THAILAND: Please raise question of forced disappearances in Thailand with visiting Deputy Prime Minister

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is pleased to write to you today on the historic occasion of the first police officer in Argentina being sentenced to jail last Friday, August 4 for having committed forced disappearances. As you will be aware, the news of Julio Simon’s imprisonment nearly 27 years after he committed the offence, has been greeted with praise worldwide, as was the decision of the Supreme Court in Argentina to outlaw the amnesties given to Simon and his fellow perpetrators who committed so many brutal atrocities throughout the 1970s and 80s. 

Unfortunately, for countless thousands in many countries of Asia, the sorts of atrocities visited upon you and your people over two decades ago are part of their daily experiences now, in 2006. For thousands of others, past forced disappearances and related abuses have never been revealed, or have not been prosecuted. In fact, in this respect your country and region is far ahead of our own. 

It is from this position that we look to you for leadership and a strong moral position, not least of all in view of your personal experiences both as a prisoner of conscience for seven years and later as executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Secretary for Human Rights back in Argentina. ?lt;br />
It is therefore timely that the Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Dr Surakiart Sathirathai, has announced that he is due to visit both your country and Peru, as both are members of the UN Security Council at a time that Dr Surakiart is bidding to become UN Secretary General. 

The number of forced disappearances is growing in Thailand, particularly in the south, where institutionalised impunity, bad policing, counter-insurgency operations and the denial of justice have combined with disastrous consequences. However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that abductions and disappearances have occurred in virtually all parts of the country at one time or another without any attempt to address them by the government, or afford effective redress to the victims’ families. 

The United Nations has spoken firmly about the practice of forced disappearances in Thailand, but unfortunately the government of Thailand has so far ignored the observations of its officials and bodies. Specifically, in 2005 the treaty body monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee, recommended investigations of gross human rights abuses in the country and the bringing of emergency regulations in force in the south into line with international law. None of these things have been done, nor is there any evidence of intent, although Thailand has committed itself to comply with the covenant. In July 2006 the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings said that the emergency regulations make “impunity look like the official policy” of the government. He has repeatedly requested to visit Thailand but has been ignored. For its part, the UN Working Group on disappearances has received and followed a growing number of cases from Thailand with concern, although the number remains small due to the persistent intense fear among the families that they will face retribution if they complain, particularly to international agencies. 

Nor has the government of Thailand paid any heed to the recommendations or suggestions of knowledgeable domestic bodies and individuals. At the national level, the present acting director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science under the Ministry of Justice has for years been intent upon setting up a missing persons centre, but no such centre has been established due to efforts against her and her idea from within the bureaucracy and police force. Her agency has also been unable to exhume over 400 unidentified bodies that have been located in graves scattered around the southern provinces due to intense efforts by various local and national authorities to thwart her investigations. And also with reference to the south, the government in 2005 set up a special National Reconciliation Commission to look into the causes of violence in the south and propose remedies. The commission in May 2006 presented its findings to the government, pointing to the failed justice system and militarisation as primary causes for the ongoing abductions, killings and torture there. Again there is no evidence that its recommendations will ever be implemented, and the commission’s chairman, a former prime minister, has himself expressed scepticism and called on the public to press the government for action. 

As a consequence, there has never been a successful prosecution of anyone for a forced disappearance in Thailand. Neither is there a law to address such acts, and nor has there been any satisfactory conviction for anyone under a related provision. In 2005, one police officer out of five accused over the abduction of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit from his car on the night of 12 March 2004 was sentenced to three years in prison for coercion; he is appealing the sentence and has been freed on bail. The court stated unequivocally that Somchai was abducted, and various authorities up to the prime minister have admitted that it was by the police. But the perpetrators are all free. Somchai’s wife has most recently refused to accept the equivalent of USD 2500 compensation for her husband’s loss, saying that she will not rest until she obtains justice through the courts. This, I am sure, is a familiar sentiment to you in Argentina. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission has for years been of the opinion that forced disappearances anywhere are a matter of government policy. As in your country, here in Asia routine abductions and killings have occurred and continue to occur because governments encourage, abet and organise them. This is true of Thailand today. 

We ask that you, as a senior figure from a country that is leading the field in addressing past injustices, and yourself with a committed and respected human rights background, raise the matter of forced disappearances in Thailand directly with its caretaker deputy prime minister when he visits. We ask that you seek commitments from the deputy prime minister that his government will comply with its international obligations and cooperate with UN experts and rights bodies. We ask that you raise questions about why it established a commission to reconcile the parties to conflict in the south and then ignored its findings, and why it has given no support to the establishing of a much-needed missing persons centre. We ask that you specifically raise the case of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit and the failed investigation into his abduction by the police. And we ask you to request a promise from the caretaker deputy prime minister that his government will join the new UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance when it falls open for signature in the near future, and make domestic laws to comply with its provisions. 

We feel confident that you share our concerns and look forward to your intervention on these important matters. 

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong 

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-043-2006
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions, State of emergency & martial law,