A black headscarf pulled tightly over her head, Angkana Neelaphaijit's gaze is firm and defiant as she looks into the audience. Until March last year she was a housewife who lived far from the media glare. But since her husband vanished one night, she has become the public face of the disappeared in the conflict raging in southern Thailand. In July, she travelled to Geneva to address the United Nations Human Rights Committee and has repeatedly urged the Thai government to step up its investigation into the fate of her husband, prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. She has no doubt his apparent abduction was triggered by his legal work, particularly his defence of Muslim terrorist suspects allegedly tortured by police. 'He has disappeared because of his work trying to win justice for them,' Ms Angkana told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand last week. Five Thai policemen are on trial in Bangkok in connection with the case, but only on charges of robbery. All have pleaded not guilty. Under public pressure, the Justice Department has taken up the case, but has yet to produce an answer to Ms Angkana's simple question: 'Where is Somchai?' Lawyers and human rights groups have their suspicions about dozens of other disappearances in the Muslim-dominated south, where 1,000 people have died at the hands of insurgents and security forces since last year. Last week, the government's chief forensics officer, Porntip Rojanasunan revealed plans to exhume 300 unclaimed bodies buried in Pattani so they could be examined to see if they matched any missing persons. Thailand's Council of Lawyers has 19 confirmed disappearances on its books, but says it is increasingly difficult to investigate further, particularly since an emergency decree was rushed into law in July. The decree, which grants immunity to state officials in the line of duty, allows security forces to detain suspects without informing their families or bringing charges for up to 30 days. Lawyers claim police and army officials privately boast they are 'above the law'. 'People have no idea how to approach the legal system and file a complaint when they've been mistreated,' said Rasada Manurasada, a representative of the Council of Lawyers. But even investigating this and other sensitive issues affecting the south carries a risk, say activists. A researcher for the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee survived a recent shooting but has since gone into hiding, fearing for his life. Somchai built a successful law practice in Bangkok and raised his profile through campaigns for justice in the south. Last March, just days after he accused police of torture and had presented medical reports of mistreatment, he vanished. A week later, his abandoned car was found near a bus terminal in Bangkok. Ms Angkana said high-ranking government officials had approached her with offers of compensation and asked her to drop her case. But she vowed to continue her search for justice and asked: 'If human rights lawyers are under threat, how can ordinary people get justice?'