[RE: FA-06-2004: THAILAND: A human rights lawyer Mr. Somchai Neelaphaijit missing… UP-20-2005: THAILAND: Human rights lawyer still missing after nearly one year; Action needed today to have case transferred; UP-24-2005: THAILAND: Thai minister refuses to act on missing human rights lawyer case; UP-37-2005: Thai PM orders action on missing human rights lawyer, while court hears of torture; UP-45-2005: Wife of missing human rights lawyer intimidated; UP-49-2005: THAILAND: Government commits to giving witness protection to missing lawyer’s family; UP-89-2005: THAILAND: Repeated failed commitment to assign Department of Special Investigation to Somchai case; UP-107-2005: THAILAND: Special call for observers to attend September 7, 8 & 9 court hearings over missing human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit… UP-130-2005: THAILAND: Constant changes of prosecuting attorneys in Somchai’s case undermine judicial process… UP-004-2006: THAILAND: Verdict in case of missing human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit due on January 12; UP-015-2006: THAILAND: Minister of Justice must clarify continued contradictions after verdict in Somchai Neelaphaijit case]
UP-050-2006: THAILAND: Serious developments in case of disappeared human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit
THAILAND: Disappearance; extrajudicial killing; attacks on human rights defenders; impunity
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been following closely the case of disappeared human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit. Over the course of the past two weeks, several serious issues have emerged that are of great concern as they could lead to the course of justice being obstructed and threaten the ultimate aim of finding Somchai’s remains and holding the perpetrators of his death accountable.
Security for wife of Somchai
The AHRC has received information that due to her active campaign to search for her husband and to ensure that justice is served on the alleged perpetrators of her husband’s disappearance, Mrs. Angkana Neelaphaijit was once again threatened on 21 March 2006. The threat came the day before she lodged a complaint against four police officers alleged to be responsible for her husband’s disappearance. According to Mrs. Angkhana, a man came to her house and warned her against traveling, saying that she should be careful since she might have an accident or find a bomb under her car. The AHRC has reason to believe this man was a state officer. If this is the case then it is a gross violation of Thailand’s commitment to international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 17 of the ICCPR states that no one should be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his/her privacy, family or home and if such interference occurs then they have a right to protection from the law in their State.
If Mrs. Angkhana or any of her family members were to be harmed in any way then this would have dire consequences for Thailand’s reputation at home and internationally. The stain of guilt would be on the Thai government for failing to provide adequate protection for Mrs. Angkhana and her family.
The AHRC notes that this is not the first time that Mrs. Angkhana has had serous threats against her life (please refer to UP-45-2005), given the high probability that more threats are going to ensue, the government of Thailand must take action to protect Mrs. Angkhana and her family.
The Ombudsman of Thailand
Mrs. Angkhana lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman of Thailand concerning the four defendants who were acquitted on January 12 for the robbery of Somchai. The four defendants are: Police Lieutenant Colonel Sinchai Nimbunkampong (defendant 2); Police Lance Corporal Chaiweng Paduang (defendant 3); Police Sergeant Rundorn Sithiket (defendant 4) and Police Lieutenant Colonel Chadchai Leiamsangoun (defendant 5). Mrs. Angkhana complained that under police regulations they should not be serving as police officers, as the criminal process against them is ongoing. However, defendants 2, 3 and 4 are seeking to return to their posts again.
What the AHRC has found most distressing is the fact that defendant 5 has been promoted to a higher position than before. In a letter dated 8 December 2005, Pol. Col. Rujiratna Lumbunrueng, Deputy Commander of the Crime Suppression Division, notified the Lawyers Council of Thailand that “currently Pol. Lt. Col. Chadchai Leiamsa-ngoun has been assigned by the Royal Thai Police under order no. 423/2548 dated 17 June 2005 to hold the position of Deputy Superintendent [level] 4] of the Crime Suppression Division, with effect from 30 June 2005″. This goes against the Thai police regulations that have provisions prohibiting police officers under investigation to return to their posts. Furthermore, under section 99 of the Civil Service Act BE 2535 (1992) it is the responsibility of the superior officer of a civil servant to ensure that discipline be maintained and regulations followed, and where breaches occur this could result in criminal liability for the superior. Thus, the head of CSD must adhere to the police regulations and ensure that all the defendants remain suspended until the investigations against them are settled.
