Justice in sight?

Justice in sight?

Moves for a law on torture and forced disappearances gained much-needed momentum on Wednesday as members of parliament raised their hands, enabling all four related drafts to sail through a first reading.

The four drafts, sponsored respectively by the cabinet, the House committee on legal justice and human rights, the Prachachart Party, and the Democrat Party, were approved with 363 votes out of 365 MPs who attended the session.

During the deliberations, some MPs raised several tragic cases to support the cause, among them the disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim lawyer and human rights activist, who went missing in 2004 while assisting some Muslims in the South who had complained of unfair treatment by state officers.

Also cited was the case of Karen activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, who vanished while in custody in 2014. In both cases, state officials were charged but later acquitted for "lack of evidence".

Other victims include political and environmental activists whose fates remain unknown.

During the debate, the oldest case of enforced disappearance was recalled by Phetdao Tohmeena, list-MP of the Bhumjaithai Party and granddaughter of Haji Sulong Tohmeena, a key Muslim leader who vanished in 1955. Ms Phetdao said her family has waited for three generations for any semblance of justice.

The latest victim was a drug suspect in Nakhon Sawan who was killed while in police custody in August. Video clips that enraged the public, showed he was brutally tortured by a group of police officers.

Thailand, a signatory to the international convention against enforced disappearances, has long been criticised for the absence of such a crucial law as disappearances have occurred time and again. In most cases, no perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In mid-2020, the cabinet approved the government's bill which contains 34 sections including penalties for state officials involved in torture and enforced disappearances and also rehabilitation for victims of such abuse and maltreatment.

The legislation aims to end acts of torture and enforced disappearances committed by state officials. It also stipulates compensation for damages incurred.

A House panel has been formed to scrutinise the four bills and among its members are human rights advocates such as Angkhana Neelapaijit, the wife of the missing Muslim lawyer, and Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation which assists Muslims in the South suffering rights abuses.

The panel is obliged to scrutinise the bills within seven days before submitting a revised draft to parliament for the second and third readings. The final draft will go to the Senate for approval.

Those vetting the bill must aim high: All obstacles that block victims and their families from accessing justice must be removed -- among them statutes of limitations, and the legal framework that limits damaged parties to only direct family members, ie parents, husband, wife and children of the victims. Because of such a narrow legal framework, Pinnapa "Mueno" Prueksapan, the common-law wife of Karen activist Porlajee, was initially denied the right to appeal the case with the Department of Special Investigation over the loss of her children's father. This must not happen to any family.

All efforts must be made to ensure the long-awaited legislation does not become something cosmetic and used to cover up persisting problems, but instead becomes an instrument of a just society.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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