THAILAND: Attempt to abduct human rights commissioner and Thailand’s role in the UN Human Rights Council

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you further to open letters to the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Lawyers Council of Thailand regarding the apparent lack of a response from the government of Thailand to the alleged attempt to abduct a member of the NHRC, Vasant Panich, who is also the head of the Subcommittee on Legislation and Administration of Justice, on 28 June 2006.

As you may be aware, on June 27 and 28, Mr. Vasant received many strange calls on a number of telephones, including private numbers. His car was allegedly followed on June 28, and he and his wife had to take a number of taxis to reach the NHRC office. In the course of the journey the first driver behaved oddly, causing them to switch taxis. The second taxi appears to have been followed by a silver minivan with tinted windows. On arrival at the office in a third taxi, the minivan was parked out front.

As Mr. Vasant worked on the now internationally-renowned case of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit he was alert to the pattern of phone calls and tailing vehicles which was reminiscent of that incident, and therefore took steps to foil what appeared to be a scheme to kidnap and perhaps kill him also. According to the latest information we have received from Mr. Vasant, he believes that he is still being followed and he is greatly concerned for his safety.

The disappearance of Mr. Somchai itself has left a deep and indelible stain on Thailand’s international reputation. The fact that the state has all but completely failed in its responsibilities to uncover the truth and secure justice, despite protestations to the contrary, only serves to raise persistent questions about the actual interests and concerns of the government of Thailand in addressing gross human rights abuses. As you will be aware, the European Union has now formally taken up the case as one of special concern, and adopted Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelaphaijit, as a “Woman Human Rights Defender” for her work not only on her husband’s case but with other families of disappeared persons.

The failure of the authorities in Thailand to address with any degree of credibility the abduction of Somchai Neelaphaijit as well as those others that in recent times have been brought to their attention has the consequence of encouraging the perpetrators of such acts to persist in their behaviour. The AHRC is of little doubt that in this most recent case, as in that of Somchai Neelaphaijit, state officers were involved in the operation with assurances from highly-placed persons that they would be protected. For as long as such incidents remain uninvestigated and the government of Thailand fails to indicate that they will not be tolerated, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and other related gross abuses will continue in Thailand.

Ironically, the alleged attempt to abduct Mr. Vasant came at the very time that , to which you are Thailand’s observer/representative, was passing into international law the long-awaited Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. As Thailand failed to obtain a seat on the first council, which can be attributed in large part to the country’s deteriorating human rights record, you were not entitled to vote on the convention. However, as Thailand has expressed strong support for the work of the council we presume that you stand in favour of this historic step for the global human rights movement.

Thailand has expressed its intention to seek a place on the Human Rights Council when some fall vacant next year. But how can a country in which even the official human rights commissioners are exposed to threats on their lives and these obtain no response from the government authorities expect to be a member of the international council for human rights? In fact, the very notion is absurd, as you yourself would be forced to admit.

Accordingly, for the sake of your country’s role in , and for the benefit of your own work, we urge you to communicate with the concerned authorities in Bangkok in order to ensure that proper action is taken to investigate and uncover this alleged plot to abduct Vasant Panich and hold the perpetrators fully responsible. You will understand your position: if this much cannot be done, your role at the council too will be rendered meaningless, and aspirations for a seat also will be proven fraudulent.

The Asian Human Rights Commission trusts that you will take this incident seriously and act upon it accordingly. The attempted abduction of an NHRC member is no joke. It is the responsibility of the state to respond. If the government of Thailand appoints persons to protect human rights then it too must protect them when they are placed at risk because of their officially-sanctioned duties. Failure to do the same implies that the state is failing to take precautions to avoid the collapse of its own institutions. Indeed, those who threaten human rights commissioners in this manner are also threatening the concept of the democratic state itself.

We trust that you will communicate your concerns on this case to your government and see to it that the necessary steps are urgently taken.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-027-2006
Countries : Thailand,
Campaigns : Somchai Neelaphaijit
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions, Human rights defenders,