[RE: 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-77-2005: THAILAND: Department of Special Investigation fails to bring justice to Charoen Wat-aksorn case; UP-89-2005: THAILAND: Repeated failed commitment to assign Department of Special Investigation to Somchai case; 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-049-2006: THAILAND: Minister of Justice must address recent issues that have arisen concerning disappeared human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit; UA-112-2005: THAILAND: Murder of Thai monk following an environmental and land dispute with local influential business figures; UP-028-2006: THAILAND: Protection withdrawn from monk who continues to receive death threats; UA-153-2004: THAILAND: Two cases of extremely serious torture and cruel and inhuman treatment by Thai police officers; UP-71-2004: THAILAND: More serious allegations of police torture emerge in Thailand; UP-75-2004: THAILAND: Demand immediate criminal action against police torturers; UP-78-2004: THAILAND: Torture cases transferred to special investigators, but police still free; UP-157-2005: THAILAND: Alleged tortured victim withdraws his complaint against the police]
UP-061-2006: THAILAND: First call for special investigation chief to resign over Somchai case
THAILAND: Gross negligence; impunity; unaccountability
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been repeatedly disappointed by the Director General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) over the case of disappeared Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. Persons close to the case have said that Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat is the main obstacle to its progress. Under his management, the DSI has also failed to solve other serious human rights cases in Thailand, despite having the resources and powers to do so. Therefore, the AHRC is today making its first call for the resignation of Pol. Gen. Sombat, and for a better replacement who will make a firm commitment to act on these cases.
As the AHRC has frequently reported, Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared from Bangkok on 12 March 2004 (for all case details see www.ahrchk.net/somchai). Before the end of the month, the AHRC received a letter from the interior minister, stating that the case was “receiving much attention from relevant authorities”. In August 2004, a further letter was received from the justice minister, saying that an ad hoc committee under the responsibility of the Special Investigation Department had been set up to gather forensic evidence and to investigate the case. This information was reinforced in a letter of May 2005 from a senior justice ministry bureaucrat, who stated that his agency was working on the case together with the DSI, and that the inquiry was ongoing.
In October 2005 the AHRC heard directly from the director general of the DSI, Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat. Pol. Gen. Sombat informed the AHRC that the Somchai case was transferred to the DSI only on 19 July 2005. He added that a group of 18 officers–himself in command–had been assigned to the case, and “governmental officials in other agencies and a Special Case consultant have been appointed to assist in investigation and inquiry”.
Despite the promises of action, two years have now passed since Somchai’s disappearance but his body has still not been recovered, nor have the perpetrators been made accountable. In January 2006 the prime minister himself stated that murder charges would be laid against the perpetrators by the end of February–a statement backed by Pol. Gen. Sombat. But the date has now long passed, and there is no evidence of real progress.
Responsibility for the failure of this case lies primarily with Pol Gen. Sombat. He started his job a few months before Somchai was abducted. He has been in authority throughout and it is his duty to ensure that cases accepted by the DSI are impartially and effectively investigated. However, according to our sources, Pol. Gen. Sombat has frustrated the investigation rather than furthered it (see also DSI under fire for lack of progress).
A clear example of this has been in the recent search for Somchai’s body. According to mobile phone usage documents of one defendant alleged to be involved in Somchai’s disappearance, his last calls were to police in Ratchaburi Province. Therefore, on 9 and 17 March 2006, several human rights defenders working together with the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) went to a location there where they found some human bones. At Mae Klong River, a petrol tank was found with traces of blood and fat; further tests by the CIFS need to be done to determine the origin of the substances. However, Pol. Gen. Sombat and the DSI did not take the lead role in any of this work, and lack initiative in searching for–and fully investigating–other possible sites where the remains may be found.
There are concerns that Pol. Gen. Sombat is deliberately obstructing the case. He has been given–or otherwise made aware of–vital information; however, he has allegedly not given this information to investigators under his authority. Pol. Gen. Sombat alone is reportedly privy to information that includes eyewitness testimonies to Somchai’s murder. However, his staff persons have been found to not know about the existence of this and other vital information.
The AHRC has concluded that Pol. Gen. Sombat has failed as Director-General of the DSI and has demonstrated either sheer incompetence or deliberate maliciousness in the investigation of Somchai’s disappearance. In either case, he should resign. If the failure is deliberate, then serous questions need to be considered, such as why Pol. Gen. Sombat is obstructing the course of justice and who holds such an influence over him?
The case of Somchai Neelaphaijit is by no means the only one that has shown Pol. Gen. Sombat to be a failure as head of the DSI. Other human rights cases in the hands of the DSI have gone nowhere.
One case is the murder of Phra Supoj Suwagano, an environmentalist monk. The DSI has never identified the masterminds of his 17 June 2005 killing. What is more, there have been numerous campaigns for the DSI to offer protection to Phra Kitisak Kitisophon, who was also involved in the environmental campaign together with Phra Supoj. However, protection was only supplied by the police and was subsequently withdrawn in October 2005 (refer to UA-112-2005 and UP-028-2006) The DSI has failed to offer protection to Phra Kitisak or to throw any light on the reasons for Phra Supoj’s murder. An earlier murdered environmentalist’s case that has lain dormant with the DSI is that of Charoen Wat-aksorn, unresolved since 2004 (UP-077-2005). His family too has expressed dissatisfaction in the work of the DSI.
