Note: The Asian Legal Resource Centre made these two oral statements to the UN Commission on Human Rights 61st session in Geneva during April 2005, under item 17(a) on human rights defenders and item 18, on effective functioning of human rights mechanisms.
Forced disappearance of a human rights defender in Thailand
On March 12, 2004, Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared. He was pulled from his car in Bangkok, allegedly by five policemen, and never seen again.
Somchai was abducted because he was defending five clients who had suffered extremely brutal torture at the hands of the police in the south of Thailand, and he had dared to speak out. He had come to Bangkok to press their case before senior authorities.
Since his disappearance, his wife, Angkana, has sought answers. Despite the wishes of the public prosecutor, she has become the co-plaintiff in a criminal case against the five accused men [Bangkok Criminal Court black case no. 1952/2547]. She has also inspired the relatives of hundreds of other men who have reportedly disappeared in the south of Thailand during recent times.
Angkana wanted to be with us here today, but for personal reasons, she could not. She has asked that the following remarks, which she prepared for this occasion, be read now.
“Over a year has passed since my husband disappeared. We still do not know what happened to him.
“I have never been contacted by any authorities about their investigations. Everything is confidential. I have heard that someone high up in the government was behind his abduction, but I have never received any clear information about this.
“I recently met the deputy director of the Forensic Science Institute. She said that she found useful evidence in his abandoned car, but has had no cooperation from the investigating police.
“All this has made me doubt the intentions of the authorities, and wonder how I can get justice in Thailand.
“Somchai was a person who could not sit still when he saw injustice. He was never reluctant to assist a victim of abuse, even though he got nothing in return.
“My husband taught us to make sacrifices for the betterment of society. My five children and I all believed in him, and I continue to instruct them in his values.
“My children realise that it was due to their father’s work that we have had to face this tragedy. But they are all proud that their father was someone who fought for justice.
“I believe that their father also would be proud of his twenty-year struggle for human rights if he was with us today, and would be even more proud to see his children growing up in the same spirit that gripped him.
“Now the only thing that we wish is to see his remains: even if only his ashes, still we would be happy. His disappearance has wounded us deeply. It is worse than death. But our hopes are not strong. We do not see any genuine goodwill from the authorities.
“I regret that I have no chance to tell you this in person. Perhaps one day that chance will come. In the meantime, I pray to God to protect the families of all victims like my husband, to wipe their tears and make them good persons who will also fight for justice.”
The Asian Legal Resource Centre strongly urges the government of Thailand to resolve fully the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit, and hold accountable the perpetrators, in order that other human rights defenders in Thailand do not suffer the same fate. In this regard, it calls on the government to introduce a law criminalising forced disappearances, in accordance with international standards, without delay.
Torture in Thailand and the role of national and international human rights mechanisms
Anek Yingnuek alleges that on September 9 of last year he was tortured at the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya police station, north of Bangkok, Thailand. To have him admit to robbery and implicate some others, the police allegedly beat him with pipes and suffocated him with plastic bags. Then they covered his penis and testicles with ice and electrocuted him through it. Anek confessed and named three friends: enough to raise the charge to gang robbery.
Anek and his friends are all standing trial [Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Provincial Court black nos 1621/2547, 1675/2547 and 38/2548]. They are in jail. None of the accused police are known to have lost their jobs, despite having been named in a number of other similarly brutal cases. None have faced criminal investigations over the alleged torture.
This pattern is repeated at police stations throughout Thailand. Torture is widespread. Beatings and ‘roughing up’ are the routine; extremely grave torture is also applied in ordinary criminal cases. Victims are held in custody until scars have faded and all evidence is lost. Most are poor persons, unable to afford lawyers, ignorant of the legal system and their basic rights, and easily intimidated by the police.
Torturers in Thailand escape proper enquiry or sanction because there is no law making torture a criminal offence. Thailand has not ratified the Convention against Torture. There is also no avenue by which a complaint can be made directly to the high courts on a human rights violation under the constitution, which prohibits torture.
The existing national and international human rights mechanisms are not properly equipped to deal with this grievous and widespread abuse.
The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand does not have the authority to pursue such cases; it can only refer them to the relevant government authorities. However, there is no institution established to investigate torture and other serious human rights violations by the police. And a widespread attitude prevails, as recently articulated by the immigration police chief on national television, that torture is acceptable and necessary.
Internationally, Thailand is a party to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also prohibits torture. Article 2 of the Covenant stipulates that state parties must establish the means by which rights are to be enforced and remedies obtained when they are breached. But Thailand has not fulfilled this practical and integral obligation: the Asian Legal Resource Centre has pointed to this failure in a report to the Human Rights Committee to coincide with its considering of Thailand’s initial report under the Covenant this July.
Anek Yingnuek wants the abuse he has suffered at the hands of the police to be recognised and investigated, but he has no way to achieve this. The National Human Rights Commission lacks the means to afford an effective remedy. No domestic law exists to address torture, and there is no way to take his case to the superior courts. Nor can he approach the Human Rights Committee, as Thailand has not ratified the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
Effective functioning human rights mechanisms mean effective remedies. In Thailand, to eliminate the practice of torture and afford redress to the victims there must be a criminal law against torture and a channel for receipt and investigation of complaints. An avenue should be opened up by which complaints of serious rights violations under the constitution can be brought directly to the high courts. Finally, to afford a greater role for treaty bodies, Thailand should ratify the Convention against Torture and the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant without delay.
With these measures in place, Anek Yingnuek and other people like him might have a fighting chance to protect their rights, and in so doing, protect those of all people in Thailand.