UN Deadline Came and Gone Without a Word on Disappeared Critic

Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

BANGKOK — The United Nations’ deadline for the Cambodian authorities to explain what happened to a Thai activist who was kidnapped there had passed without any explanation, his family said Thursday. 

Sitanan Satsaksit said she has yet to hear any replies from the Cambodian and Thai governments nearly two months since her brother Wanchalerm “Ta” Satsaksit

 disappeared in Phnom Penh, despite calls from various civil rights groups upon the two countries to investigate the case. 

“Neither the Thai side nor Cambodian side has updated us.” Sitanan said. “There is no indication that they have done any investigation.”

Sitanan said that she will continue to wait for a reply from the UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which must go through a bureaucratic process at Geneva first. 

Phone calls to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand, whose oversight include political exiles, were directed to emails. Those emails have not been replied to as of press time. 

“I’ve tried to make peace that he’s dead. If I could get his body back to hold a funeral, that would be wonderful,” Sitanan said. 

Wanchalearm is an anti-military activist who fled the May 2014 coup to Cambodia, where he spent the following years criticizing the government and the monarchy online. He was reportedly kidnapped by a group of men in front of his residence in early June. 

After his disappearance, the UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances heard Sitanan’s request to find her missing brother, and sent a letter to the Cambodian government demanding explanation, with a deadline to reply within two weeks. 

That deadline has come and gone without any further action. 

Sitanan, 48, said that authorities did ask her to fly to Cambodia to act as a witness, but she will have to fly there on her own dime as well as go into state quarantine. Sitanan said Cambodia also refused a meeting via video conference. 

“I used to ask him, Ta, why do you do this? It’s not safe. But after he’s gone, I feel that he sacrificed himself,” she said.  Democratic activists, not just Wanchalerm, are willing to sacrifice their futures, opportunities, and lives with their family.”

Sitanan said her mother has since deposited DNA samples at the Central Institute of Forensic Science in case they must be used to identify Wanchalerm. Since her brother’s disappearance, she says she’s been burdened with legal fees. 

UNHCR spokeswoman Praya “Puu” Lundberg also came under fire for her refusal to speak out for Wanchalerm: “I promote peace and non political agendas this is highly political,” Puu had written on her Instagram. “It’s not my place to and not my fight. If you want me to fight for a broader issue I can like racism.” 

Sitanan said personally, she’s not angry at Puu – since many of her own friends have disappeared from her life since her brother’s disappearance.

“It’s not just Puu that’s scared, even my own friends are scared and refuse to have anything to do with me. Am I mad? No. Some people are just really afraid. We don’t know who’s watching us,” Sitanan said. 

Her voice breaking, Sitanan said she was happy to see anti-government protesters holding up photos of Wanchalerm.

“Seeing pictures of Wanchalerm at protests, it means people haven’t forgotten him,” she said, crying. 

Related stories:

UN Joins Growing Calls to Locate Disappeared Activist

UNHCR Says No Comment on Activist’s Abduction

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