Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Thailand/United Nations: Call to Investigate Disappearances, Ratify Treaty

(Jan. 8, 2016) On January 6, 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called on the Thai government to criminalize enforced disappearances; to investigate the cases of over 80 individuals who have disappeared, including the prominent attorney Somchai Neelapaijit; and to immediately ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Thailand signed that treaty on January 9, 2012, but has not ratified it. (UN Human Rights Chief Calls on Thai Government to Probe Scores of Enforced Disappearances, UN NEWS CENTRE (Jan. 6, 2016) [search by title]; International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (signed Dec. 10, 2006, in force from Dec. 23, 2010), UNITED NATIONS TREATY COLLECTION [click on link under “Text” to vol. 2716, United Nations Treaty Series].)

Thailand’s Supreme Court recently denied a challenge to a previous court decision in the Neelapaijit case. Al Hussein said that “[a]ll of the families of those who have disappeared have the right to know the truth regarding the disappearance of their kin, as well as any progress and the results of investigations.” (UN Human Rights Chief Calls on Thai Government to Probe Scores of Enforced Disappearances, supra.) He added that “[t]he judiciary’s role is not only to interpret laws and procedures but also to protect and defend their citizens’ rights …. The Supreme Court of Thailand missed an opportunity to protect the rights of the victims to truth, justice and redress in cases of involuntary and enforced disappearance.” (Id.)

Background

Neelapaijit was known for his human rights work, for leading the Muslim Lawyers Group, and for being the Vice Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of Thailand. He has been missing since March 12, 2004. At that time, Neelapaijit was representing five individuals arrested for terrorism-related crimes under martial law in southern Thailand and had publicly stated that the police had tortured his clients. Witnesses said that they saw Neelapaijit being forced into a car on March 12. (Somchai Neelapaijit: Disappeared on March 12, 2004, DESAPARECIDOS (last visited Jan. 7, 2016); Somchai Neelapaijit: Thailand – Prominent Lawyer Dissapeared [sic] on 12 Maart 2004, Lawyers for Lawyers website (last visited Jan. 7, 2016).)

The police officers suspected of involvement in the Neelapaijit case could not be charged with enforced disappearance because that is not defined as a crime under Thai law. They were instead tried for robbery and coercion; only one was found guilty in the trial of first instance, in the Bangkok Criminal Court in 2006. In 2011, the one conviction was overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court of Thailand (SCT) ruled against the admission of telephone evidence against the officers on May 21, 2014. In October 2015, an Appeals Court acquitted five police officers of the abduction of Neelapaijit, and in December, the SCT upheld that decision. (UN Human Rights Chief Calls on Thai Government to Probe Scores of Enforced Disappearances, supra; Somchai Neelapaijit: Thailand – Prominent Lawyer Dissapeared [sic] on 12 Maart 2004, supra; Criminal Code B.E. 2499 (1956, as amended to 2003), THAILAND LAW ONLINE.)