Angkhana Neelapaijit calls for re-consideration of anti-torture bill

On the International Day of the Disappeared (30 August), former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit published an open letter to the government, parliament, and other relevant agencies calling for the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill to be presented to the elected House of Representatives for re-consideration.

Angkhana and Pratubjit Neelapaijit (back row, left to right) with their family. The portrait to the right is of Somchai Neelapaijit, who went missing in 2004. (Source: Angkhana Neelapaijit)

Angkhana called for the government to bring the original draft of the bill, to which every sector of society has contributed and on which public opinion has been surveyed, before the House of Representatives for consideration. She also calls for the formation of a Select Committee made up of representatives from every sector, especially human rights law experts and civil society representatives with experience relating to enforced disappearance, so that the Act will be in accordance with the United Nations’ International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) and will truly protect everyone from enforced disappearance.

Thailand is a signatory on the ICPPED, but has not ratified the Convention. Angkhana also wrote that the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill went to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in 2016, but the NLA was slow in considering the bill and even cut several key points out of the bill, and the bill finally ended up lapsing for unknown reasons.

Angkhana also said that, since enforced disappearance cases have no statute of limitations, the Committee on Complaints of Torture and Enforced Disappearance and the Minister of Justice, the Committee’s chair, should do everything possible to search for and disclose the fate and whereabouts of every enforced disappearance victim, and to offer both judicial and non-judicial remedies to the families. She said that investigations need to be fast, effective, thorough, independent, and fair. Most importantly, they need to be transparent, and relatives need to be kept informed on progress.

She asked that while the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill has not been passed, the House of Representatives should reconsider ratifying the ICPPED, as a guarantee to the people that the elected House of Representatives is sincere, willing, and has the political intention to protect every person from enforced disappearance.

Angkhana, whose husband, human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, disappeared in 2004, said that as a family member of a victim of enforced disappearance, she found that there are many problems and obstacles in reaching justice and the truth about a victim’s disappearance, especially legal obstacles due to the lack of a law criminalizing enforced disappearances.

After the disappearance of her husband 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 2015, she was appointed a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), before resigning in 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).

“Every year, families of the victims of enforced disappearance have to stand up to call for justice and sincerity from the state, even though it is the state’s duty to give justice to every citizen. As a family member , I have never tired in called for justice, even though my voice has never been loud enough to reach those who have the responsibility and power to give justice, but the stories of enforced disappearance in Thailand cannot be covered up and speak of the failure of the system of justice and the insincerity of the government. Today, the Thai government and parliament are being challenged between having the courage to uphold the principle of protecting the people’s rights and freedoms and protecting certain state officials and groups who use their power arbitrarily in abducting and forcibly disappearing people,” Angkhana wrote.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International published a set of infographics which also include the suggestions from the civil society sector for the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill:

  1. In the definition of “enforced disappearance”, the person who arrests, detains, abducts, or infringes on bodily freedom does not always have to be the same person as the one denying such actions.
  2. When the bill comes into effect, legal action needs to be taken in past cases of enforced disappearance, in which the fate of the victims is still unknown.
  3. The specific reasons that a state official will not disclose information about a detention must be stated.
  4. Even if under the jurisdiction of the military courts, cases should always be considered by the civil courts.
  5. The bill must contain a section preventing refoulement.
  6. Testimony or information obtained through enforced disappearance or torture must not be used without exception.