Isan civil society urges junta to lift martial law, stop forest protection plan

Northeastern NGOs have urged the junta to reconsider the implementation of the Return the Forest policies, stating that they have aggravated serious human rights violations against the poor while the rich are left untouched.

The NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) of Isan, Thailand’s Northeast, issued a statement on Thursday against the implementation of the junta’s Return the Forest policies, pointing out that thousands of poor farmers will be affected by the authoritarian measures, which force people off the land while keeping them silent under martial law.

In June 2014, the junta announced Orders No. 64/2014 and 66/2014 as master plans to restore Thailand’s national forest cover. While the first order targeted those who poached timber and encroached on new land, the second order stated that the poor who were settled on the land prior to the announcement of the policies shall not be affected.    

In reality, however, the implementation of the forest policies is far different from the rhetoric.     

The organization pointed out that since last year 103 small-scale farmers have already been accused of encroaching on protected areas and almost 1,800 in Isan have now been prohibited from using their farmland and are about to receive court warrants for allegedly encroaching on the land.

The group added that if this trend is allowed to continue, approximately 1.2 million people who are living on land that overlaps protected areas could be affected.

The military is using martial law to silence people while evicting them from the land without complying with the actual content of the forest policies, stated the group, pointing out the example of 40 families of Non Din Daeng District of Buriram Province in Isan who were evicted and rendered homeless two months after the coup in May last year.

Moreover, the Isan NGOs stated that the implementation of the forest policies has double standards.

While small-scale farmers are being targeted and evicted from their farmlands, the junta still allows investors and private companies to keep concessions to use the land resources.

Lastly, the group revealed in the statement that the junta planned to allocate 50 billion baht (approximately 1.5 billion USD) over ten years to finance the implementation of the forest protection policies. However, the money might be wasted because of the lack of transparency.   

Isan NGO-COD made the following suggestions to the government:

-Lift martial law and restore democracy to the country as soon as possible

-Put on hold all policies and projects that will affect the forest and natural resources and revoke concessions and contracts given to private companies to use forest resources, in order to sustainably conserve and restore natural resources.    

-Stop seeking benefits on the back of people’s suffering under the guise of the forest policies which have been allowed an operational budget of 50 billion baht.  

- Investigate and modify the implementation of the junta’s Return the Forest policies to also target investors, civil servants, and politicians who have encroached into protected areas, and do not target only poor villagers.