For Immediate Release
Petition Calls for Progress in Thai Disappearance Case
Over 1,000 People Demand Action on the Somchai Neelaphaijit Case and an End to Disappearances
NEW YORK - A leading human rights organization sent a petition
this week with 1,169 names to the Prime Minister of Thailand, calling
for action in the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit. Human Rights
First collected the signatures from around the world on the fifth
anniversary of the lawyer's disappearance.
Neelaphaijit was last seen being forced into a car in the
Ramkamhaeng area of Bangkok on March 12, 2004. Just days before, the
prominent human rights lawyer had filed a complaint accusing the police
of torturing his clients in the southern provinces.
The new petition calls on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to act on
his recent pledge to accelerate the investigation. Copies were also
sent to the head of the Department of Special Investigations (DSI), the
Chief of Police, and the Minister of Justice.
The petition calls on the Prime Minister to "ensure that the
investigation by the DSI is carried out vigorously and free from
interference by police. Investigators should be willing to call any
relevant witnesses, including current and former senior police officers
and political leaders." The DSI must use all the tools at its disposal,
including searches and subpoenas, to obtain evidence and testimony.
"After five years, this case refuses to go away," said Matt Easton,
Director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First.
"The case has been raised by the United Nations, foreign embassies,
Thai organizations, and now over a thousand people from around the
The petition also calls on the Royal Thai Government to prevent
future disappearances by signing the UN Convention for the Protection
of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and enacting domestic
legislation. Finally, it calls for a prompt end to the application of
the Emergency Decree and martial law. These emergency provisions allow
for extended detention without charge and without access to legal
assistance, conditions that are known to encourage torture and
In January 2006 a court convicted one police officer, Maj. Ngern
Thonsuk, of coercion in connection with the lawyer's disappearance.
Four other defendants were acquitted, and no one was charged with the
more serious crimes of enforced disappearance, kidnapping, or murder.
Human Rights First observed several sessions of that trial and produced
Although Neelaphaijit's family lodged an appeal in April 2006, there
has been no action by the courts. While out on bail Maj. Thonsuk was
reported missing following a September 2008 mudslide.
The case remains under investigation by the Department of Special
Investigations. However, the DSI contains many former members of the
Royal Thai Police and appears unable or unwilling to solve the case. In
January 2009, a senior police official acknowledged that police had
obstructed the investigation. And a March 12 editorial in The Nation,
Thailand's leading English language daily, concluded that it was
"obvious the police are trying to block further progress that will
implicate their own colleagues."
"The Prime Minister's stated commitment to solve the case is a
welcome step," said Easton. "The world is now waiting to see if his
government will deliver concrete progress."
Read Human Rights First's 2006 trial monitoring report
Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.