THAILAND: Former DSI chief must be interrogated over human rights cases too
The committee appointed to hunt for corrupt deals done by the previous government of Thailand has called for the former head of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) under the Ministry of Justice to appear before it on Wednesday, December 13. It is seeking answers from Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat in relation to his department's inquiries into the purchase of bomb scanners for the new international airport.
In fact, Pol. Gen. Sombat probably has answers to a lot more outstanding questions than just those about the scanners. Not least of all, he can probably tell who abducted and killed human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, and who killed environmentalists Charoen Wat-aksorn and Phra Supoj Suwajo, among others, and perhaps give information needed to secure fresh arrests.
In Pol. Gen. Sombat's time as DSI boss, from 2004 until November 2006, not one human rights case was solved. Under his watch, the DSI, which was initially a cause of hope for human rights advocates and persons in Thailand seeking justice who could not turn to the police, instead became a de facto police agency. The department did everything it could to avoid taking up human rights cases: only under intense public pressure did it accept a handful out of the many brought to its attention that fit its criteria for investigation. Then it sat on them.
There is much to suggest that the DSI obstructed investigations where the police were among the accused. Pol. Gen. Sombat and his immediate subordinates stand accused of having personally thwarted the investigation into the disappearance of Somchai, and there are organisational links between them and the five police charged in connection with his abduction, one of whom was convicted. Some of the outstanding questions over the investigation of that case include: Was the chain of command from the five accused officers upwards ever investigated? Which senior officers are implicated in the lawyer's disappearance? Why were the former prime minister and members of his cabinet not themselves summoned for questioning after admitting that they had heard things about the case? Why did Pol. Gen. Sombat handle the case personally? What exactly did he do in more than one year that he had the case in his hands? All of these questions, and many others, demand answers that only the former department head can give.
Before being removed from his post, Pol. Gen. Sombat sought to re-enter the police force, but he was not wanted. The Asian Human Rights Commission notes with concern that he is now a deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice. This should not be. A government ministry is not a dumping ground for unwanted police officers, and Pol. Gen. Sombat has done nothing to earn his new posting. He and his immediate subordinates deserve nothing less than dismissal from office: at best they have completely failed in their duties; more than likely they have perverted the course of justice and stood as one of the great obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights in Thailand in recent years.
For these reasons and many others besides, Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat must be interrogated over much more than some bomb scanners: he must be questioned over the human rights cases that for years have languished when it was his responsibility to have them solved. He must at last be called to account for the years of false hopes and misrepresentation to the families and friends of victims whose cases his department either botched or sabotaged. There are many more questions waiting for answers. Let him be called to speak on these too.