A New Year’s gift of a different kind
One important New Year’s gift from the government is a proposed law on human rights protection against torture and enforced disappearance which is now being drafted by the rights and liberties protection department of the Justice Ministry.
The drafting of the proposed law or bill, to be named protection and suppression of torture and enforced disappearance drafted act, is in line with Thailand’s entry as a member of the Convention of Protection against Enforced Disappearance. It is also meant to plug a loophole in the criminal code which covers illegal detention depriving someone of his/her freedom and does not cover "enforced disappearance."
There have been quite a few cases of "enforced disappearance" in the past several years with the prominent cases being that of Muslim lawyer Somchai Nilapaichit and Karen human rights activist Billy Polajee Rakchongcharoen.
A public hearing was recently been held by the Justice for Peace Foundation in cooperation with the Amnesty International Thailand, Union of Rights and Liberty, the Cross Culture Foundation and their networks to gauge their views on human rights protection against enforced disappearance and torture.
The public hearing made the following conclusions:
- Torture and enforced disappearance is still applied to certain groups of people such as minority ethnic people partly due to prejudice, discrimination or conflict with the authorities;
- Investigation into alleged torture or enforced disappearance is mostly cosmetic as the investigators not independent or being impartial;
- Lack of proper protection for witnesses and fear among the victims or their relatives discouraging them to pursue cases against the perpetrators;
- Alleged interference by influential figures to distort the investigation.
Also, suggestions were made as follows:
- The proposed law should have a clause specifying compensation or rehabilitation for victims of torture or enforced disappearance;
- The proposed law must make sure that cases of enforced disappearance must be investigated in earnest and effectively so that the perpetrators are brought to trial even if the victims or remains of the victims are not discovered;
- Relatives or families of the victims of enforced disappearance should be allowed to participate in the probe.
Mrs Angkana Nilapaichit, chairwoman of the Justice for Peace Foundation and widow of the missing lawyer Somchai, also suggested that enforced disappearance cases should be exempted from statute of limitations.