THAILAND: Somchai Neelaphaijit — One man, four disappearances

THAILAND: Somchai Neelaphaijit — One man, four disappearances


The case of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, whom police officers abducted and forcibly disappeared over nine years ago, took a new twist when the Department of Special Investigation claimed that its file on his case had itself disappeared during anti-government protests last week.

According to Niran Adulayasak, Director of Special Criminal Case Office 1 in DSI in a news report on Thai PBS TV (, when members of the protests broke into his building, they went to the cabinet containing the file of Somchai’s case and removed it from the premises. The file is now, like the person on whom it was prepared, officially disappeared.

The disappearance of the file on Somchai’s case is only the latest in a series of disappearances, beginning with the disappearance of Somchai himself. The second disappearance was the disappearance of the one police officer found guilty of criminal offences in connection with the lawyer’s abduction in the court of first instance. While appealing the conviction, he supposedly disappeared in a landslide.

Somchai’s wife, Angkhana, has said that she doubts the explanations regarding the disappearance of the policeman, and on this occasion the Asian Human Rights Commission doubts the explanation of the DSI regarding the third disappearance, of the file itself. That protestors would break into a government office just to go straight to the cabinet with a file on an abducted human rights defender without bothering with any other of the office’s contents is a stretch of the imagination. That the government of the former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, to whom the demonstrators were opposed, was implicated in Somchai’s disappearance only makes such an allegation by the DSI criminal cases director all the more fanciful.

The fourth disappearance is, of course, the disappearance of justice: for Somchai, for his family, and for all people in Thailand concerned about consistent violations of the right to life there. The AHRC long ago associated the disappearance of justice with the disappearance of Somchai. But perhaps, almost a decade on from his abduction, it would be better to recognise that justice has not disappeared in this case after all, because it was never a possibility in the first place. From the beginning, practically all public institutions in Thailand – political and legal – signalled that justice was in this case not going to be realised. Whether or not his family, fellow human rights defenders and other concerned persons were prepared to recognise this ugly fact was a matter of no significance. And it was only a matter of time that along with Somchai, the case itself disappeared too.

Download document AHRC-STM-242-2013. THAILAND: Somchai Neelaphaijit — One man, four disappearances

20 Dec 2013

Sunai @sunaibkk

DSI: “Missing” Somchai Neelapaijit’s case files (reported to be stolen by protesters) have reappeared at the back of storage cabinet. Wow!

PHILIPPINES: Human Rights Report for 2013

PHILIPPINES: Human Rights Report for 2013


*The full report is available for download at:

(Hong Kong, December 8, 2013)

On the occasion of the Human Rights Day, 2013, the Philippine Desk of
the Asian Human Rights Commission has produced a 19 page report
detailing the prevailing situation in the country.

This year’s report is entitled, ‘License’ to torture, kill and to
silence the oppressed’ and gives numerous examples of the human rights
abuses by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the armed forces.
Such abuses include illegal arrest and detention, disappearance of
arrestees, torture and, in many cases, in order to justify their
illegal actions, the fabrication of charges.

Areas of serious concern are the reprisals against journalists who
report on such abuses. Activists working to assist victims of human
rights abuses have been shot dead in broad daylight, on many occasions
in full view of their loved ones, and the authorities have allowed the
assassins to abscond. Indigenous people are attacked for standing up
for their rights to farm hereditary land. With much of the arable farm
land being handed over to international companies, little or no
attention is being paid to the families who have been dispossessed.
The government is good at making promises but in the end very little
is done to assist the victims.

The siege in Zamboanga and attacks on civilians, medical personnel
and hostage taking is also covered in this report. This concerns the
renewed fighting between government forces and the Moro National
Liberation Front (MNLF), under the faction of Nur Misuari. The siege
has resulted in the massive displacement of 26,000 families who were
forced to live in evacuation centers or with their relatives. The
report states:

/The siege in Zamboanga city and the renewed fighting in other parts
of Mindanao clearly shows the vulnerability of civilians and their
communities, medical personnel, and others not taking part in the
hostilities, from being targeted in attacks./

An issue which is prevalent in all the situations and incidents
mentioned in this report is the prevalence of impunity, which is
deeply systemic. While it is true that we are now seeing perpetrators
of torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances
appearing in court this is an exception and not the norm. The
government of the Philippines has a long way to go in order to ensure
the freedom to enjoy human rights in the country.

The report may be seen here

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia,
documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional
reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The
Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Read this Press Release online

INDONESIA: Democracy incomplete in 15 years of reform

INDONESIA: Democracy incomplete in 15 years of reform

In commemoration of Human Rights Day on December 10, the Asian Human
Rights Commission (AHRC) is issuing a brief report on the state of
human rights in Indonesia. Using the examples of events which took
place in 2013, the report highlights three crucial subjects which have
been ignored by the Indonesian government during the last 15 years of
‘reform’, namely the need for further police reform, the unreliability
of the judiciary, and the restricted liberties within the country. The
report may be accessed here

INDONESIA: Democracy incomplete in 15 years of reform


*The full report is available for download at:

download pdf report

AHRC-SPR-002-2013.pdf — Asian Human Rights Commission.

