In demanding that Thailand outlaw so-called “enforced disappearances” and fully probe the cases of 82 missing people, the U.N.’s human rights chief Wednesday highlighted the case of a lawyer from the country’s restive Deep South who vanished 12 years ago.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on the Thai government to pass a law that would prohibit such disappearances, as well as undertake “decisive and sustained efforts” in investigating the cases of the 82 who disappeared nationwide since 1980.
“All of the families of those who have disappeared have the right to know the truth regarding the disappearance of their kin, as well as any progress and the results of investigations,” Zeid said in a statement issued from his office in Geneva.
The high commissioner in particular criticized the Thai Supreme Court’s acquittal on Dec. 29, 2015, of five police officers who had been implicated in the abduction of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit from a Bangkok street on March 12, 2004. The court ruled that the evidence against the defendants was too weak.
Somchai was never seen again. He was representing five Muslim men from the Deep South who had been arrested under martial law and who alleged that their military interrogators had tortured them. The five were accused of being separatists who had looted a military barracks.
In commenting on the outcome in that case, Zeid said the Thai judiciary had failed to consider a civil court’s declaration that Somchai had gone missing and important evidence had also not been examined, according to a press release from the high commissioner’s office.
“The judiciary’s role is not only to interpret laws and procedures but also to protect and defend their citizens’ rights. The Supreme Court of Thailand missed an opportunity to protect the rights of the victims to truth, justice and redress in cases of involuntary and enforced disappearance,” Zeid said.
Although Thai officials have vowed to do something about alleged human rights violations, enforced disappearances in Thailand are still a serious problem, his office said.
“The Thai authorities have a responsibility to ensure victims get all the help they need in finding their loved ones, to ensure the fair prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and to commit to stamping out the deplorable act of enforced disappearances,” Zeid added.
Because Thailand’s has no law criminalizing enforced disappearances, the five men implicated in Somchai’s abduction were tried in 2004 for robbery and assault.
In 2006, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which went into effect in 2010.
So far, 51 countries have ratified the convention. Thailand signed it in January 2012, but has yet to ratify it.
Police Maj. Ngern Thongsuk, one of the men charged with robbing and assaulting Somchai, was sentenced in 2006. Ngern later disappeared in a stream in Pitsanuloke province while out on bail, according to relatives who filed a formal police report.
In March 2011, an appeals court acquitted all five defendants, including Ngern, citing unreliable and conflicting testimony from witnesses.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, Somchai’s wife, told BenarNews on Wednesday that she had petitioned the Department of Special Investigation, to reinvestigate her husband’s case in March 2015.
“DSI officials said they would contact witnesses for clue and would discuss with me when they could establish sufficient evidence,” said Angkhana, a member of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission.