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THAILAND: The government must protect the rights and safety of villagers in Map Ta Phut

Map Ta Phut in Rayong district is a long-standing major industrial and manufacturing area along the eastern seaboard of Thailand. In June 2009, Map Ta Phut villagers and the Stop Global Warming Association sued eight Thai state agencies in relation to the ongoing health and environmental effects caused by heavy industry and manufacturing. These agencies were the National Environment Board, the Secretary-General of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, the Industrial Estate Authority Governor, and the ministers for Natural Resources and Environment, Industry, Public Health, Energy and Transport.

The case alleged that these state agencies had issued operating permits illegally to 76 industrial projects. These permits were alleged to be illegal because they bypassed Section 67 of the 2007 Constitution, which requires the government to hold public hearings and consider environmental and health impact assessments endorsed by the National Environment Board before issuing operating permits in the case of projects which may have harmful effects on either the environment or the health of the people in the surrounding areas. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs that the eight defendants had violated the law and suspended the operating permits of 76 industrial projects, including those of PTT and Siam Cement Group.

On 2 September 2010, the Administrative Court reversed this decision and ruled that of the 76 suspended industrial plants in Map Ta Phut, only 2 were to be remain suspended. The other 74 plants were allowed to be re-opened.

The Eastern Peoples’ Network has planned a protest for 30 September 2010 in front of the Rayong provincial administration building. They are protesting in order to call for action to redress the harmful consequences of the factories in the Map Ta Phut sub-district as well as for the government to push the factories to cease contaminating the area and take responsibility for their effects on the community. However, it was reported in Matichon newspaper that there is a group of villagers from the Bang Chang and Map Ta Phut sub-districts identifying themselves as defending the interests of entrepreneurs who will oppose and may try to end the Eastern Peoples’ Network protest.

Given the contention in the Map Ta Phut sub-district, there is serious concern about the potential for violence surrounding the protest. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned that the contention may turn violent if there is no protection for both groups of demonstrators. If violence breaks out between the two groups, it will cause a further wound in Map Ta Phut that will be difficult to heal.

The AHRC strongly calls on the Thai government to prepare every means to protect the safety and rights of all citizens to express their opinions and assemble to protest peacefully, as guaranteed in Sections 63 and 64 of the 2007 Constitution. If the state fails to do so, the people of Map Ta Phut sub-district will again be silenced in their attempt to dissent in order to be consulted about the effects of industrial projects in their community.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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