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Thailand: 82 Cases Of Enforced Disappearances Since 1980


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from The Nation, March 13, 2016 1:00 am


The Thai government should reopen the investigation of the enforced disappearance and presumed murder of a prominent Muslim human rights lawyer. The lawyer, Somchai Neelapaijit, was abducted in Bangkok 12 years ago. The government should make publicly available its information on Somchai’s fate and demonstrate its commitment to bringing those responsible for this heinous crime to justice.


"The Thai authorities' failure to treat Somchai's 'disappearance' as a likely abduction and murder undermines their credibility," said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. "Because Thailand doesn't recognise enforced disappearance as a crime, the authorities have avoided inquiring too closely into those who actually ordered Somchai's abduction and know what happened to him."


Somchai had been the chairman of Thailand's Muslim Lawyers Association and vice-chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of Thailand. On March 12, 2004, five alleged policemen pulled him from his car in Bangkok. He has not been seen since.


On January 13, 2006, then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra said that state officials were involved in Somchai's abduction and killing: "The DSI [Department of Special Investi-gation] is working on this case and murder charges are being considered. I know Somchai is dead, circumstantial evidence indicated that ... and there were more than four government officials implicated by the investigation." Yet since the Thai penal code does not recognise enforced disappearance as a criminal offence, prosecutors filed only assault, coercion, and robbery charges against the five police implicated in Somchai's abduction. They were not charged with murder because the authorities said they could find no evidence of Somchai's death. His body was never found.


On December 29, 2015, the Supreme Court acquitted the officers, largely due to shoddy police work in investigating the crime and collecting evidence. The court also ruled that Somchai's family could not act as a co-plaintiff because there was no concrete evidence that Somchai was dead or otherwise incapable of bringing the case himself.


HRW has urged successive Thai governments - most recently in a January letter to the current PM - to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to amend its penal code to make enforced disappearance a criminal offence. Thailand signed the Convention in January 2012, but has made little progress in ratifying the treaty.


Enforced disappearance is defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person's fate or whereabouts.


Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand. None of these have been successfully resolved. HRW and rights groups in Thailand believe that the actual number of such cases is higher due to some families of victims and witnesses remaining silent for fear of reprisal and because the government lacks an effective witness protection system.


The Thai authorities should take all necessary steps to stop the practice of enforced disappearances. Of particular concern is the military's use of secret detention facilities for dissenters and suspects in national security cases under section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution and the Martial Law Act of 1914.


Adams said: "Swift action is needed to stop future disappearances as each new case provides glaring proof of Thailand's human rights crisis."



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