Thomson Reuters Foundation: 20 December 2016

(L-R) Rights activists Shui Meng Ng, Angkhana Neelapaijit, Pinnipa Preuksapan and Angkhana’s daughter Pratubjit Neelapaijit at a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, December 19, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Alisa Tang

By Alisa Tang

BANGKOK, Dec 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The wives of three prominent Southeast Asian human rights campaigners who went missing after being detained by the authorities have united to urge Laos and Thailand to end impunity over forced disappearances.

All three women have become vocal critics of forced disappearances in a region where activists highlighting abuses over human, labour and land rights routinely face threats and violence. Some are gunned down, harassed through lawsuits, or simply “disappeared”.

“The biggest struggle is to get answers,” said Shui Meng Ng, whose husband Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist campaigning for rural development, went missing in December 2012.

The internationally acclaimed activist was last seen at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane.

Shui Meng reported Sombath’s case to police, asked lawyers for help, met with ministers and wrote to the prime minister. But her efforts to get information have been fruitless so far, she said.

“At every level, and you are faced with a wall,” Shui Meng told a joint news conference in Bangkok on Monday.

“Now after four years, I realise it’s not just Sombath – there are thousands who have disappeared, and we need to find justice. We need truth… It’s a fight against state impunity.”

Pinnipa Preuksapan – whose husband Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, an ethnic Karen land rights activist, went missing after being detained by Thai national park authorities, on April 17, 2014 – said police would not take her case seriously.

“The police said ‘How can you file a case? Someone who has been arrested is not missing,'” Pinnapa said.

Thai human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said it was painful to see policemen acquitted for the 2004 abduction of her husband, prominent Muslim lawyer and activist Somchai Neelapaijit, climb the ranks of power.

“They’re still promoted to higher and higher positions,” she said, adding that proving cases of forced disappearances by state authorities continues to be a huge challenge.

“It is murder without a body, so whoever tries to find the evidence will not find anything.”