Nelson Mandela – A giant passes. The greatness of Nelson Mandela challenges us all

A giant passes. The greatness of Nelson Mandela challenges us all

  • A hero, not a saint

    The historical significance of the man who freed South Africa from apartheid

  • A giant passes

    The greatness of Nelson Mandela challenges us all

  • The young Mandela

    The photographer Jürgen Schadeberg remembers the man whose early career he documented

  • The longer walk to equality

    South African wages and population charted over the lifetime of Nelson Mandela

  • Slideshow: A life in pictures

    Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary path from political activist to prisoner to president

  • Highlights from our archives

    Discover selected stories from our coverage of Nelson Mandela through an interactive video

Nelson Mandela – A giant passes

Nelson Mandela

A giant passes

The greatness of Nelson Mandela challenges us all

AMONG Nelson Mandela’s many achievements, two stand out. First, he was the world’s most inspiring example of fortitude, magnanimity and dignity in the face of oppression, serving more than 27 years in prison for his belief that all men and women are created equal. During the brutal years of his imprisonment on Robben Island, thanks to his own patience, humour and capacity for forgiveness, he seemed freer behind bars than the men who kept him there, locked up as they were in their own self-demeaning prejudices. Indeed, his warders were among those who came to admire him most.

Second, and little short of miraculous, was the way in which he engineered and oversaw South Africa’s transformation from a byword for nastiness and narrowness into, at least in intent, a rainbow nation in which people, no matter what their colour, were entitled to be treated with respect. That the country has not always lived up to his standards goes to show how high they were.

Exorcising the curse of colour

As a politician, and as a man, Mr Mandela had his contradictions (see article). He was neither a genius nor, as he often said himself, a saint. Some of his early writings were banal Marxist ramblings, even if the sense of anger with which they were infused was justifiable. But his charisma was evident from his youth. He was a born leader who feared nobody, debased himself before no one and never lost his sense of humour. He was handsome and comfortable in his own skin. In a country in which the myth of racial superiority was enshrined in law, he never for a moment doubted his right, and that of all his compatriots, to equal treatment. Perhaps no less remarkably, once the majority of citizens were able to have their say he never for a moment denied the right of his white compatriots to equality. For all the humiliation he suffered at the hands of white racists before he was released in 1990, he was never animated by feelings of revenge. He was himself utterly without prejudice, which is why he became a symbol of tolerance and justice across the globe.

Perhaps even more important for the future of his country was his ability to think deeply, and to change his mind. When he was set free, many of his fellow members of the African National Congress (ANC) remained dedicated disciples of the dogma promoted by their party’s supporter, the Soviet Union, whose own sudden implosion helped shift the global balance of power that in turn contributed to apartheid’s demise. Many of his comrades were simultaneously members of the ANC and the South African Communist Party who hoped to dismember the capitalist economy and bring its treasure trove of mines and factories into public ownership. Nor was the ANC convinced that a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy—with all the checks and balances of bourgeois institutions, such as an independent judiciary—was worth preserving, perverted as it had been under apartheid.

Mr Mandela had himself harboured such doubts. But immediately before and after his release from prison, he sought out a variety of opinions among those who, unlike himself, had been fortunate enough to roam the world and compare competing systems. He listened and pondered—and decided that it would be better for all his people, especially the poor black majority, if South Africa’s existing economic model were drastically altered but not destroyed, and if a liberal democracy, under a universal franchise, were kept too.

That South Africa did, in the end, move with relatively little bloodshed to become a multiracial free-market democracy was indeed a near-miracle for which the whole world must thank him. The country he leaves behind is a far better custodian of human dignity than the one whose first democratically elected president he became in 1994. A self-confident black middle class is emerging. Democracy is well-entrenched, with regular elections, a vibrant press, generally decent courts and strong institutions. And South Africa still has easily sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest and most sophisticated economy.

But since Mr Mandela left the presidency in 1999 his beloved country has disappointed under two sorely flawed leaders, Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma. While the rest of Africa’s economy has perked up, South Africa’s has stumbled. Nigeria’s swelling GDP is closing in on South Africa’s. Corruption and patronage within the ANC have become increasingly flagrant. An authoritarian and populist tendency in ruling circles has become more strident. The racial animosity that Mr Mandela so abhorred is infecting public discourse. The gap between rich and poor has remained stubbornly wide. Barely two-fifths of working-age people have jobs. Only 60% of school-leavers get the most basic high-school graduation certificate. Shockingly for a country so rich in resources, nearly a third of its people still live on less than $2 a day.

Without the protection of Mr Mandela’s saintly aura, the ANC will be more harshly judged. Thanks to its corruption and inefficiency, it already faces competition in some parts of the country from the white-led Democratic Alliance. South Africa would gain if the ANC split, so there were two big black-led parties, one composed of communists and union leaders, the other more liberal and market-friendly.

Man of Africa, hero of the world

The ANC’s failings are not Mr Mandela’s fault. Perhaps he could have been more vociferous in speaking out against Mr Mbeki’s lethal misguidedness on the subject of HIV/AIDS, which cost thousands of lives. Perhaps he should have spoken up more robustly against the corruption around Mr Zuma. In foreign affairs he was too loyal to past friends, such as Fidel Castro. He should have been franker in condemning Robert Mugabe for his ruination of Zimbabwe.

But such shortcomings—and South Africa’s failings since his retirement from active politics—pale into insignificance when set against the magnitude of his overall achievement. It is hard to think of anyone else in the world in recent times with whom every single person, in every corner of the Earth, can somehow identify. He was, quite simply, a wonderful man.

  • Nelson Mandela (second from right), leader of the African National Congress, was among 156 political activists arrested and charged with treason in 1956


  • In 1964 Mr Mandela was found guilty of conspiracy, sabotage and treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Robben Island prison