Victims’ families ‘need say in torture probe panel’

Victims’ families ‘need say in torture probe panel’

A human rights defender has called for stronger representation of damaged parties in a national committee to be set up to suppress torture and enforced disappearances.

Angkhana Neelaphaijit said the committee should include representatives of victim’s families, who have first-hand experience of these atrocities.

The committee, to be chaired by the justice minister, will be set up when the bill becomes law later this year. She was speaking ahead of a public hearing on the bill to be held on Monday in Bangkok.

Her group is concerned about changes to the bill made by the Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) late last month.

Ms Angkhana said representatives from victims’ families were initially included in the committee but they were later taken out after the department amended the bill. The reason for the change is unknown.

“The appearance of damaged parties doesn’t aim to take revenge on anyone. They have first-hand experience [to deal with their cases] and should be included,” Ms Angkhana said.

The current committee structure comprises nine state officials, four human rights advocates and legal experts, and a doctor.

Under the initial plan, now dropped, two seats also were reserved for the families of victims.

Ms Angkhana, chairwoman of the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF), is the wife of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit who disappeared in 2004. He was known for helping suspects who were tortured by police. Somchai also represented Muslim defendants in terrorism cases.

She said the positive side of the bill is that it will include outsiders in investigations, to ensure suspects — normally state officers — cannot exert influence on the cases.

The JPF said 59 people were reported to have disappeared in 2001-2011. Of those, 30 disappeared in the deep South. Every case involved state officers.

She said the definition of damaged parties in the bill is also too narrow. It covers only victims of torture and enforced disappearance, their parents, children, spouses and people who are directly affected. Calling for a broader definition, she said some cases take more than 20 or 30 years to complete and some relatives of the victims may not still be alive.

Pitikan Sithidej, RLPD’s deputy director, told the Bangkok Post the bill will be finalised after the public hearing on Monday. It will be then submitted for cabinet approval by April. If passed, it will be put up for scrutiny by the Council of State and the National Legislative Assembly.

Thailand signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2007, and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012. No Thai law exists to criminalise torture and enforced disappearances.

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