Since defendant 5 is in an influential position there is fear that he can interfere with crucial evidence related to the Somchai case which would affect the case for the prosecution in their appeal and obstruct the course of justice. Therefore the Ombudsman must consider Mrs. Angkhana’s complaints and prevent the reinstatement of the defendants to their posts.
From experience, the AHRC has found the Ombudsman of Thailand unwilling in its investigation of complaints. The Ombudsman was created in 2000, however on occasions when the AHRC has requested the body to further investigate a case, it has refused to do so, based on a narrow interpretation of its mandate. Given the importance of this case, the Ombudsman must seriously consider its role in the promotion of justice and take appropriate action to place accountability on human rights violators.
The location of Somchai’s body and the role of the Department of Special Investigation
Ever since Somchai’s disappearance on 12 March 2004, there has been an ongoing search for his whereabouts. It was initially a search for Somchai, but it has evolved into a search for his body. The search has in reality been advanced by human rights defenders working together with the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS). On 9 March 2006, they went to an area in Ratchaburi Province that could have been where Somchai was brought after being abducted in Bangkok on 12 March. This was the location where the last telephone record of defendant 5 shows that he was in contact with some police officers in Ratchaburi. At the location, CIFS found two burning spots and some human bones. However, further tests need to be done to verify whether they belong to Somchai. The site is believed to have been used by the police to dispose of bodies on more than one occasion.
Furthermore, on March 17, at Mae Klong River in Ratchaburi Province, a piece of petrol tank was found with traces of fat and blood. Further tests need to be carried out to see whether the specimen is human or animal. What has frustrated the CIFS and the human rights defenders is the lack of involvement by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI). Although the head of DSI, Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornwiwat, is reported to have said that he would be present during the Mae Klong River investigations, he has not come. His staff members also have not taken the lead role expected of them, and appear to be much less aware of details of the case than they should be, pointing to their negligent investigation of the Somchai case.
It is the responsibility of the DSI to secure the site where the CIFS are conducting their investigations so that potential forensic evidence is not tampered with. The area must be cordoned off. However, the AHRC has not received confirmation of any protective action being taken by the DSI. Although in numerous Thai newspapers Pol. Gen Sombat has presented himself as taking an active role in the investigations our sources have revealed that the DSI has taken little initiative. For example, the site where bones and burn marks were identified has to our knowledge not been investigated by the DSI. There may be other possible sites for investigations; however, the DSI has done nothing to inquire about those locations
There have been reassurances by the DSI working in collaboration with the Navy’s Ordinance Department that a sonar scanner would be supplied to look for the drum along the river (please refer to Bangkok Post “Scanner to be used in search for Somchai” March 23, 2006). However, on March 23 Angkhana Neelaphaijit, staff of the CIFS, human rights defenders and media waited at the site for half the day and neither the promised scanner nor Pol. Gen. Sombat came.
Other aspects of investigation
The AHRC has become increasingly disappointed by the overall work–or lack of work–of the director general of the DSI, Pol. Gen. Sombat. As director it is his duty to ensure that the DSI fulfils its responsibility to impartially and effectively investigate violations of human rights and injustice in the interest of the public. However, according to many human rights defenders in Thailand, Pol. Gen. Sombat has acted to frustrate the Somchai case rather than further it. In particular, he has reportedly taken a personal role in the case–to its detriment–whereas in other serious cases taken up by the DSI the investigations are handled by Special Case Inquiry Officials and Special Case Officers under his authority. Furthermore, according to our sources, Pol. Gen. Sombat has been given–or otherwise made aware of–vital information that may assist with the case; however, they allege that he has not given this information to the investigating officers. Thus, the information has to be relayed to the investigating officers again, wasting valuable time and raising serious concerns about what Pol. Gen. Sombat’s real objective is: to find Somchai or, more likely, to cover up the perpetrators.
