Thai junta must end enforced disappearances says rights group

A tank stands in front of the Thai parliament in Bangkok. [jfxberns/Flickr]

The Thai military junta has been told to end its tolerance for ‘enforced disappearances’ by Human Rights Watch(HRW), the New York-based NGO.

HRW wrote to General Prayut Chan-ocha, the army leader who seized power in a coup in 2014, on Thursday (14 January),  insisting that so-called ‘enforced disappearances’ were made a criminal offence, and make those responsible face justice.

‘Enforced disappearance’ is a legal term for people detained by the state, with no information given as to their whereabouts, or even if they are alive or dead.

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra – who was overthrown by Chan-ocha – had signed the international convention on enforced disappearance in 2012, but it had not passed into law before she lost power in May 2014.

HRW said the failure to enshrine legislation “runs counter to General Prayuth’s many pledge to protect human rights.”

The campaigning lobby group cite the case of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who disappeared in 2004.

Last month five police officers were acquitted last month in connection with his disappearance – despite former PM Thaksin Shinawatra (brother of Yingluck) admitting police involvement, according to HRW.

Since enforced disappearance is not on the Thai statute books, the five were only charged robbery and coercion charges.

Another anomaly is that the disappeared person themselves has to prove they have disappeared.

Some 82 people in Thailand have suffered enforced disappearance, according to a UN working group. Somchai’s case is the only one to be brought to court.

HRW’s Asia Director, Brad Adams, said, “The current system entrenches impunity for government officials involved in disappearances.

“The Thai government should make a 180 degree turn in its policy by recognizing that secret detention and enforced disappearance fundamentally undermine the rule of law and destroy people’s trust in their government,” Adams said. “The failure to pursue and end enforced disappearance cases runs counter to General Prayuth’s many pledges to respect human rights.”

Prayut should fulfill pledges he made at the United Nations General Assembly to protect human rights and for the government to urgently ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Human Rights Watch said.

The issue comes at a difficult time for Thailand, which is facing a possible complete ban on its key fishing industry exports to the EU, over so-called “Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported” fishing, whilst it has also seen the EU shelve a free trade agreement with Bangkok since the military coup.

>>Read: MEPs condemn Thai ‘harassment’ of EU rights activist

A British lawyer and rights activist, Andy Hall, is facing a jail sentence of up to seven years next when, when a trial against him for criminal defamation opens in Bangkok, after he helped research labour abuses in Thailand’s tinned fruit industry.

That case has already seen Hall receive the backing of many MEPs concerned about Thailand’s lurch away from democracy.

Last year, Reporters Without Borders said there had been a “blitzkrieg on the media” since the military coup of 2014.

Responding to HRW demand, the Thai embassy to the EU told EURACTIV, “While many countries have not even signed International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) including a few members of the EU and almost half of the 91 signatories are at the process of domestic preparation to ratify the convention, Thailand’s progress in drafting the necessary law and the role of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand in raising awareness about enforced disappearance issue reaffirm Thailand’s continued and sincere intention to provide protection for all the people from enforced disappearances.”

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