Once again, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30 has come and gone, marking another year Thailand failed to fulfill its pledges to outlaw this heinous practice. 

A sketch of Somchai Neelapaijit, a prominent Muslim human rights lawyer abducted in Bangkok on March 12, 2004.  © 2015 Prachatai

International law defines enforced disappearance as the detention of a person by state officials and a refusal to acknowledge the detention or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand since 1980, including that of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in March 2004. Human Rights Watch believes the actual number is higher, as some families of victims and witnesses remain silent, fearing reprisals by the authorities if they speak out.

None of these cases have been resolved, and no one has been prosecuted.

A key reason for this is that Thailand’s penal code does not recognize enforced disappearance as a criminal offense. Thailand has signed but has yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

When Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha outlined his policy priorities for his second term in July, he did not even mention the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill – a measure the junta-appointed national assembly suspended consideration of in 2017 – among proposed laws to be introduced for parliamentary consideration.

The government’s much-discussed Committee to Receive Complaints and Investigate Allegations of Torture and Enforced Disappearance is just an administrative body with little authority or political backing to take serious action. The committee falls far short of what is needed to end torture and enforced disappearances.

Meanwhile, the authorities continue to engage in practices that facilitate enforced disappearances, such as the use of secret detention by anti-narcotics units, and secret military detention of national security suspects and suspected insurgents in the southern border provinces.

In recent years, dissidents who fled persecution in Thailand have been at risk of enforce disappearance in neighboring countries. In Laos, unidentified assailants abducted at least five Thai exiles; three were later found murdered and two others remain missing. In May, Vietnam allegedly forcibly returned three dissidents to Thailand who have since gone missing.

Thailand needs to meet its international obligations to address this terrible crime. Another year should not pass without justice for victims of enforced disappearance and their families.