Additionally, the AHRC have been informed that the DSI investigators have contacted the local police in Ratchaburi Province who were conversing with defendant 5 on the day of Somchai’s abduction. The DSI staff members hope to interrogate the local police to gain an insight into why they were conversing with defendant 5. However, the local police officers have reportedly stated that they have been ‘too busy’ to meet. Under sections 22 and 23 of the Special Case Investigation Act BE 2547 (2004), the DSI and its staff have full powers of investigation in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, and “government agencies shall have a duty to comply with such regulations”. Section 24(4) stipulates specifically that these powers include the power to issue a summons to any person to provide a statement. Therefore, the DSI is amply empowered to make orders and carry out investigations of police officials whom are suspected of involvement in the case, and must use these powers under orders of its director general and the Minister of Justice.
Please write a letter to the relevant authorities listed below, in particular to the Minister of Justice asking him to ensure that: firstly, the threats against Mrs. Angkhana are stopped and an investigation is initiated into the source of the threats, and protection given to her family; secondly, the Ombudsman must accept the complaint lodged by Mrs. Angkhana and prevent the reinstatement of defendants 2, 3 and 4 to their jobs, and guarantee that defendant 5 is suspended from his post in accordance with the Thai police regulations; thirdly, the DSI has to properly and promptly secure the forensic evidence sites in Ratchaburi province, and commence investigations of possible alternative sites where Somchai’s body might be found; fourthly, the DSI director must fulfill his duties and assist in the investigation ensuring that the DSI’s resources and powers are fully utilised–failure to do so should lead to his resignation as it would prove that he is not capable of–or willing to–perform the tasks that have been assigned to him.
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Dear Pol. Gen. Chidchai Wanasatidya,
THAILAND: Immediate action is needed to find the whereabouts of Somchai Neelaphaijit’s remains and protect his family
I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the numerous issues that have arisen in the Somchai Neelaphaijit case. It has been two years since his disappearance and yet little is still known about his whereabouts and I have found that governmental agencies have been reluctant to participate in this investigation.
I am extremely worried about the resurgence of threats against Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelephaijit, on 21 March 2006, a day before she lodged a complaint against four police officers alleged to be responsible for her husband’s disappearance. According to Mrs. Angkhana, a person came to her house and warned her against traveling, saying that she should be careful since she might get an accident or find a bomb under her car. I am informed that this man may be a state official. It is disheartening to know that Thailand is failing in its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that such an incident is occurring even in such a high-profile case.
The abuse of power by state officials is also evident in the reinstatement and promotion of Police Lieutenant Colonel Chadchai Leiamsangoun, defendant 5 in the earlier criminal case concerning the disappearance of Somchai. I am informed that by reinstating and promoting this officer while the criminal proceedings against him are still pending before the Court of Appeal the commander of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) is violating police regulations, as well as section 99 of the Civil Service Act BE 2535 (1992). It is the responsibility of the superior officer of a civil servant to ensure that discipline be maintained and regulations followed, and where breaches occur this could result in criminal liability for the superior. The head of the CSD must adhere to these regulations and ensure that all the defendants remain suspended until the investigations against them are settled, or he too may be the subject of criminal prosecution.
Ever since Somchai’s disappearance, human rights organisations have tried to ascertain the whereabouts of his body. This work has predominantly fallen to the hands of human rights organisations working in collaboration with the Central Institute for Forensic Science (CIFS).
As you may be aware, on 9 March 2006, they went to an area in Ratchaburi Province that could have been where Somchai was brought after being abducted in Bangkok on 12 March. This was the location where the last telephone record of Defendant 5 was made to some police officers in Ratchaburi. At the location, the CIFS found two burning spots and some human bones. However, further tests need to be done to verify whether they belong to Somchai.