Yet another failed DSI case relates to the brutal torture of Ekkawat Srimanta. The police officers allegedly responsible for the torture are still free and have retained their jobs (UP-78-2004), despite the overwhelming weight of evidence against them. Due to the fact that the police remained in positions of authority, they were able to coerce their victim, who withdrew his complaint in December 2005 (UP-157-2005). Other torture cases that should have been taken up by the DSI have not, such as like allegations by Anek Yingnuek and friends (UP-088-2005). Similarly, numerous alleged extrajudicial killings have not been treated as “special”, despite requests by relatives, the AHRC and other agencies: see for instance UA-107-2005.
Collectively, these and other cases speak to the failure of Pol. Gen. Sombat to do his job and ensure that the DSI fulfils its mandate to investigate special cases independently, in particular, human rights violations, in the public interest. The AHRC has therefore run out of patience with Pol. Gen. Sombat and today is making its first call for his resignation.
Please write a letter to the caretaker Prime Minister of Thailand, asking him to request Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat to resign from his post as Director General of the DSI. Please ask that a more suitable and impartial person be given the position, in order that all cases of serious concern taken up by the DSI, particularly human rights cases, be given the highest priority.
To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER
Dear Pol. Lt. Col. Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra
THAILAND: Request for the resignation of the Director General of the Department of Special Investigation due to failure to solve the case of Somchai Neelaphaijit and other serious human rights cases
I am writing to voice my disappointment over the work of the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat, who has failed to provide his organisation with the leadership necessary to solve the case of Somchai Neelaphaijit, as well as other grave human rights cases.
In January you gave a public commitment that the DSI would conclude its investigation of the missing lawyer’s whereabouts by the end of February, and lay murder charges against the perpetrators. I presume that you did not make that statement lightly. I presume that it was based upon sound information available to your office through the DSI or other official channels. I am aware that Pol. Gen. Sombat reaffirmed that charges would be laid in the timeframe you set down.
I and many others around the world waited patiently until the end of February, but heard nothing. Up to the present day, I have heard nothing. You will understand that it does enormous damage to your credibility that your specific public commitment on this case–which has not been forgotten–has been broken due to the failure of the DSI to satisfactorily conclude its work.
I am aware that local human rights defenders and the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), not the DSI, who have taken the initiative to solve this case. They have recently visited two locations in Ratchaburi Province and have been involved in research on others. Although the DSI has had some role in these investigations, it is far from satisfactory. Why are non-government agencies and other government departments doing work that is the responsibility of the DSI?
It also frustrates me to know that since Pol. Gen. Sombat has personally headed the investigation not only has no progress been made but it seems that he has deliberately obstructed the course of justice. He is known to have been given–or otherwise been made aware of–vital information that may assist with the case; however, he has allegedly not given this information officers under his command.
This is by no means the first case that demonstrates Pol. Gen. Sombat’s incompetence, and possible deliberate mishandling of an investigation. Other victims who have received no justice thanks to his poor work include Ekkawat Srimanta, Charoen Wat-aksorn and Phra Supoj Suwagano. There are many other human rights cases that fall within the criteria of special cases under the Special Case Investigation Act BE 2547 (2004) that have not been taken up by the DSI.
When the DSI was inaugurated, human rights defenders in Thailand and abroad felt that at last there might be an avenue through which they may be able to obtain impartial investigations of the wrongdoing committed by police and other state agents. Unfortunately, with Pol. Gen. Sombat in charge of the DSI, this has proved to be an empty hope. He has been personally responsible for destroying the aspirations of thousands of victims, their families and concerned persons. He has defeated the optimism that the DSI may have been an agency that would contribute towards a new culture of respect for human rights in Thailand.
Accordingly, I am today urging you–for the sake of your own reputation as well as that of the Department of Special Investigation itself, the Ministry of Justice and your government–to request that Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornvivat resign his post. I am also asking that you order an independent investigation into the specific reasons for the failure of the DSI to solve the case of Somchai Neelaphaijit. In the event that the failure is attributed to deliberate malpractice, I urge you to see to it that Pol. Gen. Sombat faces criminal charges.
It is imperative that you appoint a more competent and independent person to this extremely important position. In particular, the head of the DSI must be a person who will not be easily influenced by police officers and other influential persons, or inclined to side with the police and against the victims, as the incumbent appears to have done. This is essential if the DSI is to fulfill its mandate and successfully investigate cases, bring justice to victims and make perpetrators accountable.
I look forward to your intervention in this matter, and wish you the best in your search for a more suitable replacement for Pol. Gen. Sombat.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
Pol. Lt. Col. Dr Thaksin Shinawatra
Caretaker Prime Minister
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
PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:
1. Pol. Gen. Chidchai Wanasatidya
Caretaker 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
2. 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
3. Prof. Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture
Attn: Safir Syed
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9230
Fax: +41 22 917 9016 (ATTN: SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR TORTURE)
4. 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)
5. 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)
6. Mr. Stephen J. Toope,
UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Attn: Tanya Smith
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: + 41 22 917 9176
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: WORKING GROUP EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS)
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)