Thailand: 20 years on, time to deliver justice over Somchai Neelapaijit’s enforced disappearance

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Somchai Poomlard / Bangkok Post / Bangkok Post via AFP

On the 20th anniversary of the enforced disappearance of prominent Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its Thai member organisations, Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), call on the Thai authorities to re-open the investigation into Mr. Somchai’s disappearance, renew their efforts to determine his fate or whereabouts, and deliver justice to him and his family.

Bangkok, Paris, 12 March 2024. FIDH, UCL, and TLHR stand in solidarity with Mr. Somchai’s family and condemn the authorities’ prolonged failure to adequately investigate Mr. Somchai’s disappearance and to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Such conduct is inconsistent with Thailand’s obligations under Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognises the right to access to an effective remedy and to full reparation for family members of victims of human rights violations listed in the covenant. Thailand is a state party to the ICCPR.

FIDH, UCL, and TLHR also urge the government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) without further delay and without reservations, and ensure national legislation conforms to its provisions.

Thailand signed the ICPPED in January 2012, but it has not yet ratified the treaty. In December 2023, Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-nukara pledged the ratification of the ICPPED by June 2024


Somchai Neelapaijit, a prominent lawyer who defended the rights of members of Muslim communities in Thailand’s restive provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, was abducted and disappeared on 12 March 2004. According to eyewitnesses, a group of individuals forced him into a car on Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng Road. Despite strong circumstantial evidence of his death, Mr. Somchai’s body was never found.

In connection with Mr. Somchai’s disappearance, the Bangkok Criminal Court acquitted four police officers of the charges of coercion and gang-robbery and convicted Police Major Ngern Thongsuk of coercion on 12 January 2006.

On 13 January 2006, then-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said “circumstantial evidence” confirmed that Mr. Somchai was “dead” and that “more than four government officials were involved.” Mr. Thaksin returned to Thailand in August 2023 after 15 years of self-imposed exile.

On 11 March 2011, the Court of Appeals upheld the acquittal of the four police officers accused of coercion and gang-robbery and overturned the conviction of Police Major Ngern Thongsuk.

On 21 May 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the admissibility of key phone evidence against the five acquitted police officers who had been originally accused of being involved in Mr. Somchai’s disappearance.

On 5 October 2016, the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) declared Mr. Somchai’s case closed, saying no culprits had been found.

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