13 years since disappearance of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit
Thirteen years after Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaijipit went missing, there is still no prospect of justice. Somchai disappeared on 12 March 2004, one day after he had publicly accused the police of torturing his clients, who were in detention in the South of Thailand. Since then, nothing has been heard of him.
Shortly after the disappearance of Somchai, five police officers were arrested and prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the disappearance. Although there were severe suspicions against all five suspects, the court convicted one officer to a three year prison sentence in January 2006, but acquitted the other four. In March 2011, all police officers were acquitted by the Appeals Court.
On December 29, 2015, the Supreme Court also acquitted the five police officers because there was a lack of evidence. The court also ruled that Somchai’s family could not act as a co-plaintiff because there was no concrete evidence that Somchai was dead or otherwise incapable of bringing the case himself.
On 5 October 2016, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) closed the investigation into Mr. Neelapaijit’s disappearance on the grounds that no perpetrators and no new evidence had been found. This decision was taken in spite of the fact that under international human rights law, enforced disappearance is considered to be a continuing crime until the fate and whereabouts of a disappeared person are disclosed or otherwise become known. On 3 November 2016, Angkhana Neelapaijit, Somchai’s wife, submitted a letter to the DSI to object against the decision to stop the investigation of the case.
In September 2015, Lawyers for Lawyers submitted a report for the Universal Periodic Review of Thailand, which will took place in May 2016. In the report, Lawyers for Lawyers highlighted the failure of Thailand to guarantee effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession as set out in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. Lawyers working on high-profile cases are often harassed or intimidated. When lawyers are the subject of crimes, harassment or other violations, the Thai authorities should make sure that these violations are effectively investigated. However, the case of Somchai Neelapaijit demonstrates that the Thai authorities have failed to address the impunity of crimes that human rights lawyers are subjected to.
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