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Home / 2006 / 02 / 21 / Human Rights First Identifies Fatal Flaws in Thai "Disappearance" Trial
February 21, 2006

Human Rights First Identifies Fatal Flaws in Thai "Disappearance" Trial

Absence of Justice Fuels Unrest in Thailand’s Troubled South

NEW YORK – In a report released today, Human Rights First identified serious flaws in the trial of five policemen charged in connection with the disappearance of Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. Somchai is just one of over 20 human rights defenders killed or “disappeared” since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took power in 2001. The report is available at: http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/wp-content/uploads/pdf/06221-hrd-somchai-trial-report.pdf

"The Thai government’s failure to credibly investigate Somchai’s disappearance sends a disturbing message about its concern for human rights. Instead of holding a thorough investigation and prosecution, the Thai government has let the perpetrators off the hook," said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. "Somchai spent 20 years working for the rule of law in Thailand's troubled south, and now his family cannot get even a measure of justice."

Somchai was last seen being forced into a car in Bangkok in March 2004. In January 2006 four policemen were acquitted of robbery and coercion charges arising from the incident due to lack of evidence, while one received a three-year sentence for coercion. To date, no one has been charged with Somchai’s abduction and probable murder.

According to prosecutors, Somchai was targeted by the police because he had filed a complaint alleging that clients from the minority Muslim community in southern Thailand had been tortured in police custody.

Human Rights First’s report, http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/wp-content/uploads/pdf/06221-hrd-somchai-trial-report.pdf, concludes that the police investigation was inadequate, that there was never any intention to address the most serious matter of Somchai’s abduction, “disappearance” and probable murder, and that there were signs that intimidation of witnesses had affected the outcome of the trial.

“Most of the flaws in the process had a single cause: the police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves,” said Byrnes. “Thailand seems willing to trade its international reputation to protect those who violate human rights.”

Human Rights First sent an observer to the opening and the conclusion of the four-month trial in Bangkok and regularly monitored developments through media and local contacts, as well as through interviews with family members, prosecutors, and local human rights groups.

In 2004 long-simmering unrest flared in Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern region. More than a thousand people have been killed, the victims of both militant attacks and harsh government crackdowns. In the aftermath of clashes, security forces often make indiscriminate arrests of those in the area, further exacerbating tensions between the government and the Muslim community. Somchai successfully represented many of those detained on national security charges. As a prominent Muslim lawyer, he was an important symbol to the people of the south, and his “disappearance” has become an added source of dissatisfaction.

Since the verdict, Thaksin and other senior officials have pledged that a new investigation is underway and that murder charges would be brought soon. But the government has made similar promises in the past with little follow-through.

The report is available at:
http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/wp-content/uploads/pdf/06221-hrd-somchai-trial-report.pdf

A Thai translation of this press release is available at: http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/wp-content/uploads/pdf/06221-hrd-trial-report-press-thai.pdf

This mission to Thailand was made possible by the generous contributions of the Dutch foundation Lawyers for Lawyers.