By Ismail Wolff 12 March 2006 15:30
Murdered Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit’s wife Angkhana will accept the Second Asian Human Rights Defender Award on his behalf in a ceremony at Chulalongkorn University today. Somchai was chosen for the award in recognition of his “tireless efforts to bring justice to victims of human rights abuses in Thailand,” the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) presenting the award said in a recent statement. Somchai has also been lauded by senior United Nations officials, judges and fellow human rights activists ahead of today’s ceremony.
Somchai’s family and associates believe he was abducted by government officers on March 12, 2004 because of his work in the defense of suspects charged with separatist violence in the southernmost provinces, and his efforts to uncover alleged police torture of his clients.
“The work of Somchai Neelaphaijit in defence of human rights has been an inspiration for many people around the world,” Stephen Toope, chairperson of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, was quoted as saying in an AHRC statement yesterday. “I am honoured to have the opportunity to express my solidarity with the cause of human rights defence in Asia, as exemplified by Somchai.”
The Working Group has taken on Somchai’s case, and will continue to pursue further information until his fate is known,” he added.
Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, also praised the murdered lawyer. “I, and all of those who are familiar with the work of Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit, join you in paying tribute to his relentless efforts to protect and promote human rights,” Jilani said.
The trial of five policemen accused of robbing Somchai on the night of his disappearance came to an end on January 12, with four acquittals and one guilty verdict.
Angkhana’s lawyer, Somchai Sukpheutkit, said yesterday the court had granted an extension of the appeal deadline to March 31 to give them time to read over 3,000 pages of court documents from the previous trial.
Meanwhile, Thailand has sent a letter of complaint to the US State Department following an annual report that said Thailand has ‘significant problems’ with human rights, mentioning Somchai’s alleged abduction and events in the Muslim majority southern border provinces, among other examples of alleged human rights abuses. “This is not true, all the accusations are untrue…,” caretaker Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkaew said yesterday.
“It [the report] was vague and unspecific and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a letter to the US State Department asking them to be more careful because incorrect information can adversely effect the image of a country,” stated Sihasak.