Former National Human Rights Commissioner and activist Angkhana Neelapaijit has been named one of the five recipients of the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Awards, which will be presented on 9 September 2019 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award, established in 1957, is given every year to individuals “whose selfless service has offered their societies, Asia, and the world successful solutions to some of the most intractable problems of human development.” It is named after the Philippines’ former president Ramon Magsaysay, whose image is embossed on the medallion which the recipients are presented with along with their certificate.
Since her husband Somchai, a human rights lawyer, was abducted shortly after he publicly accused the military of torturing detainees in Thailand’s Deep South, Angkhana has worked to bring those involved to justice, and she continues to seek justice for her husband and other human rights victims. In 2006, she set up the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF), a network of human rights and peace advocates that has done important work in documenting the human rights situation in southern Thailand, thus raising public awareness and putting pressure on the government to act on human rights cases, providing legal assistance to victims; and training women in human rights and the peace process. JPF, along with other civil society organizations, campaigned for laws that will criminalize torture and enforced disappearance, and succeeded in getting the Thai government to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 2007, and to sign the Convention to Protect All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012.
In 2015, Angkhana was appointed a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), before resigning last Wednesday (31 July 2019). Her daughter Pratubjit has a PhD in political science, and as well as being involved in activism alongside her mother, was a lecturer at the Institution of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University and is currently a National Human Rights Office at the Southeast Asia Regional Office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Angkhana’s citation, which will be read to the audience at the award ceremony, says that “in electing Angkhana Neelapaijit to receive the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes her unwavering courage in seeking justice for her husband and many other victims of violence and conflict in southern Thailand; her systematic, unflagging work to reform a flawed and unfair legal system, and the shining proof she is that the humblest ordinary person can achieve national impact in deterring human rights abuses.”
Other recipients of this year’s Magsaysay Awards are Filipino musician Raymundo Pujante Cayabyab; Jong-ki Kim from South Korea, founder of the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence (FPYV), which addresses the issue of school violence as a systemic social problem affecting students, families, schools, and communities in South Korea; Indian journalist Ravish Kumar, awarded for his “unfaltering commitment to a professional, ethical journalism”; and Myanmar journalist Ko Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the investigative news outlet Myanmar Now.