THAILAND: If not Somchai’s bones, whose bones?

December 4, 2006

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

THAILAND: If not Somchai’s bones, whose bones?

According to a news report on the website of The Manager newspaper this Monday, December 4, Dr Khunying Porntip Rojanansunant, acting director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, has said that DNA tests conducted on some bones recently uncovered from a rubbish dump in Ratchaburi province, west of Bangkok, have revealed that the bones are not those of Somchai Neelaphaijit, the human rights lawyer abducted and disappeared by the police in March 2004. However, they have confirmed that the bones are from a human.

If not Somchai’s bones, then whose bones are these? Family members of other persons who had disappeared in the area during recent times have reportedly come forward offering to give samples of material from which to crosscheck with their own DNA. Whether or not there is a confirmed match, the questions that also follow are: how did they get there, and who was responsible?

The dump from where the bones were recovered is one of many places in Thailand where over the years the police and other security forces, and persons working with them or on their behalf, are believed to have disposed of the remains of people whom they have killed. Such locations can be found in every province of Thailand, from the northeast to the far south; from the west to the remote north. The number of persons whose remains have been disposed of in this manner is unknown; however, Porntip said in 2004 that her agency alone had annually received details of some one thousand unknown persons’ remains each year. It was this that led her to propose the establishment of a missing persons’ centre for Thailand: a proposal that has been repeatedly thwarted by the police and persons among her superiors in the justice ministry. Her attempts, together with other persons, to investigate over 400 unidentified graves in the southern provinces also were defeated by the workings of other government agencies intent upon concealing, rather than revealing, the truth. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) for its part received a letter from the governor of Narathiwat in August that went so far as to deny that such graves even existed.

Heavy denial is a common characteristic of any country or place where gross human rights abuses are routinely occurring. So it was in Somchai’s case, where at first it was denied that he had been abducted, then it was denied that he had been abducted by the police, then it was denied that any other part of government was involved, and then it was denied that the evidence exists with which to solve the mystery. So it was too with the hundreds of graves in the south, where it was denied that the graves existed, that they existed in such large numbers, that they would be the graves of Thai people (as opposed to Burmese or others from outside of the country), and that it was anything out of the ordinary that hundreds of unidentified graves could be found within a small area.

That disappearances remain a persistent problem in Thailand also has been illustrated in recent days by the apparent shooting and abduction of an environmentalist, Thanes Sodsri, again in Ratchaburi. Thanes, who had been leading villagers to protect forestland in the province, reportedly went missing from his house on December 1, where blood and bullet casings were found by investigators. These should serve as strong forensic evidence with which to begin an effective investigation into the crime: the AHRC joins calls of the victim’s family and fellow villagers, and the Thai Coalition for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, for a determined inquiry into the case leading to prompt recovery of the victim’s remains, assuming that he is dead, and prosecution of all of the alleged perpetrators, including any persons identified as being the instigators of the crime.

The Asian Human Rights Commission also calls for a serious inquiry to identify the as yet unidentified bones uncovered in the Ratchaburi rubbish dump, to establish whose bones these are, if not those of Somchai, and then to answer the questions as to how they got there and by whose hands. Answering these questions for one missing person may give hope to the families and friends of others that their questions too will finally be answered. Through slow and persistent work of this sort is absolutely necessary for the authorities and people of Thailand to address the high numbers of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other gross abuses of human rights that occur there daily, and in so doing, overcome the heavy denial that envelops these incidents.

The AHRC also calls for the government of Thailand to join the new UN Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as soon as it comes into effect later this year, permit independent forensic experts uninhibited access to all places believed to contain the remains of missing persons, establish an independent missing persons’ centre, and allow visits to the country by concerned UN experts, in particular, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, whose request for a visit has stood unanswered for two years. Together, these actions would demonstrate a genuine–not merely rhetorical–commitment to putting an end to killings and abduction by police, soldiers and other state officers in Thailand.


Document Type : Statement
Countries : Thailand,
Campaigns : Somchai Neelaphaijit
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions, Human rights defenders,