“This is my life and it is the reason why I keep on my struggle. As a victim you cannot surrender. If you surrender or give up, everything will disappear and other cases won’t be investigated. So it’s my motivation. Defending human rights is not my occupation, it is not my job—but it is my life. So that’s why I continue working and I love to work.”
Angkhana Neelaphaijit is a human rights defender known across Thailand for her courage to hold the government accountable for acts of disappearances and other grave human rights violations, particularly in the conflict-ridden Southern part of Thailand.
In 2006, Angkhana launched the Justice for Peace Foundation, a network of human rights defenders working to protect human rights, promote access to justice and end impunity. As a result of her activism over the past decade, she has received several awards and was recently appointed Commissioner to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.
Angkhana’s life changed dramatically on March 12, 2004. Angkhana’s husband, Somchai Neelaphaijit, a prominent human rights lawyer, was forcibly disappeared on the streets of Bangkok. His whereabouts remain unknown to this day. Instead of succumbing to her fears, Angkhana fought to bring the perpetrators of her husband’s disappearance to trial. This ground-breaking trial was the first time in Thailand that police officers were held accountable for a disappearance—a crime that is common practice throughout the country.
Angkhana has stood strong in her determination to end disappearances. She has spearheaded a movement of families who refuse to stay silent. She has documented hundreds of cases of disappearances and submitted them to the UN. She has advocated for justice at the UN Human Rights Council. She has also called upon Thailand to ratify the International Convention Against Disappearances.
Thailand has a long history of impunity for human rights violations committed by state authorities. The Muslim minority in Southern Thailand has been particularly impacted as decades of human rights violations and cultural assimilation policies have fuelled a violent insurgency, claiming over 6500 mostly civilians deaths in the past decade.
Angkhana hopes that through her work with the National Human Rights Commission she will have greater powers to investigate cases of human rights violations and hold the government accountable. She wants to focus more on supporting women, particularly within the Muslim community, where women’s rights are continually marginalized.
It is the young generation that is giving her hope for her country as she admires their courage to defy the military junta through nonviolent civil disobedience. She reminds us that “with our strong hearts and minds, we will succeed.”
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