THAILAND: Challenges to justice in Thailand posed by abduction of Somchai Neelaphaijit will not disappear

This afternoon the Criminal Court in Bangkok will give its verdict on the guilt or innocence of five police charged in connection with the abduction and disappearance of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit on March 12, 2004. The five–Police Major Ngern Tongsuk, Police Lieutenant Colonel Sinchai Nimbunkampong, Police Lance Corporal Chaiweng Paduang, Police Sergeant Rundorn Sithiket and Police Lieutenant Colonel Chadchai Leiamsa-ngoun–stand accused of committing coercion & gang robbery under sections 309 & 340 of the Penal Code of Thailand, as there is no law prohibiting enforced disappearance there. All five have denied the charges.


The Asian Human Rights Commission has since the time of Somchai’s abduction and throughout the entire trial stressed the historic importance of this case. It is a case that has rightly captured the public attention and been kept alive through the intense scrutiny of many concerned groups and individuals both within the country and abroad. It is a case in which, despite the many flaws and limitations evident in the investigation and judicial process, ranking police officers have been brought before a court of law and forced to defend themselves. These achievements, however limited, deserve to be recognised.


Whatever the verdict today, the challenges posed by the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit will persist. Its consequences will continue to be felt and discussed for many years to come, both in Thailand and around the world. It is a case that is not limited to one person or incident or group of perpetrators. It is a case that stands as a challenge to the exercise of authority and direction of violence across a whole society. A system–its police, its judiciary, its administration–is in the dock.


What are the charges? The Thai police force is charged with demonstrating that it can enforce discipline within its ranks. Its judiciary is charged with demonstrating that it can ensure justice for its people. Its administration is charged with demonstrating that it can be held accountable for its errors. And the international community too has been charged. Outside agencies–including United Nations bodies and governments–must take a key role in working with the authorities in Thailand to meet these demands, and in pointing unashamedly to continued deficiencies.


The disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit has pricked the consciences of many, and brought greater awareness about the serious flaws in Thailand’s basic institutions to many more. His loss has brought about a partial awakening to these grave and deep-rooted defects, which must be directly addressed if other lives are to be saved. Such defects cannot be avoided. They trouble the lives of millions daily. Somchai is gone, but it is those who remain that are forced to deal with them, and for whom they are of abiding concern.


The challenges posed by the abduction of Somchai Neelapahijit will in no way disappear. There will be no rest until the question “where is Somchai?” has been fully answered, the perpetrators of his abduction and death have been held to account and the systemic impediments to the defence of human rights in Thailand finally removed.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-005-2006
Countries : Thailand,
Campaigns : Somchai Neelaphaijit
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions,