THAILAND: Department of Special Investigation or Department of Sporadic Interest?

Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) again appears to have lost interest in the case of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. After local human rights defenders obtained the cooperation of the Central Institute of Forensic Science to search an area of the Mae Klong River in Ratchaburi Province during late March, the DSI director-general, Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornwiwat, tried to look like he is still working hard on the case, which the outgoing prime minister promised would be solved by the end of February. The river investigation didn’t turn up anything conclusive, but there are plenty of other leads that the DSI could follow if its director was sincerely trying to find out what happened to Somchai on the night of 12 March 2004. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence of that. The victim’s wife, Angkhana Neelaphaijit, has again voiced dissatisfaction in the erratic work of the DSI, and has said that it is no better than any other investigation agency in Thailand. Pol. Gen. Sombat reportedly defended his reputation by saying that the DSI had been busy investigating corruption in purchases of fire trucks and didn’t have time for the Somchai case until recently.


That reported remark speaks volumes about the DSI director’s priorities. Pol. Gen. Sombat has no interest in human rights cases. His department is therefore a human rights failure. Whereas it was set up under the Ministry of Justice with a view to counterbalancing the enormous powers of the police in Thailand, it has not done this. Its director, himself a police general, protects the police. He is not known to have taken on a single human rights case that has not first had enormous publicity, forcing a reaction. And none of the human rights cases taken by the DSI have been successfully investigated. The masterminds and most perpetrators behind the abduction of Somchai, those behind the killings of environmentalists Charoen Wat-aksorn and Phra Supoj Suwagano, and the torturers of Ekkawat Srimanta have all escaped justice with thanks to the DSI.


The Asian Human Rights Commission fully supports and shares Angkhana’s frustration with the DSI, and with its unprofessional, part-time and disinterested work on the disappearance of her husband. It realises too that Angkhana is voicing the frustrations of all those family members of human rights victims whose cases lie dormant, perhaps dead, with the DSI. The department has dashed their expectations. Within two short years, it has become a place without hope for persons struggling hard for human rights in Thailand. They now know that it will do a little song and dance each time the lights are turned on, but after attention is turned elsewhere, it will be gone too. Under Sombat, the Department of Special Investigation might be better named the “Department of Sporadic Interest”: if there is enough media attention and pressure on a human rights case from outside, the DSI perks up long enough to look busy, before turning back to more serious matters, like fire trucks.


The case of Somchai Neelaphaijit has now gone to the European Union. The government of Thailand should understand that the stakes are getting higher. The longer the DSI plays games, the more the government will have to lose. Whoever is in charge of the incoming administration should turn over a new leaf and make an earnest commitment to human rights. The opening step must be to sack the head of the Department of Special Investigation, Pol. Gen. Sombat, and appoint someone to this important post with a track record in public administration who does not share his apparent sympathy for the perpetrators of human rights violations. Only then might Angkhana Neelaphaijit and other family members of victims and human rights defenders again turn to the DSI for help. Only then might we hope that the department will take human rights seriously, and approach human rights cases with the sustained determination and application of personnel and resources needed to be a success.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-077-2006
Countries : Thailand,
Campaigns : Somchai Neelaphaijit
Issues : Administration of justice, Enforced disappearances and abductions, Human rights defenders,