Monday, August 31, 2015

The 'disappeared': a visible stain on Thai justice system

Reform must focus on closing the loopholes that have enabled the suspected forced abduction of at least 100 citizens since 1990


The declared core mission of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's government is to secure the well-being of all Thais, yet it has apparently taken no action over the forced disappearance of an estimated 100 citizens over the past 25 years.

Sunday brought the International Day of Forced Disappearances, and, as in previous years, civic groups and rights defenders marked the occasion by calling on the authorities to revive the cases.

Meanwhile United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the alarming increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances and urged all member states to ratify or accede to the UN convention aimed at preventing such acts.

In the past year alone, the UN has received 246 requests for urgent action from victims' family members. "This figure is just a fraction of the thousands of cases that are never reported either because of security conditions or because of a lack of knowledge of the existence of international mechanisms that can help," Ban Ki-moon said.

The UN also urged governments to guarantee full protection from all forms of reprisal for those who report cases of enforced disappearance.

In Thailand, labour-union leader Thanong Pho-an went missing under a military government in 1991. A year later at least 31 people "disappeared" during a protest against the junta. Prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit was kidnapped in 2004 while defending fellow Muslims accused of being part of the deep South insurgency. The most recent case of enforced disappearance came in April last year, when Karen land-rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen went missing. The relatives of these victims have never given up on their hopes of finding them, but they have received precious little cooperation from the authorities under any government, elected or otherwise.

The military-backed government under former Army chief Prayut could do much to boost its flagging reputation on human rights by responding to the calls for action on these cases.

Thailand signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012 but has yet to ratify its position.

Meanwhile the National Human Rights Commission has failed to make any progress on the issue.

However, this government claims to be working for democratic reform and has placed a slew of rights defenders on its various administrative agencies, boosting hopes that public calls for action could be heeded.

The government should first ratify the international convention and its related protocols.

Second, the National Legislative Assembly should pass the laws necessary to enforcing the international norms.

Third, the government and concerned agencies should begin work on establishing effective administrative mechanisms to look into the cases of missing persons.

Finally, the issue of forced disappearances should inform key measures of reform for the justice system. Though there are strong suspicions that police were involved in the disappearance of Somchai and many others, the court system has proved incapable of bringing them to justice. The Nation, Bangkok


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