Where is Somchai? A brave wife’s 17-year quest for the truth

March 17, 2021

Where is Somchai? A brave wife's 17-year quest for the truth

Posters of missing Thai activists are pasted on a wall in Bangkok in June 2020. (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP)

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, from Manila wrote on 12 March, 2021:

I was taking a train in Manila in March 2004 when I received a call from Munir Said Thalib, then chairperson of my former organization, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. Munir requested me to issue a statement on the enforced disappearance of Thai lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit on March 12, 2004. It has been exactly 17 years since Somchai involuntarily disappeared.  Somchai, a prominent Muslim lawyer who was seen being dragged into a car in Bangkok, had filed a case of torture against the police in southern Thailand on behalf of five men who were in its custody.

Five policemen who were charged with pulling Somchai away from his car were released. Police major Ngern Thongsuk was convicted by the Court of First Instance in 2006. Five years later, the Supreme Court overturned the decision. All the accused were acquitted. 

I witnessed one of the first hearings of the Somchai case in 2004. It was then that I met his wife Angkhana, a nurse, who vowed never to leave any stone unturned to uncover the hidden truth about her husband’s disappearance….

Angkhana is as determined and as indefatigable as Argentina’s members of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Linea Fundadora. She has learned to wholeheartedly embrace the issue of enforced disappearance as her own. She became one of Thailand’s commissioners on the National Commission on Human Rights but had to resign over issues of independence. Angkhana is one of the family members of the disappeared who transcended their state of victimization and chose to become human rights defenders. [

With them and with the innumerable victims of enforced disappearances, she finds the real meaning of solidarity. She forges lasting friendships with people who, like her, envision a world without desaparecidos. By virtue of her crusade to search for truth and justice for her husband and for the countless other victims in her country and in the rest of the world, she has garnered prestigious human rights awards, which include, among many, the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights and the Ramon Magsaysay Award. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/0D5DED3E-F79F-4AB4-8261-F6A19486F062]

Unknown to many, Thailand is smeared with many other cases of enforced disappearance and human rights violations, including the unresolved case of the 1992 Black May massacre. The Democracy Monument immortalizes the 1992 victims of enforced disappearance and other rights violations and is a manifestation of the Thai people’s continuing struggle for democracy. 

Anathema to democracy, enforced disappearance is one of the cruelest forms of human rights violations. The 17-year old unresolved case of Somchai Neelaphaijit is in stark contrast to Thailand’s beautiful image as the “Land of the Free.”

Where is Somchai? For 17 years, Angkhana, in solidarity with the human rights community in her country and the rest of the world, has been asking this nagging question. See also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2011/04/13/unjust-film-about-women-rights-defenders-receives-award-at-movies-that-matter-film-festival/

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is the president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED).


2 Responses to “Where is Somchai? A brave wife’s 17-year quest for the truth”

  1. […] Angkhana told Human Rights Watch that she and her family felt vulnerable after the Justice Ministry canceled her protection under the government’s witness protection program on April 1. The authorities claimed the service was no longer needed because Angkhana’s life would no longer be in danger after the Department of Special Investigation ended its investigation of the enforced disappearance of her husband, the prominent human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/17/where-is-somchai-a-brave-wifes-17-year-quest-for-the-tr… […]

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