Thailand urged to act on disappearances
International groups demand new law to safeguard activists.
International groups are calling for Thailand to enforce a law against the torture and involuntary disappearance of human rights advocates, protestors and suspects in national security cases after a UN Working Group published details of 86 outstanding incidents.
Piyanut Kotsan, the director of Amnesty International Thailand, has urged Thailand to revise and pass the draft Prevention and Suppression of the Torture and Enforced Disappearances Bill.
"Disregard [of enforcing the law] means that Thailand is allowing a gaping loophole in its own legal system. Accordingly, citizens might fall victim to torture or enforced disappearance, but the state is not ready to hold perpetrators accountable," she said.
Thailand signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) in 2012, but has yet to ratify the international agreement and its enforcement as domestic law.
Giuseppe Busini, the representative of a delegation from the European Union (EU) to Thailand, reaffirmed its commitment to the prevention of torture and involuntary disappearance, which violate human rights.
"The EU has a strong stance for everybody to sign and ratify the ICPPED and to take all legal steps, including investigating allegations of enforced disappearances, bringing perpetrators to justice, and providing proper redress to victims and their families," he recently told a public forum on enforced disappearances on Friday, the International Day of the Disappeared.
Shui-Meng Ng, a representative from the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and wife of disappeared Lao activist Sombath Somphone, called for other countries in Asia, including Thailand, to endorse the international convention.
"There are only two Asian countries, namely Cambodia and Sri Lanka, that have ratified the ICPPED. I think Asia should push governments to ratify it because it would strengthen the legal protection for victims. Unless there is a law, it will be impossible to criminalise enforced disappearances," she said.
ABSENCE OF LAW
Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former human rights commissioner and wife of disappeared lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, said the absence of such a law is a major problem after having fought the case for over 10 years.
"The Supreme Court ruled that the family [of Mr Somchai] are not entitled to represent him in court because there is no evidence that he was hurt or killed. It is ironic as he was a person who prosecuted offenders, but involuntary disappearance cases often stall because they don't have victims. Moreover, witnesses fear to give testimony because they are threatened," she told the forum.
Ms Angkhana, who recently received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, called for the Ministry of Justice to resubmit the draft to the House of Representatives for review.
"In 2016, it proposed the draft bill to the government. It approved and forwarded it to the National Legislative Assembly. However, it removed several key points from the bill before it was mysteriously scrapped," she said.
Ms Angkhana insisted that the House Speaker should review the draft with other experts to ensure that it complies with the international convention.
Ms Angkhana urged the committee which manages complaints about torture and enforced disappearance cases to follow them up.
"The mystery of these cases makes the families of the disappeared miserable," she added.
Nongpond Rungpetchwong, a representative from the Ministry of Justice, said House Speaker Chuan Leekpai is now looking into the legal details of the draft bill as the enforcement of domestic law must precede the ratification of the international convention.
Sanhawan Srisod, the legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, said a law will allow families to seek help from courts and bring criminal charges against perpetrators and collaborators.
"However, civil society has expressed concerns about the draft bill. Among these is the definition of 'enforced disappearance' as well as its prescription. The NLA committee said the law will not apply to past cases. However, according to international law, enforced disappearances are a special case and local legislation should apply to historical cases too," she said.