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Thai rights defender receives ‘Asia’s Nobel Prize’ in Manila

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By Coconuts Bangkok Sep 10, 2019 | 11:17am Bangkok time

Angkhana Neelapaijit in a 2018 photo. Photo: Angkhana Neelapaijit / Facebook

A Thai human rights champion was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for her tireless campaign to reform the law and bring justice to Thailand while searching for her missing husband.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, who was propelled into activism after her husband was abducted and presumed murdered 15 years ago, received what’s considered the Asian Nobel Prize yesterday in Manila.

The committee cited her success in convincing Thailand to sign onto an international convention banning enforced disappearances, though legislation to make it domestic law has stalled. Her husband, Somchai Neelapaijit, was a Thai-Muslim human rights lawyer last seen being abducted in Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng area in 2004. At the time, he was pursuing allegations of torture carried out by the Thai military in a case that precipitated violence that has not subsided in 15 years, 

Angkhana was a housewife at the time. Now 63, she’s never given up seeking justice for Somchai. She was elevated to the National Human Rights Commission, where she was its strongest voice until resigning recently from the body which had been hollowed out and marginalized during five years of junta rule.

She chairs the Working Group for Justice and Peace, which investigates allegations of abuse by security forces in the Deep South. In 2006 she was awarded Korea’s Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

Other recipients Monday in Manila included South Korean anti-bullying activist Kim Jong-ki, independent Myanmar reporter Ko Swe Win, Indian reporter Ravish Kumarand Filipino musician Ryan Cayabyab.

It was the 61st time the Ramon Magsaysay awards have been conferred. Established in 1958, the awards celebrate “greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia” to solving “some of the most intractable problems of human development.” They’re named for the Philippine’s third post-war president.


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