A montage of Wanchalearm Satkasit and CCTV footage allegedly showing his abudction in Phno Penh on 4 June 2020. Prachathai

Cambodia/Thailand: One year on, still no justice for Wanchalearm

  • Cambodia’s investigation has been negligent and failed to establish Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s fate and whereabouts

  • Thailand, ASEAN urged to undertake independent investigations of their own

The Cambodian authorities have failed in their legal obligation to properly investigate the enforced disappearance of Thai dissident Wanchalearm Satsaksit, said Amnesty International today, one year after he was last seen in Phnom Penh.

The organization urges the Thai authorities to launch their own independent probe into the disappearance of the Thai national, given the clear failure of the Cambodian investigation to establish Wanchalearm’s fate and whereabouts. 

This negligent investigation is at a standstill. The past year has been marked by foot-dragging, finger-pointing and the absence of any credible effort to examine what really happened to Wanchalearm.

Ming Yu Hah, Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns

“This negligent investigation is at a standstill. The past year has been marked by foot-dragging, finger-pointing and the absence of any credible effort to examine what really happened to Wanchalearm. This so-called investigation is an insult to Wanchalearm and his family and must be reinvigorated,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.

“The persistent failure of the Cambodian authorities to properly investigate Wanchalearm’s enforced disappearance is in clear violation of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.”

Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the Cambodian authorities have, to date, failed in their obligation to conduct a prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the case and to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of Wanchalearm, in accordance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CPED), to which Cambodia is a state party. 

A criminal investigation into the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit has been formally underway in Cambodia since September 2020. In December 2020, Amnesty International criticized the lack of progress in the investigation and called for a range of urgent measures to bring the investigation into compliance with international human rights law and standards. Since then, none of these measures have been implemented and, alarmingly, the investigation appears to have stalled entirely.

In March 2021, the Cambodian authorities failed to report any meaningful progress in the investigation in their latest responseto a joint communication from a range of UN Special Procedures, including the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The response also appeared to place the investigatory burden on Wanchalearm’s family, despite this obligation clearly lying with the Cambodian authorities under international human rights law.

Since Sitanun Satsaksit, Wanchalearm’s sister, gave evidence to a court in Phnom Penh in December 2020, the authorities have not reported any new investigatory actions undertaken in relation to the case. The inadequate response by the Cambodian authorities and the lack of due diligence to react to the new evidence provided by Wanchalearm’s sister reinforce fundamental concerns regarding the credibility of the investigation. 

Time for Thailand and ASEAN to launch independent investigations

In light of the clear failures of the Cambodian investigation to date, on 4 June Amnesty International will send an open letter to Thailand’s Attorney-General to highlight the failures of the Cambodian investigation and to call for the Attorney-General to immediately launch a formal investigation with the Department of Special Investigation into the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit under Section 21 of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation Act 2547.

Given the blatant inadequacies of the Cambodian investigation, it is high time for the Thai authorities to step up and undertake a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the enforced disappearance of their own citizen abroad.

Ming Yu Hah

In order to further safeguard the independence and credibility of the investigation, Amnesty International recommends that the investigation should closely involve the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

“Given the blatant inadequacies of the Cambodian investigation, it is high time for the Thai authorities to step up and undertake a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the enforced disappearance of their own citizen abroad,” said Ming Yu Hah.

“In light of the criminal charges the Thai authorities had filed against Wanchalearm, in addition to the deeply disturbing pattern of enforced disappearance of Thai exiles from neighbouring countries in recent years, a truly independent investigation free from government interference is desperately required.”

Amnesty International further reiterates its calls on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to take a more active role in facilitating cooperation among different ASEAN countries to afford the greatest measure of mutual assistance for victims of enforced disappearance, as well as in searching for, locating and releasing forcibly disappeared persons in Southeast Asia.

“ASEAN and AICHR’s silence in the face of cross-border enforced disappearances in the region is shameful. This is regional cooperation at its absolute worst,” said Ming Yu Hah.

“Rampant impunity, injustice and human rights violations are facilitated by the regional body’s inaction. It is beyond time for ASEAN to take a principled stand on enforced disappearances.”

Background

Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, is a Thai activist in exile in Cambodia. His sister, Sitanun, reported his abduction on 4 June 2020. CCTV footage published in the media following the abduction shows a blue Toyota Highlander leaving the scene where Wanchalearm Satsaksit was last seen soon afterwards. The footage also shows two men who appear to have witnessed the abduction

Thai authorities previously filed outstanding criminal charges against Wanchalearm, most recently in 2018 under the Computer Crime Act, alleging that he had posted anti-government material on a satirical Facebook page. Thai authorities reportedly requested Wanchalearm’s extradition from Cambodia at the time, though the Cambodian authorities have not publicly acknowledged receiving any such request. The Thai authorities previously filed charges against him for failing to report to a summons issued in 2014 to a wide range of activists and political figures after the military coup in May of that year.

In December 2020, six months after Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance, Amnesty International raised serious concerns about the pace and thoroughness of the Cambodian investigation and called on the Cambodian authorities to identify and interview relevant witnesses who could be seen in publicly available CCTV footage. The organization also called on the Cambodian authorities to provide Wanchalearm’s family with information about the progress and results of the investigation in a manner that also ensures the effectiveness of the investigation. None of these recommendations appear to have been implemented since December 2020.

Amnesty International has previously expressed concern for the safety of Thai exiles in neighbouring countries whose extradition has been sought by the Thai authorities. Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance corresponds to a deeply alarming pattern of abductions and killings since June 2016 of at least nine Thai activists in exile by unknown persons in neighbouring countries, namely Laos and Viet Nam.

In each case, the Thai authorities had sought the individuals’ arrest or extradition in relation to criminal charges filed in connection with their exercise of the right to freedom of expression, often online and in some cases while in exile.

In light of this pattern of disappearances, killings and prevalent impunity in the region, Amnesty International has repeatedly urged the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the overarching human rights body of ASEAN, to exercise its mandate “to obtain information from ASEAN member states on the promotion and protection of human rights” in order to shed light on enforced disappearances such as that of Wanchalearm. In light of this pattern of disappearances, killings and prevalent impunity in the region, Amnesty International has repeatedly urged the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the overarching human rights body of ASEAN, to exercise its mandate “to obtain information from ASEAN member states on the promotion and protection of human rights” in order to shed light on enforced disappearances such as that of Wanchalearm.