THAILAND: DSI director must be sacked and investigated

May 11, 2006

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

THAILAND: DSI director must be sacked and investigated

In a May 9 letter to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice in Thailand, the wife of disappeared human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit launched a scathing attack on the work of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and its head, Police General Sombat Amornwiwat. In her strongest criticism of the DSI handling of the case so far, Angkhana Neelaphaijit called for the ministry to remove Pol. Gen. Sombat from the inquiry into her husband’s March 2004 abduction. Angkhana said that she had become suspicious of Sombat’s role in the case, on at least three grounds.

1. There is evidence that the DSI director illegally helped the accused to get prosecution evidence with which to prepare their defence:

“The director general was a police officer in the position of Assistant Commissioner-General, Royal Thai Police. He also used to be the commander of the five defendants in Somchai’s case. So he might not be able to conduct the case impartially. In documentary evidence… it is stated that Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornwiwat brought the testimony of the prosecutor’s witnesses from the investigation files to the defendant… stating that ‘the defendants’ lawyers requested the court to call for the said document from the prosecutor, which the prosecutor then submitted. The defendants claimed to have submitted this document already as the defendant’s evidence which means that the document was already included in the investigation files that the investigation officers submitted to the prosecutor. Otherwise, there would not be the said document in the investigation files that the prosecutor meant to submit to the court.’ It was as if the five defendants were already aware of the testimony of the prosecutor’s witnesses through the police investigation before the police investigation files were submitted to the public prosecutor and before the public prosecutor’s witnesses appeared before the court.”

2. The DSI director has deliberately led the investigation into dead-ends:

“On 16 March 2006 the DSI told a press conference that the DSI would work together with the Central Institute of Forensic Science and divers in order to find important evidence regarding Somchai’s disappearance at the Mae Klong River, Ban Pong district, Ratchaburi Province. A whole 10 days of searching for evidence, and they found only a submerged barrel and bones… I have received [information…] that the DSI just made a performance of searching for evidence in the Mae Klong River. On 24 March 2006 I met the director general and asked about the grounds to make him believe that important evidence was left in the Mae Klong River and for what kind of evidence was he searching… [and] was he searching for other documentary evidence or any other material evidence? The director said that there was only circumstantial evidence… I, the media and the public who heard his answer may have the same thought that why did he send a team to search for evidence in the Mae Klong River when there was not any substantial evidence. The evidence that the director general mentioned could not be used as evidence in court.”

3. No proper investigation has been initiated into the telephone calls between the key accused and other police officers around the time of the abduction:
“It is more than 9 months since the case was transferred to the DSI. It is believed that there is no further inquiry of the telephone usage [of the accused police] with the police involved with the five defendants, especially the police which the police investigation on the [related] robbery charge had suspected might be involved with the Somchai disappearance as well, including those appearing on the police investigation report such as Pol. Col. Pisit Pisutthisak, Pol. Maj. Nopphadol Pankaew, Pol. Sgt. Maj. Mitra Keamsuban and Pol. Sgt. Maj. Kamnueng Korchalee.”

At the same time that Angkhana made this latest appeal, European Union interest in the case was also growing. In reply to April 10 questions by two Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission has said that 

“The Commission is concerned about the slow progress being made in the criminal investigation being conducted by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) into this case and in the judicial proceedings against the remaining four police officers involved in the case who have not been sentenced yet. The Commission is also concerned about the apparent threats that Mrs. Angkhana has been receiving. The EU is therefore proposing to focus on Mrs. Angkhana for its global campaign on Women Human Rights Defenders.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expresses appreciation for the initiative taken by the EU, particularly concerning the security of Angkhana Neelaphaijit, for which the government of Thailand has shown scant genuine regard. It also offers unqualified support for Angkhana in her demand that Pol. Gen. Sombat be taken off her husband’s case. The AHRC has consistently pointed to the failure of the DSI in this and all human rights cases it has worked on in Thailand. This so-called justice ministry department is–as Angkhana makes plain–being run by police, for police. Its work has made a mockery of wider aspirations for human rights in Thailand. Its director and his immediate subordinates are interested only in public relations. Their work is without substance. They have woven a web of lies and deceit around the victims of extrajudicial killing, torture and forced disappearance. They have poisoned a new institution that should have been a cause for hope, not dismay, among victims and relatives of gross human rights abuses. The DSI is an unmitigated human rights failure, and this failure is due in large part to its director and his cronies.  

One question from the European parliamentarians that remains unanswered is whether or not the European Commission has asked the government of Thailand as to why it has failed to solve Somchai’s abduction, despite repeated promises to do so. It is a question worth pursuing, as it leads straight to the role of the DSI and its director general, and through it to many wider systemic questions that need to be posed to the government of Thailand, and by its people. These include, how is it that an investigation under the justice ministry can be run by police who were the former superior officers of the accused? How is it that there is no sense of accountability or command responsibility in policing and investigating agencies in Thailand?

Such questions, if asked, may help some officials in Thailand to answer another question that they must be asking today: why didn’t Thailand get elected to the UN Human Rights Council? On May 9, the UN General Assembly selected countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka ahead of Thailand to be Asian representatives on the new body. So why not Thailand? The government seemed confident that unresolved mass killings, the systemic use of blacklists, deliberate unjustified delimiting of the judiciary and blanket impunity for state officers who have illegally killed, abducted or tortured people would not affect its chances. Obviously this is nonsense. 

Thailand’s international human rights reputation is today in tatters. One of the reasons for this is the government’s failure to properly address the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit, which has become known globally as a test case for justice versus impunity there. It follows that a first step to restoring this reputation will be for the authorities to take decisive and determined steps to demonstrate the possibility of justice over impunity, the rule of law over the rule of lords. Police General Sombat Amornwiwat must be sacked from his position as director general of the Department of Special Investigation. He must be criminally investigated with a view to laying charges against him if it is found that he has acted illegally to protect the defendants in a criminal case being handled by the department. He is a fraud and a charlatan. He has failed the victims of gross human rights abuses, their families and country. He must be removed. This much at least may restore some small amount of faith in the government of Thailand on human rights, and allow the DSI to at last begin the serious work with which it has been mandated, and which the people of Thailand deserve. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-104-2006
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Administration of justice, Enforced disappearances and abductions,