Furthermore, on March 17, at Mae Klong River in Ratchaburi Province, a piece of petrol tank was found with traces of fat and blood. Further tests need to be carried out to see whether the specimen is human or animal. What has frustrated the CIFS and the human rights defenders is the lack of involvement by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), which is under your authority. Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornwiwat, DSI director general, has not been present at the site where investigations have gone on, despite attempting to make himself appear in the media as if he is playing a leading role.
It is also of paramount importance that sufficient security measures are put in place to ensure that the evidence on site is not tampered with. However, to date, the DSI have not taken any steps in cordoning off or providing men to guard the sites. Also, there are many more locations where clues may exist as to Somchai’s final resting place, but according to the information I have received, the DSI has taken few or no steps to investigate other possible areas.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the fact that it is the duty of the DSI and its director general, under your authority, to take an active role in investigating violations of law in the interest of the public. However, not only has Pol. Gen Sombat not assisted in the investigations, he has also allegedly frustrated the Somchai case rather than further it. For instance, I am informed that he has been given information vital to the case that he has not in turn passed to investigators under his authority.
Additionally, I have been informed that the DSI investigators have contacted the local police in Ratchaburi Province who, according to the telephone usage records from defendant 5’s mobile phone were conversing with defendant 5 on the night of Somchai’s abduction. However, the local police officers have reportedly stated that they have been ‘too busy’ to meet with DSI staff. Under sections 22 and 23 of the Special Case Investigation Act BE 2547 (2004), the DSI and its staff have full powers of investigation in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, and “government agencies shall have a duty to comply with such regulations”. Section 24(4) stipulates specifically that these powers include the power to issue a summons to any person to provide a statement. Therefore, the DSI is amply empowered to make orders and carry out investigations of police officials whom are suspected of involvement in the case, and must make use of these powers as it has done in other special cases.
Therefore, I call on you to immediately intervene in this case. Protection must be offered to Mrs. Angkhana and her family so that the threats will cease. An investigation must be instigated into the source of the threats, in particular which organisation the man belongs to. The Ombudsman must ensure that the defendants allegedly involved with the disappearance of Somchai remain suspended from their jobs in accordance with police regulations. And, the DSI must take adequate steps to secure the sites of the forensic investigations and take a more active and responsible role in the investigations of the whereabouts of Somchai.
Finally, I wish to remind you of the commitment the prime minister made in January that the case would be concluded and murder charges laid by the end of February. It is almost the end of March, but to date the case remains unsolved. I trust that you will be concerned to ensure that the prime minister’s commitment does not turn out to be hollow, and will make every effort to see that the case is satisfactorily concluded without further unnecessary delay.
I look forward to your intervention in this matter.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
Pol. Gen. Chidchai Wanasatidya
Minister of Justice
Office of the Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice Building
22nd Floor Software Park Building,
Chaeng Wattana Road
Tel: +662 502 6776/ 8223
Fax: +662 502 6699/ 6734 / 6884
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:
1. Pol. Lt. Col. Dr Thaksin Shinawatra
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
Tel: +662 280 1404/ 3000
Fax: +662 282 8631/ 280 1589/ 629 8213
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Pol. Gen. Sombat Amonwiwat
Department of Special Investigation
Ministry of Justice Building
Chaeng Wattana Road
Fax: +66 2 913 7777
3. Prof. Saneh Chamarik
The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
422 Phya Thai Road
Pathum Wan District
Tel: +662 2219 2980
Fax: +66 2 219 2940
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Mr. Diego Garcia-Sayan,
UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
1211 Geneva 10
Fax: +41 22 917 9006
5. Ms. Hina Jilani
Special Representative of the Secretary General for human rights defenders
Att: Melinda Ching Simon
Room 1-040, c/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 93 88
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS)
6. Mr. Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions
Attn: Lydie Ventre
Room 3-016, c/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9155
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR EXECUTIONS)
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)