You will be familiar with the case of Somchai Neelaphaijit, the human rights lawyer who was forcibly disappeared in Bangkok on the night of 12 March 2004 after he had publicly alleged that five of his clients were tortured. The Criminal Court, former prime minister and head of the Council for National Security have all acknowledged that state agents were responsible for his disappearance, although to date only one police officer has been convicted.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has been concerned by this incident and its implications for the last three years. Last year we recognised Mr. Somchai with the 2nd Asian Human Rights Defender Award, at a ceremony in Bangkok attended by members of his family, those of other victims of disappearance and extrajudicial killing, human rights defenders and many other concerned persons.
We have pointed out from the beginning that the government of Thailand bears unequivocal responsibility for the forced disappearance of Mr Somchai: first, because it is obliged to investigate cases of human rights abuse within its country’s borders and provide redress for victims; and secondly, because where the alleged perpetrators are themselves state officers it has a special burden to find out who they were, what they did, and how their peers may be prevented from committing similar abuses in the future. So far, despite many rhetorical commitments, the government of Thailand has failed in this obligation to Mr Somchai, his family and the wider society.
However, apart from legal obligations, there are many other ways that the state can acknowledge its responsibility. One important way is through public symbols.
The struggle for human rights has been rightly characterised as the struggle of memory against forgetting. The value of a public symbol is found both in the acknowledgment of a past wrong as well as in the determination to not allow similar wrongs to occur again. From Korea to Sri Lanka, the Philippines to India, special sites have been allocated for human rights symbols. In Thailand, the October 14 Monument is both a statement of the past and a warning for the future. And communities have erected their own reminders of persons or events, such as the memorial to environmentalist Charoen Wat-aksorn in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
On this, the 3rd anniversary of his abduction, the Asian Human Rights Commission hereby requests the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to permit the construction of a marker in recognition of Somchai Neelaphaijit, and all disappeared persons in Thailand, on Ramkhamhaeng Road, Huamak, Bangkapi, Bangkok. We believe that this public symbol would serve as an important message about forced disappearances in Thailand, as well as a celebration of the struggle against injustice that characterised Mr Somchai’s life and which is continued to this day by countless other courageous human rights defenders throughout Asia. We also believe that it is important to locate the marker at or near the location where Mr Somchai was last seen in public, as this place has a special symbolic value that cannot be obtained elsewhere.
We expect that you will give serious consideration to this request and will also appreciate that allocating a small site for a maker, while a simple gesture on your part, would obtain much goodwill for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong