Thailand is a democracy, or so we claim, but we have yet to face the uglier side of our society - the forced disappearances that have been occurring throughout Thailand. The Working Group on Justice for Peace (WGJP) has compiled 90 cases of disappearances throughout Thailand, six of which took place last year. It is interesting to note that Kalasin, one of the poorest provinces in Thailand, has the highest number of reported cases of disappearances, violations of human rights and extrajudicial killings. The police force in the province systematically abuses its powers with impunity.
The latest and most blatant case of an enforced disappearance in Thailand occurred in February of this year in Khon Kaen, the gateway to the Indochina region. Kamol Laosophaphant, a well-to-do family man, disappeared from a police station in Khon Kaen as a result of his strong campaign against corruption within his community. Kamol knew it was dangerous to challenge the authorities and the alleged corruption in the province. Before his disappearance, he made repeated calls from the police station to confirm his location. The line was cut while he was making his final call to his family. His family hasn't heard from him since. Kamol's wife is afraid to leave her home out of concern for her safety.
Although Thailand ratified the UN Convention Against Torture last year, human-rights violations and torture during detention continue. Both security officials and the public need to be educated about the convention. The security apparatus has continued to use enforced disappearances as an instrument against suspected Malay-Muslim militants in Thailand's three southernmost provinces. Four cases were reported in 2007 in Yala's Bannang Sata district, according to WGJP. All of these cases involved military officers using force to drag people away from their homes in front of their wives and children.
Disappearances are also common in more remote parts of Thailand, such as certain areas in the North. Each year, hilltribes suffer at the hands of security forces. For instance, the Lahu hilltribes in Chiang Mai's Fang district reported 15 disappearances. Most of the cases occurred between 2003 and 2004, and the main perpetrators were said to have been members of paramilitary forces. There has not been any progress in these cases.
It is sad that authorities here have not treated enforced disappearances as heinous crimes. Although the Constitution and the penal code carry punishments for those who carry out enforced disappearances through random or other means, they contain no provisions to punish the perpetrators when a disappearance is the result of dark political forces at work. At the moment, the Office of the Attorney General and judges have recommended that Thailand go ahead with ratifying the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The government should propose changes of existing laws or enact new legislation to accommodate the convention.
At the UN level, Thailand has a dark record when it comes to the issue of disappearances. The country has been noted for having made no progress in investigating its cases of disappearances since 1992. Other UN signatories that had a similarly poor record have since made progress. The fate of Thanong Po-arn, a labour leader during the 1992 Bloody May uprising, is still unknown 26 years later, not to mention that of Somchai Neelaphaijit, a Muslim human-rights lawyer, who disappeared in March, 2004. Repeated investigations have produced nothing tangible. The culprits are still walking free and enjoying their official status at police headquarters.
Each year, there are numerous cases of disappearances. So far, only Somchai's case was pursued at the court level. Other reports have not been considered. If Thailand wants to join the international community, which respects human rights and good governance, we need to ratify the new convention as soon as possible. If necessary, the country must enact new laws or amend existing ones to ensure compliance with international standards and norms.