Today marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The annual event has become a global platform for relatives of victims and rights activists worldwide to pressure governments to improve their laws to end this dirty crime.
In Thailand, a network of such victims' families and rights groups recently forwarded their recommendations to the incoming government of property development mogul Srettha Thavisin, Thailand's 30th prime minister.
Essentially, their wish lists demanded that the government try to find the victims and provide assistance to the families of those who remain missing while also bolstering the related laws and regulations.
This is a good start for the new government to try and improve the country's human rights records. The nation's standing in the global rule of law index is not high: In 2022, it ranked 80 out of 140 countries, below Suriname in South America. That may explain why in 2014, Thailand failed to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The government is reportedly positioning itself as a candidate in the 2024 elections for a seat on the Council from 2025 to 2027.
As such, the government must strive to improve the country's human rights record. Enforced kidnappings have served as a major rights violation, and it is an open secret that officials have used it to threaten and silence protesters and villagers for decades.
Ten officers in Chon Buri were charged just last week with kidnapping a suspect in an online gambling case in a bid to extort 140 million baht, as graft runs rampant.
Mr Srettha should pay attention to this issue, as enforced kidnappings have served as a tool to suppress democracy and freedom for a long time. One recommendation of note calls for the government to promptly ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).
The Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act has been in force since Feb 22. But while this has led to some positive changes, such as compelling police to use body cameras, it falls far short of resolving all of the challenges and helping the families of those who remain missing.
For the government to ratify the ICPPED, it must first internalise international human rights practices and amend local laws to align the two, especially policy and guidelines to investigate crimes, find victims and provide legal assistance and compensation to the families of victims. Enforced kidnapping should be treated as a crime against humanity without any statute of limitations.
Ratifying this treaty would see Thailand aspire to loftier goals in its fight against crime. The country ranks third in Asean in enforced disappearances, with only Indonesia and the Philippines having more cases.
According to the UN, there are 76 such cases in Thailand -- many of which involve political protesters, activists and villagers rallying against state-endorsed projects.
One high-profile case involves Wanchalearm Satsaksit, an anti-establishment activist who was reportedly abducted in front of his hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on June 4, 2020. The outgoing government has shown little interest in catching those responsible.
Mr Srettha will face a lot of pressure to improve the economy and fund his party's populist welfare pledges. But on human rights issues, it has an easy "win" on its lap.