6 June 2024

Thailand’s House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a long-awaited bill to criminalise torture and enforced disappearances in its final reading, with 359 votes in favour, one abstention and two deciding not to vote.

The draft bill will need to be approved by the Senate in the next step before it is submitted for royal endorsement, formally announced and then comes into effect.

Former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit has expressed her gratitude to members of Thailand’s parliament for passing the bill and expressed hope that the Senate will also treat the bill as a top priority.

Angkhana’s lawyer husband, Somchai, has been missing without a trace since March 2004, when he was last seen being dragged from his car by four men in the Ramkhamhaeng area of Bangkok. Four police officers were later charged with coercion, but all were acquitted.

There are other high-profile enforced disappearances. On June 4th, 2020, a Thai pro-democracy activist, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, was abducted on a street in Phnom Penh in Cambodia and has not been heard from since.

The other case was the enforced disappearance of ethnic Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakjongcharoen, who was reported to have been detained by park officials at a forest checkpoint in Kaeng Krachan national park in Phetchaburi on April 17th, 2014, for allegedly illegally collecting wild honey. He was not seen again until DNA analysis of bones found years later indicated that he is dead.

Thailand ratified the UN’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2007. It signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012, but is yet to ratify it.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances 2020 report notes 75 outstanding cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand.

As for torture, a leaked video of police brutality from early August 2021 showing a group of policemen in Nakhon Sawan province suffocating a drug suspect with plastic bags to death has sparked outrage and intensified the call for such a bill to be passed, after about a decade of delays.