Thailand urged to make good on promise of torture, disappearance law

Angkhana Neelapaijit holds an image of her missing husband Somchai Neelapaijit on March 12, 2021, in front of the Department of Special Investigation. Photo: Amnesty Thailand
Angkhana Neelapaijit holds an image of her missing husband Somchai Neelapaijit on March 12, 2021, in front of the Department of Special Investigation. Photo: Amnesty Thailand

After finally passing a law to outlaw torture and enforced disappearance, Thailand must make good on its promise, a rights group said today.

A day after years-delayed legislation was adopted by the House of Representatives in a nearly unanimous vote, Human Rights Watch on Friday hailed the move as a “major step” but said the government must follow through by pursuing justice for the back catalog of abuses. 

“The Thai parliament took a major step toward outlawing torture and enforced disappearance, but they need to see this through to the finish line by ensuring that the law adopted meets international standards,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “The victims of abuse and their families should have confidence that the government will do everything it can to ensure such practices are ended and those responsible are brought to justice.”

There’s a long and painful history of activists, dissidents and rights advocates being tortured or forcibly disappeared – parlance for abduction, torture and murder, often by security forces or figures aligned with the state.

Despite evidence of guilt, there has been little accountability beyond slaps on the wrist for those responsible.

The penalty codified by the new law mandates fines up to TH500,000 (US$15,067) and jail time up to 25 years. If a person dies in course of the torture, the perpetrator may be imprisoned for life and fined up to THB1 million (US$30,000).

And there are many cases – recent and stretching back decades – awaiting justice.

One high-profile case involves national park officials who escaped murder charges for their suspected roles in abducting and killing Karen land-rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014. 

Then there was the 2004 disappearance of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaiit, which propelled his then-nurse wife Angkhana Neelapaiit into becoming a leading national rights champion. She has not given up her fight for the truth for 17 years.

Two years ago, three Thai dissidents vanished in Laos. Two of their bodies were fished out of the Mekong River, their insides packed with concrete. Just last month, a police commander was caught on tape suffocating a suspect to death. Those are just a few from what’s a large unsolved case file.

Adams said it is owed to those awaiting justice.

“For families waiting for answers for years about their missing loved ones, and those permanently scarred by their experiences of torture, every day without a law is one day too many,” he said.

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