BANGKOK (11 March 2016) – Twelve years ago, prominent Thai human rights defender and lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit disappeared, last seen forced into a car with a group of men in Bangkok. Thailand’s leaders have admitted government involvement and pledged action in the case, but with little result. Somchai’s family and friends have themselves become victims in their painful pursuit of truth and justice.
At an event to mark the anniversary of Somchai’s disappearance, OHCHR’s acting regional representative Laurent Meillan expressed concern about the way the case has been handled and urged the Thai government to address the issue of enforced disappearances:
“The disappearance case of Somchai underlines the challenges faced by the police and judiciary in Thailand to establish
the truth and deliver justice in sensitive and complex human rights cases.
Our Office has been following this case closely for 12 years and we, along with many other friends – some of them present on the podium today – have supported the family during their painful journey for truth and justice.
It is important to remember that there is not just one victim in this case. Somchai’s wife, children, other relatives and close friends are also victims. And they are not alone. Sadly, there are many other families in the same situation in Thailand.
As our High Commissioner stated early this year in the case of Somchai, “Families of those who have disappeared have the
right to know the truth regarding the disappearance of their kin, as well as any progress and the results of investigations”.
The lack of accountability and decisive and sustained efforts to search for the truth has left a deep sense of mistrust
in the justice system – a concern that reaches beyond the victims and extends to society at large. At this juncture,
it is now time for the Thai Government to take a bold step and reach out to the victims, and
to adopt legislation concerning enforced disappearances, in line with international standards.
As we mark the anniversary of Somchai’s disappearance, it is another opportunity to reiterate that we will continue to seek answers from relevant authorities. Establishing the whereabouts of Khun Somchai and bringing the perpetrators to justice will remain important elements of the human rights agenda of UN human rights Office in Thailand.
The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has repeatedly expressed its concerns on Somchai case. It has repeatedly urged the Government of Thailand to continue to investigate his disappearance, to establish the truth and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Working Group has also requested to make an official visit to Thailand. Such a visit could help the Government of Thailand in finding solutions to resolving this case, and to ensure something like this never happens again. Thailand is yet to respond on the Working Group request for visit. It is important to continue to advocate for the Government to invite the independent Working Group to visit Thailand.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision on 29 December 2015, our High Commissioner Zeid expressed his concern about the case. He stressed that the judiciary failed to take into account that the Civil Court declared Somchai missing and that important evidence was not taken into consideration in the case. The HC also stated that the “judiciary’s role is not only to interpret laws and procedures but also to protect and defend their citizens’ rights” and that the Supreme Court of Thailand missed an opportunity to protect the rights of the victims to truth, justice and redress in cases of involuntary and enforced disappearance.”
One of the two biggest challenges posed by this case are that (1) the lack of transparency at the early stage of the investigation undermined the whole process and (2) enforced disappearance is not a crime in Thailand which makes it difficult for the family to take legal action.
However, recently, there have been some positive signs that changes are afoot in this regard. A draft law on enforced
disappearances is currently under consideration with the Cabinet. We have urged the government on several occasions to
enact this new law. It would be a crucial first step in solving cases of disappearances in Thailand.
Thailand signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012 but
is yet to ratify it. It is important that Thailand now ratifies the Convention as it will provide an additional
international mechanism for the victims to pursue the search for their loved ones, and call for accountability.
When Thailand was reviewed by UN human rights bodies in Geneva (CAT and 1st UPR) the disappearance issue in Thailand
and particularly the case of Somchai was systematically raised. During the UPR review, several member states called
n the Government to establish the whereabouts of Somchai and bring the perpetrators to justice. At that time,
Thailand made a voluntary pledge to align its criminal law in line with the Convention for the Protection of
All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. It also agreed to ratify the CED and to criminalize enforced disappearance.
In May 2015, in response to the UN Committee against Torture, the Government stated that the case is still in the
process of investigation by the Department of Special Investigation, Ministry of Justice, and Mrs. Angkana Neelapaijit
is protected under the witness protection program of the Department of Special Investigation. The Government also
reiterated its assurance to investigate this case without interference and to bring the perpetrator to justice.
These promises and commitments must now be followed by concrete efforts and tangible results. I think this is the
only way to regain the trust of victims for past failures to address their rights.
Thailand is also undergoing its second Universal Periodic Review in May this year. It is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its willingness to take significant steps in addressing disappearance cases. This would include: ratification of
the Convention on Disappearances, enactment of the law on disappearances, transfer of all cases of disappearances to the
Department of Special Investigation for special investigation, extend an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced
Disappearances and DSI to conduct a comprehensive review of the case.
We see these as eminently achievable goals. By undertaking such measures, the Government will show it values transparency, and will serve to strengthen Thailand’s mechanisms to address disappearances in accordance with international human rights law.
I will conclude by reaffirming OHCHR’s solidarity with all the victims. Their continued suffering is living
proof that enforced disappearance is a continuous offence and a violation of their human rights until the fate
or whereabouts of the victim is clarified.”