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Groups urge Thai action against torture, disappearances

Groups urge Thai action against torture, disappearances

BANGKOK — Rights groups are urging Thailand's government to enact legislation banning torture and forced disappearances as its human rights record comes under United Nations review.

Tuesday's review in Geneva by the U.N. Human Rights Committee comes shortly after Thailand's legislature unanimously ratified a U.N. treaty against forced disappearances. But groups such as Human Rights Watch say Thailand needs domestic laws explicitly prohibiting torture and forced disappearances to effectively comply with the treaty.

Last month, Thailand's legislature failed to pass a bill against torture and enforced disappearances, saying it needed more study. The U.N. expressed concern over the matter, which is to be discussed at Tuesday's review of Thailand's compliance with a civil and political rights treaty ratified in 1996.

"I don't think they're trying enough. Ratification of international law is not enough," said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, a Thai anti-torture organization. "They need to do things domestically."

Other issues up for U.N. review include the transparency of Thailand's legal system and its free speech record. The U.N. will issue recommendations to Thailand at the end of March.

"We have repeatedly expressed concern that due to lack of legislative framework, any crime of enforced disappearances might continue with no accountability or legal redress," said Laurent Meillan, acting regional representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Southeast Asia. "We are hopeful that after the review, efforts will be made to reintroduce the bill in its current form."

The proposed legislation would have set mandatory sentences for those found guilty of torture or abduction. It would force officials to let family members know where a suspect is being held, and create an independent committee to locate and aid abducted persons.

The bill also included measures against torture. Rights groups accuse Thailand's military government of throwing political prisoners in military prisons and torturing them. Thailand has ratified U.N. treaties against torture and the government vigorously denies it tortures prisoners.

Since 1980, the U.N. has recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand. In one case, Somchai Neelapaijit, a Thai Muslim lawyer and human rights activist, was dragged from his car at night by five policemen in 2004; his body was never found. Though government officials were linked to his abduction, no one was ever prosecuted and last year police declared the case closed.

"The government needs to take swift and concrete action to enact a law that severely penalizes torture and enforced disappearance," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "After years of waiting, more promises are simply not enough."

Dake Kang, The Associated Press