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Australian academics voice concern for missing Somchai

THAILAND: Australian academics voice concern for missing Somchai, Sombath

(Hong Kong, March 6, 2014) Academics of the Australian National University on Thursday submitted a letter to the diplomatic mission of Thailand in Canberra marking the tenth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit.


File photograph of Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit
The 23 scholars said they lamented that nobody had been held responsible for Somchai’s abduction on 12 March 2004 and presumed killing, even though five police were accused of the crime, and that to date his remains had not been recovered.

“We are especially concerned by indications that the DSI wants to close the investigation, since it will make the prospects that Mr Somchai’s family will ever obtain justice even less likely,” they said, referring to the Department of Special Investigation, under the justice ministry.

The group urged the Thai justice minister that his government continue to work on the case until the perpetrators were identified and prosecuted.

It also acknowledged the Thai government’s recent signing of a new international law to prevent enforced disappearance, and asked that it pass a domestic law to make enforced disappearance a crime.

“Currently, Thailand, like other countries in Asia, has no offence of enforced disappearance,” Bijo Francis, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, observed.

“In Somchai’s case, the police were charged with theft of his vehicle, but it was no crime for them to have carried off and killed the driver and disposed of his remains,” he added.

The Hong Kong-based regional human rights group has campaigned constantly for justice for Somchai and his family since his abduction ten years ago, a day after he had accused police of torturing a number of men in Thailand’s south.

Francis said he was disappointed to learn that the Australian academics had been unable to meet with a representative of the embassy in Canberra to discuss the case, and instead were told that they could only leave the letter at the front counter.

“It’s reprehensible that the representatives of a government whose personnel were responsible for the abduction and killing of a human rights defender can’t even take a few minutes of their time to receive a delegation of professors who want to ask that the investigation into what happened to him continue, and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” he added.

On Tuesday, the ANU hosted an event on the enforced disappearance of Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone, last seen being taken away from a police post on the roadside in Vientiane on 15 December 2012.

Ng Sui Meng, wife of Sombath, spoke at the event. Angkhana Neelaphaijit, wife of Somchai, sent a video-recorded message of encouragement. Academics present also expressed their support, and voiced concerns over the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Asia today.

A copy of the scholars’ letter on Somchai Neelaphaijit follows.

A.N.U. SCHOLARS LETTER ON THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE OF SOMCHAI NEELAPHAIJIT
5 March 2014
The Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
Pracha Promnok
Minister of Justice
Thailand
Dear Mr Pracha
TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE OF SOMCHAI NEELAPHAIJIT
Being concerned scholars of the Australian National University, we wish to draw to your attention that 12 March 2014 marks the tenth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit.

As you will recall from the extensive media reportage that followed events ten years ago, Mr Somchai on 11 March 2004 publicly alleged that personnel of the Royal Thai Police had seriously tortured a group of five men detained in connection with violence in Thailand’s south. The following night, witnesses saw a group of men drag him from his car on a Bangkok road, and drive away with him in another vehicle.

Investigations by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and Central Institute of Forensic Science, Ministry of Justice culminated in the arrest of five police officers, the alleged perpetrators. Although the police were charged with offences in connection with the abduction and tried, the Criminal Court ruled that crucial evidence for the prosecution was inadmissible. In 2006 it convicted one policeman on a minor offence. He obtained bail pending appeal, and was later acquitted.

We lament the failure of the responsible authorities to make any further progress on the case in the eight years since the court’s verdict. We regret that to date nobody has been held criminally responsible for Mr Somchai’s disappearance, and that his remains have not been recovered. We are especially concerned by indications that the DSI wants to close the investigation, since it will make the prospects that Mr Somchai’s family will ever obtain justice even less likely.

We urge you to ensure that the DSI actively continues its investigation until the perpetrators of Mr Somchai’s disappearance and presumed killing are finally charged and convicted of criminal offences commensurate with the crime, and until his remains are located and returned to his family. We ask that you inform his family of what actions are being taken to resolve the case in accordance with domestic law and international human rights standards.

Lastly, we take this opportunity to note that Thailand to date has no law to criminalize enforced disappearance. We urge that the Government of Thailand pass a law to this end. We also note that Thailand has signed but has not yet ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. We encourage the Government of Thailand to ratify the Convention at the earliest available opportunity.

Yours sincerely

The Undersigned

------------------------

Professor Ed Aspinall
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Jacqueline Baker
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Keith Barney
Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Emma Campbell
Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Nick Cheesman
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor Hyaeweol Choi
School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Simon Creak
School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor Robert Cribb
School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Mathew Davies
Department of International Relations, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Associate Professor Greg Fealy
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor Ken George
School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Tyrell Haberkorn
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Adjunct Professor Terence C. Halliday
Regulatory Institutions Network, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor Ariel Heryanto
School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Dr Tamara Jacka
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor Peter A Jackson
School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Emeritus Professor Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet
Department of Political and Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Adjunct Professor Martin Krygier
Regulatory Institutions Network, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor (Emeritus) Anthony Reid
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
John Reid
Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University
Professor Craig J Reynolds
ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
Professor Simon Rice OAM
ANU College of Law
Professor Emeritus David Rosenberg
Department of Political & Social Change, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

ENDS

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