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Answers sought in Thailand lawyer's forced disappearance
'Culture of impunity' allows abductors to remain free
- Stephen Steele, Bangkok
- March 5, 2014
Human rights groups are demanding answers from the Thai government regarding the case of missing lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who disappeared 10 years ago while representing Muslim clients in Thailand’s restive southern provinces.
“The Royal Thai Government has not exhausted all potential areas of inquiry and it must continue this investigation. There is no statute of limitations on an enforced disappearance and Somchai’s case is not forgotten in Thailand or around the world,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia regional director for the International Commission of Jurists.
The commission released its report, “10 years Without the Truth, Somchai Neelapaijit and Enforced Disappearances in Thailand,” during a Tuesday press conference in Bangkok attended by Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelapaijit, who said her husband’s disappearance represented a “culture of impunity” for injustice in Thailand.
“I always say even though the justice process may not bring back his life, it should not be allowed to avoid the responsibility to give justice back to Somchai,” Angkhanna said.
“Although it’s been 10 years since Somchai vanished, I’ve never given up hope – hope that my husband’s disappearance can be solved and that my family can achieve truth and justice, peace and closure. But over the years, that hope has grown dimmer,” she said.
Zarifi noted that “many unexpected turns” in the case, including the disappearance of a prime suspect, lost case files and an admission of Somchai’s death by Thai officials – later rejected by the courts – have hindered the investigation and has left Somchai’s supporters searching for answers.
“Somchai’s enforced disappearance and the failure of the Royal Thai Government to provide accountability or even basic information about his fate are emblematic of the challenges of achieving justice in cases of serious human rights violations in Thailand,” Zarifi said in a statement.
Somchai was last seen on March 12, 2004, after he was stopped on a Bangkok roadside and pulled from his car by a group of men. He was representing a group of Muslim men charged with attacking a military base. He alleged that police had tortured his clients.
Five police officers were charged with forcing Somchai into their vehicle. Four were acquitted, while one officer – who later disappeared – was convicted of coercion. The acquitted officers, once reassigned to inactive posts, have returned to prominent positions under the administration of current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Angkhanna said.
“As I have discovered, it’s almost impossible in Thailand for an ordinary person to reach out for justice and the rule of law in human rights abuse cases,” she said.