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UN experts demand truth and justice 20 years after the enforced disappearance of Somchai

Thailand must reveal the fate and whereabouts of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit who was forcibly disappeared 20 years ago, UN experts* said today (11 March).

“Thai authorities must comply with the country’s international obligations, investigate this crime and hold perpetrators of Somchai’s enforced disappearance criminally responsible,” the experts said.

Mr. Somchai Neelapaijit, a human rights defender and senior member of two lawyers’ associations in Thailand, was allegedly forcibly disappeared on 12 March 2004. It is believed that his disappearance was related to his work as a lawyer defending Muslim minorities in southern Thailand. No one has been held accountable for his enforced disappearance.

“The case is glaringly emblematic of adverse and long-lasting impacts of an enforced disappearance on family members of the victims. It is a violation of their absolute rights to truth and justice,” the experts said.

Mr. Somchai’s wife, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit and their five children were left in anguish after his enforced disappearance and the lack of knowledge about his fate and whereabouts.

“Refusing to succumb to despair after her husband’s enforced disappearance, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit has undertaken a tireless quest for truth and justice as a human rights defender for the past 20 years,” the experts said.

Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit is a nurse, with no previous experience or training in law or judicial procedures.

“Women are often at the forefront of the struggle against enforced disappearance: they form organisations and associations to find their loved ones and overcome unspeakable obstacles, breaking down stereotypes and eliminating gender hierarchies,” the experts said.

“Ms. Neelapaijit became a torchbearer for the right to truth and she remains a source of inspiration,” they said.

In 2005, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit reported her husband’s case to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the case remains outstanding in its docket. In her attempts to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of her husband and obtain justice, she has faced threats and reprisals, but refuses to give up to clarify the fate and whereabouts of her husband, but also of thousands of other victims in Thailand and worldwide. The threats and reprisals faced by Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit and the need to ensure her protection were raised by Special Procedures in 2011, 2014 and 2023 with Thai authorities.

In 2022, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit became the first Asian woman member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. “Ms. Neelapaijit’s presence in the Working Group is of extreme significance for all relatives of disappeared persons across the globe and conveys a powerful message of resilience and hope,” the experts said.

“Twenty years have passed. Truth, justice and redress in the case of the enforced disappearance of Mr. Somchai Neelapaijit can and must be achieved without further delay,” the experts said.

The experts: Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi, Working group on discrimination against women and girls; Olivier de Frouville (Chair), Matar Diop (Vice Chair), Milica Kolakovic-Bojovic (Vice Chair), Horacio Ravenna (Vice chair), Juan Pablo Albán Alencastro (Rapporteur), Mohammed Ayat, Suela Janina, Fidelis Kanyongolo, Barbara Lochbihler, and Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Committee on Enforced Disappearances 

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