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Disappearance of Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit: Two years on, and no justice yet

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Two years after and in spite of repeated calls for independent and comprehensive investigations into the disappearance of Thai prominent lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit by his family, UN human rights experts, local, regional and international groups, Thai authorities have yet to answer the question: “Where is Somchai?”.Two years ago on 12 March 2004, prominent Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared after being forced into a car by a Thai police major, facts established by Thai criminal courts revealed. Somchai was the chairperson of Thailand’s Muslim Lawyers Association and vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of Thailand and was noted for fearlessly taking on sensitive cases, particularly from violence-prone Southern Thailand.

In spite of repeated calls for independent and comprehensive investigations into Somchai’s disappearance by his family, UN human rights experts, local, regional and international groups, Thai authorities have yet to answer the question: “Where is Somchai?” two years after his abduction.

Somchai’s case, which has received widespread local and international attention, demonstrates the inability or unwillingness of Thai authorities to protect human rights defenders, and provide redress in face of violations against defenders. Although Thailand is the only Asian country that extended an invitation to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, the recommendations from the visit in 2003 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are yet to be fully implemented. Somchai’s case clearly demonstrates this.

At the onset, the trial at the Criminal court was a disappointment. Initially, there were objections to his wife Ms Angkana Neelaphaijit being a plaintiff; these objections were later overruled. Then the only charges brought against the accused were for coercion and gang robbery. The trial process itself left much to be desired for such an important case and the sentencing of one person for three years has in no way indicated the seriousness of the crime committed. 

The Department of Special Investigation has announced that it had started its own investigations into the case, but despite the Thai Prime Minister himself publicly stating that investigations are expected to be concluded by February 2006, no results have been forthcoming.

Somchai’s case is intricately linked to the conflict in southern Thailand. Many southern Muslims will judge the Thai government’s political commitment to address Muslim concerns in a just and fair manner, by the way Somchai’s case is handled. Impunity for perpetrators is likely to fuel more violence in the southern provinces.  

Two years after Somchai’s disappearance, FORUM-ASIA reiterates its call to the Thai authorities to immediately pursue independent investigations, in order to establish “where Somchai is?” and what actually happened to him. Those responsible should be held accountable as soon as possible. 

Somchai’s disappearance highlights one of the many disappearances reported in southern Thailand, which needs to be addressed. The practice of enforced disappearances must be stopped immediately.  Criminalization of enforced disappearance in Thailand and support towards the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance will be indicators of the Thai government’s commitment to address this serious crime. 

For further details, please contact Ruki Fernando (66-4-0991538 / [email protected]), Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Program Coordinator.

Anselmo Lee
Executive Director