Protection International and the Asian Human Rights Commission are seriously concerned about the Royal Thai Army’s latest intervention in the conflict between the Wang Saphung community in Loei Province with a neighbouring gold and copper mine. On Monday, 25 August, the Wang Saphung community organization, the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KBRK), invited community members to take part in a campaign in the village on the following day. This activity was aimed at restating the KBRK’s community-based support at a time when KBRK members are facing judicial harassment and death threats. Yet, at 6:00 am on Tuesday, 26 August, the Army came out of their camp which had been set-up in the village temple, and went to confiscate the audio sound system belonging to Mr. Samai Pakmee, who is village headman of the most affected village in Wang Saphung.
Furthermore, soldiers told Mr. Samai that, “If you still have your campaign walk today, we will use martial law to arrest you.” We see this latest intervention as a concrete example of the Army’s agenda to quell the KBRK’s persistent campaign for community rights. The Wang Saphung community has made many sacrifices and demonstrated tremendous perseverance in their campaign against the copper mine and its nefarious consequences on the community’s well-being. The community has had to mobilise its own assets (i.e., travel to the Land Registration Office for valuation of their land titles) to pay for bail, as the Ministry of Justice has not yet provided support from the Justice Fund for the Wang Saphung community members facing trial, even though 3 months have passed since they applied for the funding. The community attended an Army-led reconciliation meeting with mining company representatives who simply rejected all the proposals made by the KBRK members. Following this meeting, the community was faced with incomplete media reports stating that the negotiations had come close to an agreement; the KBRK again went through great lengths to correct these media reports by organising its own press conference. Furthermore, despite the death threats and constant Army surveillance, the KBRK perseveres in organising awareness- and support-raising activities within their own community. The villagers as a whole continue their daily economic sacrifices as they forego rubber-tapping to support their community-based campaign. And yet, the Army invokes martial law at 6:00am, bringing all the community’s latest efforts to confront a new obstacle: the Army.
We are gravely concerned that the Army’s suppression of the community’s efforts to mobilise will exacerbate an already tense situation. Moreover, the community finds itself unjustifiably disabled from conducting activities to demonstrate their crucial support for the KBRK at a time when its leading members are facing numerous impediments to their work. If the community is prevented from rallying internal support for its own campaign, the community will find it impossible to demonstrate its continued opposition to the mining company and to counter continuing media speculation that the conflict is soon to be resolved. Preventing the Wang Saphung community from self-organising internal meetings disempowers the KBRK, and the community as a whole.
Therefore we demand that the Royal Thai Army:
- Refrain from intimidation, harassment or any actions that prevent the KRBK from organising activities to defend their community rights and to continue their community’s campaign;
- Coordinate with the Royal Thai Police, National Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Interior and other relevant authorities to conduct an investigation into both the 15 May attack and surrounding irregularities which facilitated the attack’s circumstances in order to hold those responsible to account; and
- Promote diffusion of tensions by allowing the most vulnerable party in this conflict – the community – to organise support for proposals and activities which work towards a durable resolution of the conflict.
We demand that the Ministry of Justice:
- Ensure that its Department of Rights and Liberties is working with the Wang Saphung community to establish preventive security measures for community leaders under death threat, as already requested by the community; and
- Immediately provide support from the Justice Fund to all Wang Saphung community members who are facing trials.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.