Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit went missing on March 12, 2004. Filipino activist Jonas Burgos was last seen on April 28, 2007. Lao development economist and educator Sombath Somphone disappeared on December 15, 2012.
The search for these missing activists has become a campaign for human rights promotion, not only in their respective countries but across Southeast Asia. Their names have become synonymous with the fight against enforced disappearances, kidnapping, torture, and other human rights atrocities, often carried out with apparent impunity.
At the time of his disappearance, then 53-year-old Somchai was handling cases in southern Thailand, a region ravaged by infighting between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels. Somchai was pursuing a case against police officers accused of torture when he mysteriously disappeared in Bangkok.
Jonas, the son of Philippine press freedom fighter Joe Burgos, was connected with a left-leaning peasant group when he was abducted by suspected state agents in a Quezon City shopping mall. There were witnesses who testified in the court that Jonas shouted ‘Aktibista ako!’ (I’m an activist!) while he was being dragged out of the mall.
Sombath is a popular NGO leader whose work with the Participatory Development Training Centre in Laos earned him the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s Nobel Prize, for community leadership. Sombath’s disappearance was captured on CCTV footage, which shows Sombath being stopped by police and then abducted by unidentified men. Sombath’s abduction is believed to be related to his advocacy for the protection of land rights for ordinary villagers. Continue reading “Somchai, Jonas, Sombath: Southeast Asia’s Missing Human Rights Warriors”
The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) working group for ASEAN released a message during an event held in front of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on April 12th. The statement calls on the leaders of ASEAN to put enforced disappearances on the agenda of their upcoming summit:
On April 24 and 25, these ASEAN leaders will gather in Brunei under the theme of “Our People, Our Future Together.” But how can we invest our future in an ASEAN where peoples’ basic rights are continuously ignored and violated, a community where people are abducted and forced to disappear? We cannot be part of this. If ASEAN wants us to be part of this community then they should put the interests of the people above everything else. They should respect and uphold basic human rights.
The entire statement can be read here. A related letter from the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs can be read here. A video of the event can be seen here.
The event was organized by Focus on the Global South, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), and Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND).
A WALL of silence has risen over the disappearance of Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone in Laos four months ago.
His wife, Singaporean national Ng Shui Meng, is exhausted but still not contemplating leaving Laos, the couple’s home for more than 30 years.
“Sometimes I feel this has to be a (bad) dream, a nightmare,” she says. “I stay because there is still some hope.”
Madam Ng was on the way back to Singapore for a break and on a brief stopover in Bangkok yesterday where she had an emotional meeting with Mrs Angkhana Neelapaijit. Her husband – Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit – disappeared under similar circumstances in the Thai capital in 2004.
“I know what Shui Meng is going through,” Mrs Angkhana told The Straits Times. “It’s an emotional seesaw driven by rumours. One day you hear from someone that your husband is alive. The next day you hear that his body has been found.”