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As the 20th anniversary of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit's disappearance approaches without justice or truth for his family, Amnesty International Thailand's regional researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong says cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand highlights its culture of impunity and calls on the Thai authorities to take steps to ensure accountability and redress for all victims of enforced disappearance before seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

A neon sign of Somchai displayed at today's event marking the 20th anniversary of his disappearance.

Ahead of the 20-year anniversary of the enforced disappearance of prominent human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, Amnesty International’s Regional Researcher for Thailand Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said:

“Over the past two decades, the Thai authorities have utterly failed to provide justice, truth or reparation to Somchai and his family. This case and many others involving enforced disappearances highlight an entrenched culture of impunity in a country that is now trying to join the UN Human Rights Council.

“Since Somchai disappeared in Bangkok, twenty years have passed with few answers, even fewer signs of hope, and a long list of attempts to silence, dissuade or intimidate his family members for campaigning for justice.

“By failing to hold those suspected of criminal responsibility to account and by neglecting his family’s right to receive full reparations and terminating the witness protection program, it is clear that victims of enforced disappearances cannot fully rely on the Thai authorities and that perpetrators may not need to pay for their crimes.

“It has been more than a year since the Thai government has enacted a domestic law criminalising enforced disappearance. But with a lack of cases on enforced disappearance reaching the court, the law is quickly becoming no better than the paper it is written on.

“If Thailand wants to join the UN Human Rights Council as a respected member, it must meet many more of its obligations under international human rights law. While its own law was a good first step, it must take concrete steps to ensure accountability and redress for all victims of enforced disappearance. It also needs to finally ratify, without any reservations, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearance to receive and consider communications from victims and other states parties to show genuine commitments to combatting this crime under international law.”

Background

Human rights lawyer, former Deputy Head of the Human Rights Commission of Thailand’s Lawyer Council and former President of the Muslim Lawyers Club, Somchai Neelapaijit disappeared in the Ramkhamhaeng area of Bangkok on 12 March 2004. The human rights defender remains missing to this day.

Five police officers were arrested shortly after Somchai’s disappearance for allegedly coercing him into their car but were acquitted by the Supreme Court in December 2015. With no definitive answer to Somchai’s whereabouts, his family were unable to step in as plaintiffs on his behalf and the verdict denied their standing in court.

Somchai is a renowned activist who advocated for the rights of Malay Muslims, including individuals who were a subject to torture and other ill-treatment in military detention in Thailand’s southern border provinces. He was especially vocal against the declaration of Martial Law in the region, which grant authorities sweeping powers to detain people for seven days in military custody without charge.

Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelapaijit, continues to raise the issue of enforced disappearances as a human rights defender. She is a current member of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance and has previously held a role as national human rights commissioner.

Her activism has been met with threats of violence, both online and offline. Despite her situation, Angkhana’s witness protection program was paused by the Criminal Court in October 2022 due to the court case on Somchai’s disappearance concluding a long time ago.

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