AFAD Statement on
8th Anniversary of Somchai Neelaphaijit’s Disappearance
12 March 2012
Enforced Disappearance in Thailand must end Now!
Eight years have passed but truth and justice for the disappeared prominent Thai human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit still remain very elusive. Mr. Somchai Neelaphaijit was forcibly disappeared on 12 March 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. At the time of his disappearance, Mr. Somchai was working on torture cases committed by Thai security officers in the southern province of Thailand, which was then placed under martial law.
Despite efforts of Atty. Neelaphaijit’s family to bring his case at the national and international attention and to put those responsible to the bar of justice, only one of the five police officers who were arrested and prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the disappearance was convicted to a three-year imprisonment in January 2006. What added insult to injury was the verdict of Appeal Court on 11 March 2011, which suddenly reversed the decision of the Court of First Instance for lack of sufficient evidence and ruled that the wife and children of Somchai Neelaphaijit are not eligible to exercise their rights as the aggrieved party. This decision is nothing but a denial of his family’s right to uncover the truth and to seek justice.
Although the Appeal Court’s ruling is now under review of the Supreme Court and the Department of Special Investigation have continued the investigation to gather more evidence to make it a murder case, it is evident that the Thai justice system remains ineffective in securing accountability and ending impunity. The difficulties of gathering evidence and procedural mechanisms indicate the need for a domestic legislation defining and penalizing the crime of enforced disappearance and providing reparations and rehabilitation to victims and their families.
Enforced or involuntary disappearance remains one of the major human rights concerns in Thailand and in many Asian countries today. Based on the 2011 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the first thematic UN body created in 1982 to monitor the incidences of enforced disappearances worldwide, it is happening in 83 countries. Many of these cases occur in almost 30 countries of Asia, a continent that has the highest number of cases submitted to the UNWGEID. Worse still, Asia lacks a strong regional mechanism for redress and is bereft of domestic laws penalizing disappearance as a separate and autonomous criminal offense.
The Justice for Peace Foundation (JOF) of Thailand has documented over 90 cases of enforced disappearance that took place between 1991 and 2010. The actual number of cases, though, may even be more as many disappearance cases are still underreported and undocumented. This shows that enforced or disappearances are not only difficult to investigate and prosecute. They persist to recur especially because perpetrators of this horrendous offense can easily escape from the criminal accountability.
In case of enforced disappearance, not only the direct victims suffer but their families, too. Their suffering is compounded by the fear and uncertainty created by the lack of resolution of these cases and the constant harassment and threats to their lives.
Today, as we join the family, friends and colleagues of Atty. Somchai Neelaphaijit in remembering his life and works in defending the rights of others, we also take this opportunity to call on the Thai government to immediately ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. While the Thai government has already took a positive step in addressing this abominable practice by signing of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on 9 January 2012, it still needs to ratify this new treaty and to pass domestic laws that will concretely implement its provisions. Corollary to this is the imperative for the Thai government to recognize the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
Doing so will not only exact the injustice committed against Somchai’s and his family but for the whole Thai nation to finally find peace and stability through respect of human rights.
Justice for Atty. Somchair Neelaphaijit! Justice for all desaparecidos in Thailand and the rest of the world!
MARY AILEEN DIEZ-BACALSO
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Rms. 310-311 Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.,
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, 1103 Quezon City