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Rights Activists Call for Greater Accountability in Thailand

Soldiers walk outside the National Anti-Corruption Commission office in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Feb. 27, 2014.
Soldiers walk outside the National Anti-Corruption Commission office in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Feb. 27, 2014.
Rights activists and the International Commission of Jurists say Thailand needs to be held to greater account for its human rights record, especially in cases of forced disappearances and extrajudicial abuses.

The appeal was made as the country bids for key posts on the U.N. Human Rights Council and as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

Human rights abuse charges include security forces' actions in the ongoing violence in Southern Thailand, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives since 2004. Additional charges allege forced disappearances, killing, torturing, and abuse of criminal suspects.

A report from U.S.-based Human Rights Watch notes the failure by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra 's government to be held accountable for past abuses as a leading trigger for the anti-government protests in Bangkok that have claimed more than 20 lives.

The protests followed a government backed amnesty bill covering acts of violence, abuse and corruption. The bill was seen as favoring Yingluck's older brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

HRW senior researcher Sunai Phasuk says Thailand must address its human rights record before getting backing for key U.N. posts.

"This Thailand that is now applying for a seat at the human rights council, I do not think the country deserves that status at all if it continues to believe in lawlessness, if it continues to believe in impunity, instead of justice, accountability and respect for human rights," said Sunai Phasuk.

The Thai Government has consistently defended its adherence to human rights standards at international forums and the United Nations.

The concerns come as the family of Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit marks 10 years since he was abducted in Bangkok in March 2004 and feared murdered.

Senior police officers were initially detained over Somchai's abduction. But judges dismissed most charges against suspects for insufficient evidence. One suspect on bail has since disappeared.

Somchai's wife, Angkhana Neelapaichit, told reporters how she has continued the fight to find those responsible for her husband's disappearance.

"Even though the justice process may not bring his life back, but it should not be allowed to avoid the responsibility to give justice back to Somchai. In the past 10 years I have tried very hard to achieve justice. The Yingluck government has given me compensation, but the money cannot restore the dignity of the victim," she said.

Pratubjit Neelapaichit, w daughter of Somchai, who works as a lawyer and advocate, says she remains hopeful the case will be solved as her father always had faith in "truth and justice".

"As a human rights activist we have to be optimistic right? We always believe and always have hope, we believe in the power of people have been very strong day by day. We believe that one day we might find justice and truth about this case," she said.

International Commission of Jurists Asia and Pacific region regional director Sam Zarifi says Somchai's case is a highlight for international concerns over enforced disappearances.

"Somchai's case has come to be a symbol for the problem of enforced disappearances, not just in Thailand or South East Asia but really around the world. This is at this point one of the emblematic cases of enforced disappearance in the world," he said.

Thailand has agreed to recognize the U.N. convention on forced disappearances, but has yet to sign the treaty. ICJ's Sam Zarifi says once the treaty is signed, Thailand will face greater accountability for its human rights performance.