UN calls for disclosure of information about disappeared dissidents

In an official communication to the Thai government made public this week, UN human rights experts expressed serious concern about the alleged enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution of political dissidents Surachai Saedan, Chatchan Bupphawan, Kraidej Luelert, and Itthipol Sukpan and called for the Thai government to release information concerning their fate.

The communication to the Thai government was issued jointly by the Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and was dated on 6 March 2019.

The letter expressed concerns regarding the alleged abduction and killing of Chatchan Bupphawan (“Phuchana”) and Kraidej Luelert (“Kasalong”), the alleged enforced disappearance and possible killing of Surachai Danwattananusorn (Surachai Saedan), and the alleged disappearance of Itthipol Sukpaen (“DJ Sunho”), and the fact that “these events may be directly linked to their political opinions and activities”.

The letter then asked that the Thai government disclose information about the fate and whereabouts of Surachai and Itthipol, and about any investigation which may have taken place into the murder of Phuchana and Kasalong.

“While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary measures be taken to protect the human rights to life, personal security, integrity and freedom of expression in Thailand and to prevent the violation of these rights, and in the event that investigations establish that the allegations described in this letter are correct, to ensure the criminal accountability of any person responsible for them,” says the letter.

The UN also expressed concerns over the draft Bill on Suppression and Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, which appears to fall short on international standards. The draft no longer contains an explicit and absolute prohibition of acts of torture and enforced disappearances in any circumstances, including during a State of Emergency; and there is no provision prohibiting the refoulement of individuals to countries where they would face a real risk of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or enforced disappearance – shortcomings which the UN sees as seriously weakening the legal protection against torture and disappearances. As of May 2019, the Bill has yet to be passed.

Surachai, Phuchana, and Kasalong were living in Laos when they disappeared in December 2018. Around New Year, two mutilated bodies were found washed up on the banks of the Mekhong River near Nakhon Phanom, and DNA results later confirmed that the bodies are those of Phuchana and Kasalong. Surachai’s body has yet to be found, and his fate and whereabouts is currently unknown.

Itthipol, another political activist living in exile in Laos, went missing in 2016. He was reportedly last seen on 22 June 2016. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

No reply from the Thai authorities has been made public, other than a letter dated 14 March from Sek Wannamethee, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand in Geneva, informing the UN that their letter has been forwarded to relevant agencies in Thailand.