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Twelve Years of Uncertainty is a Disgrace – 12 Years after Disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit

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(Geneva, 11 March 2016) – Tomorrow – 12 March 2016 – marks 12 years since Somchai Neelapaijit, a prominent human rights lawyer disappeared. The failure of the Thai authorities to unearth exactly what happened to him and where he is today, and the inability or unwillingness to bring those responsible to justice is a disgrace for the country. This inaction in large part is because Thailand has still not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED), despite the consistent calls from civil society groups. Failure to do this has left those who know what happened with the option to keep their mouths shut, and leave Somchai’s family and friends in the dark.

SomchaiNeelapaijit is a Thai human rights activist and lawyer, who defended the rights of suspects accused of security charges. At the time of his disappearance, he represented five members of Muslim communities in Thailand’s Southern provinces Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, who were accused of being involved in terrorism-related activities under martial law. Shortly after publicly accusing the police of torturing his clients in prison, Somchai disappeared on 12 March 2004. According to eye-witnesses he was forced into a car by a group of individuals on Ramkhamhaeng Road in Bangkok, after which he has not been seen again.

Five police officers were arrested and prosecuted for their alleged involvement, but only for robbery and coercion. Four of them were acquitted and only one of them received a three-year prison sentence. In 2011, the Appeals Court ruled all five not guilty, a decision that was upheld at the end of last year by the Supreme Court.

Since Thailand has not ratified the ICPPED, and consequently has not enacted any domestic laws in line with the Convention, suspects cannot be charged with homicide until remains are found. So while unofficial statements have been made, among them by Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Prime Minister of Thailand, that Somchai was killed, no charges have ever been made. No one has ever been forced under oath to tell the truth about what happened, nor has anyone been truly held responsible.

The Thai Government pledged in 2008 before the United Nations Human Rights Council “to do its utmost and leave no stone unturned in order to bring to justice the case of Mr Somchai.” Clearly those promises have been empty. The Thai authorities should do everything in their power to make good on those promises, to begin with by ratifying the ICPPED and criminalising enforced disappearance in the country. Twelve years of uncertainty is inhumane. Somchai, his family and friends, and all other victims of disappearances have waited long enough.