Thai government urged to be more pro-active in third year of Somchai Neelaphaijit’s disappearance
12 March 2007 6:00 pm
FORUM-ASIA calls on the Thai government to be more pro-active in investigating the case of missing human rights lawyer Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit.
We urge the Thai government to bring the perpetrators to justice, and also call for the draft of the new constitution to include accountability by perpetrators of forced disappearances and the immediate lifting of the Emergency Decree. Implementing these recommendations will be steps that reflect the Thai government’s commitment to change the culture of impunity and establish the rule of law.FORUM-ASIA calls on the Thai government to be more pro-active in investigating the case of missing human rights lawyer Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit.
Yesterday was the three-year anniversary marking when Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit, a prominent Muslim human rights lawyer and the chairperson of the Muslim Lawyers Club, went missing after he was abducted from his vehicle by four men in the Ramkamhaeng district of Bangkok on 12 March 2004. No concrete progress on the case has been made despite mounting pressure from Somchai’s wife Mrs Angkana Neelaphaijit, and from domestic, regional, and international human rights organisations.
The lack of progress on this case reflects the credibility of the rule of law and the culture of impunity that exists in Thailand – despite attempts over the past year by Mrs Neelaphaijit to file the case to the Ombudsman, the Department of Special Investigations, the Ministry of Justice, and even the UN Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances. No concrete actions have been taken by the government as yet.
Since violence re-emerged in the Southern part of the country in January 2004, scores of involuntary disappearances have been reported. To date, more than 20 cases of forced disappearances have been reported; human rights organisations claim that there are more cases that have not been reported. Under weak witness protection programmes, families of victims of forced disappearances are afraid to come forward in fear of retribution. The Emergency Decree, which permits security forces to get away with extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, has made the situation especially grave.
In the Somchai case, despite findings of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) that police officers were behind the abduction, only one police major was charged by the Criminal Court. He received a three-year jail term for coercion and gang robbery in 12 January 2006. Four other defendants were later acquitted on the claim that without proof of Somchai’s body, murder charges cannot be made. This ineffective prosecution demonstrates the weakness in Thai criminal law as there is no reference made to legal obligation against forced disappearances.
FORUM-ASIA welcomes the comments made in early March 2007 by interim prime minister General Surayud Chulanont to the Ministry of Justice for the possible setting up of the “special committee to prosecute violations of human rights and extra judicial killings” during 2001-2006.
However, we call upon the Thai government to bring the perpetrators to justice and stress the importance of the ratification of the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which states that “no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearances”.
We also call for the draft of the new constitution to include accountability by perpetrators of forced disappearances and the immediate lifting of the Emergency Decree. Implementing these recommendations will be steps that reflect the Thai government’s commitment to change the culture of impunity and establish the rule of law.
For further information, please contact Pokpong Lawansiri, +662 391 8801/ pong at forum-asia.org.