Thai human right lawyer, Somchai Neelapaijit, was abducted in the capital city of Bangkok 12 years ago. Five alleged policeman pulled him from his car, and he hasn’t been seen since.
But in Thailand, Somchai’s case is not an isolated one. Rights activists say that at least 80 people have been forcibly disappeared over the past three decades.
Kannikar Petchkaew has this story.
That’s O Rakjareo, or O for short, an 11-year-old girl from Petchaburi in western Thailand.
She’s trying to describe to me what her father looks like.
He was a good man, she says, with a sense of humor.
O hasn’t seen her father, Por Cha Lee, or Billy, for two years. When she was nine years old.
Her mother, Munor, remembers very well what happened that day he disappeared.
“I heard that Billy came down on the afternoon of the 17th. He was carrying honey with him and was detained by National Park officials at the checkpoint,” she recalls.
“The head of the National Park arrested him and he has been gone since.”
A member of the ethnic Karen community living in the National Park in western Thailand, Billy was the leader of his community.
With Billy gone, Munor says their house feels lifeless. Like there’s no happiness anymore.
Before he disappeared, Billy had filed a lawsuit against the officials of the national park, after they destroyed and burned the houses and property of more than 20 Karen families.
The government had accused them of encroaching on forest land.
62-year-old Supap has a missing persons story of her own.
In April this year, she saw her two dogs running home from work, like they do everyday, only that day her husband wasn’t with them.
“He went off with two dogs and usually would come back at 3 in the afternoon. But he didn’t,” she told me.
“I waited till 8 at night then started running to find him. I roamed alone because we don’t have any children, we just live together.”
Supap hasn’t since her husband since he left that morning.
“I ran and I cried for him but didn’t find him. I only found the dogs,” she remembers
Like Billy, her husband, together with their neighbors, had long been fighting for the rights of their land in northeast Thailand. Land the government claimed was state forest.
Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand. None of these have been successfully resolved.
“It shows one of the main hypocrisy of the Thai government that it promised to end enforced disappearance. Thailand signed an intention convention against enforced disappearance, yet it failed to make enforced disappearance a crime in Thai law,” says Sunai Pasuk, a Senior Researcher for Human Right Watch in Thailand.
For Pasuk and other human right groups, Thailand has made little progress in ratifying the treaty.
“There’s no definition of enforced disappearance there’s no successful prosecution of those responsible for the enforced disappearance. It is a total failure. It is a total lack of sincerity of the Thai government,” Pasuk continued.
Rights groups in Thailand believe the actual number of enforced disappearances is higher because some families of victims and witnesses remain silent.
“One reason is because state officials were the one responsible for enforced disappearance,” according to Pasuk.
“We have cases in Southern Thailand where police and security forces were accused of committing enforced disappearance as part of their counter insurgency operation. We have the case of prominent human right lawyer, Khun Somchai Neelapaijit which, allegedly, police officers abducted him and disappear him in Bangkok,” said Pasuk.
Somchai had been the chairman of Thailand's Muslim Lawyers Association, and vice-chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of Thailand.
Before he disappeared he fought cases such as representing Muslim defendants in terrorism cases in Thailand’s Deep South.
Since the military coup in Thailand in 2014, the government has been less inclined to look into cases of forced disappearances.
“It is almost impossible to expect the government would take any real action to end enforced disappearances,” Pasuk says.
“First of all, they themselves, by using power to arrest people without warrants, putting people in secret detention, that is a condition contributed to enforced disappearance.”
After waiting and fighting for two years, Munor and her 5 children have come to a resolution.
“I don’t think he is still alive,” she tells me. “If he were still alive he would fight hard to go back to his family. He’s never left us this long. He loves the family too dearly.”
For Supap, things are not much different.
“We found the trace of a fire under a bamboo tree. We also found bones, but I don’t know yet whose bones they are.”
And for O, when I asked her if she’s still believes her father is still alive.
Her answer was a just long silence.
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