Opening Remarks by Ms. Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Regional Office for South-East Asia Delivered at the Public Event on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance: “Human Rights Defenders & the Disappeared Justice” 30 August 2017 at Anusorn Building, Student Christian Center, Bangkok
Khun Pinnapa Prueksaphan, Wife of Porlachee or Billy Rakchongcharoen, Khun Angkhana Neelapaijit, Wife of Somchai Neelapaijit, Dr. Pornthip Jojjanasunan, Commissioner of the National Reform Steering Assembly Distinguished participants from the civil society organizations, diplomatic agencies, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me first welcome you all to this important event to commemorate the victims and families of enforced disappearances. We stand here together today to express our solidarity in support of all victims and family members of the disappeared. Enforced disappearance is not a crime of the past nor is it a phenomena specific to a particular country or region in the world. This is a global problem which unfortunately is still being carried out by governments in every region with absolute impunity. It is now not only being used in conflict or during counter-terrorism initiatives but new patterns show that is being increasingly used against political opponents, human rights and civil rights defenders, journalists and others who are critical of the government or their policies. Enforced disappearance has been used as a strategy to create fear – not only among families, friends and colleagues, but more broadly across society as a whole.
The UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances stands as the most important legal framework in the fight to stop enforced disappearances. However, so far only 57 countries have ratified the Convention. On the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, our Office has therefore launched a campaign to double the ratification of the Convention by 2022. I would request all of you to support this campaign, and to encourage Governments here in South-East Asia to ratify the Convention. In Thailand, since 1980 the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has documented 82 cases of enforced disappearances, including the disappearances of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004 and Karen human rights activist, Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014. The disappearance case of Somchai and Billy are emblematic and they underline the challenges faced by the victims and their families, and by human rights defenders. Equally, these two cases underscore a legal vacuum, where police and the
judiciary in Thailand are unable to wholly establish the truth and to deliver justice in cases where government officials are implicated.
Some of the challenges faced in establishing truth and justice in disappearances cases are:
- Lack of transparency at early stage of investigation undermining the entire process
- Enforced disappearances is not a crime in Thailand making it difficult for the family to take legal action or for the police to file charges and
- Families are not allowed to act as co-plaintiffs in disappearances
cases, making it impossible for the families to participate in any legal
If the victims and their families feel that the government is not doing enough to clarify the fate of the disappeared and to ensure justice in cases of disappearances, it will not reflect well on the justice system. The Government of Thailand must address these shortcomings urgently. Immediate ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances should be the first step. The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances and our High Commissioner have repeatedly urged the government of Thailand to take decisive and sustained efforts to investigate the whereabouts of those who have disappeared, and to establish the truth and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The High Commissioner has been resolute on defending the rights of the families of those who have disappeared, and that is their right to know the truth regarding the disappearance of their kin, as well as any progress and the results of investigations.
Thailand has made repeated commitments at international forums to address the issue of enforced disappearances. In March this year, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) approved the ratification of the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances however; the NLA rejected the draft bill on the criminalization of enforced
I am still confident that Thailand can transform its commitment to reality by taking concrete measures to protect the right to truth, justice and redress in cases of involuntary and enforced disappearances. In a region where ratification of the Convention is low, an opportunity presents itself for Thailand to take a moral stand and become a role model on this issue for other States. Some of the measures Thailand can take are: Enacting a comprehensive law on enforced disappearances in line with international human rights standards, extending an invitation to the UN working Group on Enforced Disappearances and setting up dedicated investigation team at the Department of Special Investigation to comprehensively review and investigate all cases of enforced disappearances. These measures would immensely strengthen Thailand’s mechanisms to address disappearances in accordance with international human rights law. These are concrete steps which if implemented are fairly achievable. Our office stands ready to support the government to implement these initiatives.
As we commemorate this important day, I would like to reiterate that our Office will continue to work with all stakeholders including the families of the disappeared to seek answers on the whereabouts of their loved ones. We will continue to support the families and friends in their painful journey to find truth and justice.
Dear colleagues, Today, we will hear from the experts, government representatives as well as the families of the disappeared, on ways for effective investigations on cases of disappearances. I hope these discussions will guide all of us in seeking truth and justice in such cases. I also take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to the
Ministry of Justice, Amnesty International Thailand, International Commission of Jurist, Cross Cultural Foundation, Association for the Prevention of Torture, Human Rights Lawyer Association, and the Issan Land Reform Network in supporting this important event.
Together, we can put an end to enforced disappearance in Thailand. As our High Commissioner has stated: “No woman, man or child should be erased from the face of earth.” With these remarks, I wish you a successful and fruitful discussion.
Thank you very much.