On 28 May, the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF) called on the Thai Government to ratify and comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances in a report which documents the enforced disappearance of 59 people from throughout Thailand.
“JPF has found that enforced disappearances take place within a broader context of state violence which is used to silence dissenting views and to eliminate suspected criminals, outside of the rule of law”, said Angkhana Neelapaijit, JPF President.
JPF has personally documented 40 incidents of enforced disappearances involving 59 people. 12 people were from northern Thailand, five from western Thailand, seven from Isaan (north east), 33 from the deep south. JPF found that men from minority ethnic groups, such as Malayu or Hill Tribe communities, are disproportionately more vulnerable to enforced disappearances. In the cases documented by JPF, 94% of the victims were male and 86% from ethnic minorities.
JPF has found that two government policies directly contributed to increasing enforced disappearances in Thailand: the highly militarized counter-insurgency approach adopted in southern Thailand by various governments and the War on Narcotic Drugs beginning in 2003. In addition to these two policies, JPF has found that particular categories of people are vulnerable to enforced disappearances throughout Thailand. These are: (i) people with close relationships with officials and /or come into conflict with officials; (ii) activists engaged in human rights, political or corruption activism; (iii) witnesses of crimes or human rights violations; and (iv) migrants.
“Enforced disappearances are not only a problem in southern Thailand. We have found cases of disappearances in every region in Thailand. Nor is this a new problem. We have information on cases of enforced disappearances since 1952 and multiple cases during particular periods of history such as suspected communists in the early 1970s, northern farmers in the late 1970s and victims of the May 1992 military crackdown on protesters”, said Angkhana Neelapaijit.
Methods of disappearing a person follow three patterns throughout Thailand. The first, and most common, involves officials taking the victim from the street by forcing them into a vehicle and driving away. Secondly, the disappearance begins with the victim being arrested from his home or place frequently used by him. Thirdly, the victim is invited to meet an official at a specific location and then disappears. The detention of the individual is consistently denied when families seek information about their missing relative.
“JPF believes that people who are disappeared are subject to multiple human rights violations such as arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killings”, said Angkhana Neelapaijit. “We have documented evidence in southern and northern Thailand that indicate these patterns of abuses”, she added.
Judicial remedies, the right to truth and the right to reparations for enforced disappearances remain largely denied by the state in Thailand. The failure to define enforced disappearance as a crime in Thailand stands in the way of prosecutions. Compounding this are weak investigatory and prosecutorial bodies that lack independence. Right to truth is systematically denied as government agencies seek to hide, rather than reveal the truth about enforced disappearances. Provision of reparations to relatives of the disappearances has been extremely limited in Thailand.
“Decades of impunity have created a context in which administrative and security officials know that their illegal actions are condoned by the state and that the likelihood of legal action against them is extremely low”, said Angkhana Neelapaijit. “Families, including myself, have even been denied the right to know the truth about our loved ones”.
JPF made the following recommendations:
- The Government should ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
- The Government should adopt legislation that criminalizes the act of enforced disappearance, creates appropriate investigation mechanisms and ensures the full rights of the victim and their relatives.
- The Government should amend existing legislation relating to witness protection, detention, “good faith” clauses and destruction of evidence.
- Investigation and prosecution procedures should be improved, including immediate filing of first information reports, immediate investigation, rapid referral to DSI, involvement of independent forensic experts, provision of witness protection, and respect for the rights of the relatives.
- Where necessary commissions of inquiry should be established into particular categories of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations such as (i) ongoing disappearances related to suspicion of involvement with drugs; (ii) human rights violations in northern Thailand in 2003; and(iii) killings and disappearances of activists.
- A national level reparations mechanism should be established. Until this is established in all cases of enforced disappearance relatives should receive interim compensation.
- The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand should play a significantly enhanced role in establishing the truth and ensuring justice and reparations.
- In all known cases of enforced disappearances there should be independent and thorough
investigations leading to prosecutions and sentencing of the perpetrators.