Enforced disappearance becomes hot topic a year after activist’s abduction in Cambodia

FRIDAY, JUNE 04, 2021

Many embassies in Thailand posted messages on Friday marking the anniversary of the disappearance of pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

The activist was abducted by armed men outside the Mekong Garden Apartment in the Cambodian capital on June 4 last year. Though the incident was recorded on CCTV, little has been done to locate him.

Wanchalearm, 37, had fled to Phnom Penh in 2014 after being summoned by the junta following a coup in May of the same year.

He is among nine critics of the Thai government and military who are believed to have been abducted over the past few years. Wanchalearm’s case has become the focus of anti-establishment protests seeking to oust the Thai government and change the junta-sponsored Constitution.

His abduction has also brought the issue of enforced disappearances to the forefront, with people asking about the whereabouts of hundreds of Thai political activists who have gone missing since the 1932 Siamese revolution. So far, little or no progress has been made in their cases.

Several embassies, such as New Zealand, UK, Germany and Denmark, have all raised the same questions in their message – what would people do if someone they love suddenly disappeared.

“Would you miss them? Would you be begging to know what happened? Would you do all that you can to find them? Would you want justice?” they ask.

Thailand is not the only country suffering from the problem of enforced disappearances. Hundreds of thousands of people have vanished, usually during conflicts or periods of repression, in at least 85 countries.

Usually, agents of the state or people authorized by the state are believed to be behind these disappearances, in which the victim is either murdered or tortured. These disappearances do not just afflict great pain on the victim, but also lifelong suffering on their families and relatives. They are also in violation of every international human rights law.