violations in Thailand.
In the report, Ten Years Without Truth: Somchai Neelapaijit and Enforced Disappearances in Thailand, the ICJ documents the tortuous legal history of the case.
It highlights several key problems, such as poor use of forensic evidence, failure to follow and develop leads, unduly restrictive interpretation of national and international law, and above all, a lack of political will to resolve a case that remains emblematic of the culture of impunity in Thailand.
“Over the past 10 years, this case has taken many unexpected turns, including the disappearance of a prime suspect, admissions of Somchai’s death from officials while the courts have rejected such a finding, and most recently, a statement from the Department of Special Investigations that it had lost, and then found, the case files,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
“The Royal Thai Government has not exhausted all potential areas of inquiry and it must continue this investigation. There is no statute of limitations on an enforced disappearance and Somchai’s case is not forgotten in Thailand or around the world.”
Somchai, a lawyer and human rights defender, was stopped at a Bangkok roadside on March 12, 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.
Ten years later, Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelapaijit, and her family are no closer to knowing the truth about what happened to him.
“Somchai’s enforced disappearance, and the failure of the Royal Thai government to provide accountability or even basic information about his fate are emblematic of the challenges of achieving justice in cases of serious human rights violations in Thailand,” said Zarifi. “Enforced disappearance is not only a serious human rights violation but also a crime under international law.”
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 places an obligation on State Parties to make enforced disappearance a criminal offence and treat family members of a ‘disappeared’ person as victims in their own right.
The ICJ has followed Somchai’s case closely and worked with Angkhana Neelapaijit since 2004.
“The Royal Thai government’s failure to shed any more light on the enforced disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, despite providing compensation for his family and finding him to be ‘disappeared’, contradicts multiple past declarations of its commitment to seeking justice, or at least truth, including by several former Prime Ministers, Attorneys General, and officials,” the report says.
“It also contradicts official commitments before the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2008.”
The ICJ’s report calls on the Royal Thai government to prioritize and advance the investigation into Somchai’s disappearance in a manner that conforms to its international obligations. It also recommends that Thailand:
–Ratify the Convention Against Enforced Disappearance;
–Enact legislation that makes enforced disappearance a specific crime in Thai domestic law, together with penalties that recognize its extreme seriousness;
–Amend existing Thai law to conform to the Convention Against Enforced Disappearance, as well as the State’s obligations, including with respect to effective remedy and reparation, under the ICCPR and CAT;
–Provide Angkhana Neelapaijit and her family with effective remedy and full reparation, in particular knowledge and clarification of the facts leading to the enforced disappearance and the progress and results of the Department of Special Investigations, and;
–Address the recommendations the ICJ made to the DSI in its letter of February 4, 2014 with respect to its investigation.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director, (Bangkok), t:+66 807819002, e-mail: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Craig Knowles, ICJ Media & Communications, (Bangkok), t:+66 819077653, e-mail: craig.knowles(a)icj.org
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