As uncertainty looms over whether a bill to criminalize torture and enforced disappearance will be approved by parliament, friends and relatives of the disappeared rallied on 8 September to demand its immediate passing to put an end to impunity and harassment from the authorities.
A group shot of the people who come to submit the petition at the parliament.
Family members and friends of the disappeared and human rights activists staged a symbolic action in front of parliament before submitting their petition to members of parliament.
The bill is the ninth item on the emergency agenda to be debated in the parliamentary session ending this week. If it fails to come up for debate in parliament this week, the bill will be carried over to the next session in November, causing a further delay in a process that has already lasted 7 years.
Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the human rights NGO the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), said every time that the bill was sent to the legislature, there would be a ‘little letter’ which would result in the debate being called off. Having the draft before parliament this time is an important opportunity to criminalize torture and enforced disappearance.
The CrCF Director said Thai society has been informed of torture and enforced disappearance in the Deep South where a state of emergency and martial law have resulted in many cases. The bill will prevent such acts by having mechanisms to monitor and check what the authorities are doing.
In total, there are 4 draft bills to be debated from the Democrat Party, the Prachachart Party, the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice, and Human Rights based on an earlier draft by civil society, and from the Ministry of Justice. This reflects the importance of the bill amidst increasing public awareness of the harassment of the people and pro-democracy activists by the authorities.
Despite their differences, every bill aims to criminalize torture and enforced disappearance by the authorities, which Thai law has never clearly defined.
Representatives from the Move Forward Party (MFP) Manop Keereepuwadol and Rangsiman Rome said after they accepted the petitions that there are positive signs that the law will be passed in the first reading in this parliamentary session.
Rangsiman said he had contacted one of the government whips and they see no problem in pushing the bill ahead of other agenda items.
Rangsiman (right) receives a petition from Gorgarn Buppawath.
The activist-turned-politician said he has friends who are related to those who have been disappeared. The feeling of waiting without knowing whether their loved ones are dead or alive is painful. On the other hand, the fact that this fate befell people who want a better country reflects how barbaric this society is.
Manop said the Thai government will have to report on the human rights situation to the international community under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in November. The fate of this bill will reflect how much Thailand is prepared to comply with the international conventions it has committed itself to.
Somboon Uthaiviankul, Secretary to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, said upon receiving the petition that consideration of the bills had been re-ordered from ninth to fourth place.
The Kingdom ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2007 and signed (but not ratified) the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012. However, no law has been enforced to make the conventions legally effective.
Relatives still looking for justice
Sitanan Satsaksit, sister of Wanchalearm Satsaksit who is believed to have been abducted from in front of his residence in Phnom Penh in June 2020, said this bill will allow the authorities to investigate alleged cases of torture and enforced disappearance that happened in the past. It will also safeguard people from being persecuted for expressing their political ideas.
In her attempts over the past year and more to look for her brother, Sitanan has filed evidence and looked for clues in Thailand and Cambodia. However, there have been no significant progress in the investigation.
Gorgarn Buppawath , son of political activist Chatchan Bupphawan, or Phuchana, one of the two who were found dead after being abducted in 2019, said the law will perhaps provide a tool and mandate for police to re-investigate or compensate victims as a humanitarian measure.
Gorgarn said the investigation of his father’s case is stuck at the stage of ‘waiting for further evidence' since he filed the complaint and that he was the one who had to look for evidence himself.
Due to past police monitoring and immigration difficulties, Gorgarn said he had to change his name and surname from that of his father.
Public pressure to pass this law has increased from time to time when cases of enforced disappearance and torture hit the news. Recent calls came in August after former Pol Col Thitisant Utthanaphon or ‘Joe Ferrari’, a high-profile police officer, was videoed covering the head of an alleged drug dealer with 6 plastic bags, leading to his suffocation and death.
Since the 2014 coup, nine activists have been forcibly disappeared while living in self-exile. Two were later found dead. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances 2020 report notes 75 outstanding cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand.