Cambodia 'must redouble efforts to investigate Wanchalearm's disappearance'
The Cambodian authorities must redouble their efforts to thoroughly, independently and impartially investigate the disappearance of Thai dissident Wanchalearm Satsaksit and determine his fate and whereabouts, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
The 37-year-old activist was abducted by unknown persons from outside an apartment building in Phnom Penh on June 4, having previously been sought for arrest by Thai authorities for criticising the Thai government.
Sitanun Satsaksit, Wanchalearm’s sister, is being questioned by an investigating judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday as part of the Cambodian authorities' ongoing investigation into the case.
More than six months since he disappeared, Cambodian authorities have demonstrated negligible progress in the investigation, despite important pieces of evidence coming to public light in the intervening months. To this day, Wanchalearm’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown, Amnesty International said.
It called for the Cambodian authorities to urgently address the apparent failures of the investigation to date, to immediately disclose any information they may have about Wanchalearm’s fate and whereabouts, and to ensure truth, justice and reparations for Wanchalearm and his family.
"The Cambodian authorities’ failure to make adequate progress in the investigation calls into question their compliance with the Convention on Enforced Disappearances [CED], to which Cambodia is a state party," Amnesty International said.
The lack of progress in the investigation six months after the enforced disappearance suggests the Cambodian authorities are failing in their obligation under the CED to determine the fate and whereabouts of people forcibly disappeared and conduct prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations with a view to bringing to justice in fair trials all those suspected of criminal responsibility.
"The pace of the investigation has been a particular cause for concern for the family and civil society organisations. Six months after the disappearance, little or no progress has been reported by the authorities to determine who was behind the disappearance and where Wanchalearm is.
"Notably, the prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court only sent his request for an investigation to the court in September 2020 – over three months after Wanchalearm’s disappearance – despite the fact that the complaint forming the basis for the investigation from Sitanun Satsaksit was filed with the prosecutor since July. These delays are inconsistent with Cambodia’s obligation to ensure a prompt investigation into allegations of enforced disappearance," Amnesty International said.
Moreover, the Cambodian authorities’ previous responses to UN inquiries regarding the investigation suggest a lacklustre and inadequate approach to the investigation, the rights group said.
On June 19, the Cambodian government stated that it had “neither knowledge nor any lead on the alleged abduction of Mr Wanchalearm”.
On August 12, the Cambodian government reported that it had interviewed three “witnesses” who allegedly “confirmed” that there were “no reports of abduction” in the relevant location, and that they had “tried to find evidence through security cameras where the incident reportedly took place”, but found “no clue”.
However, the publication of relevant evidence in the media appears to contradict claims that the CCTV footage provided “no clue” and highlight the fact that the authorities could be doing much more to investigate the case thoroughly, Amnesty International said.
"CCTV footage, which has been shared by various media sources, shows at least two male eyewitnesses who appear to have observed Wanchalearm’s abduction. The Cambodian authorities should develop an investigation strategy that ensures the capture and systematic analysis of all relevant material, including CCTV footage," Amnesty International said.
All potential witnesses should be interviewed as a priority and appropriate witness protection measures should be put in place to safeguard their participation in the investigation, as required under Article 12 of the CED, the rights group demanded.