UN concerned by the situation of human rights in relation to land in Thailand

BANGKOK  (11  March 2015) -The United Nations Human Rights Office for South East  Asia  (OHCHR)  is  concerned  that  the rights of poor communities in maintaining  access  to  land and livelihood are not being upheld and urges the Government to comply with its international human rights obligations in pursuing its land polices.
 
OHCHR  is  particularly  concerned that the push of the National Council of Peace  and  Order (NCPO) for quick solutions to complex land issues has led to  violations  of  international  human  rights  standards,  including the failure  to  ensure  free,  prior  and  informed  consent  of  communities, violence,   intimidation  and  threats  against  those  seeking  to  defend community rights and, at times, forced evictions. Under international human rights  law,  Thailand  is obligated to respect rights of local communities when seeking to restrict their access to land.
 
The  four murders and one disappearance of land rights activists by unknown actors  in  the last ten months in Thailand, including Mr. Chai Bunthonglek killed  on  11 February in Surat Thani province, raises particular concern. OHCHR  calls  on  the  authorities  to  increase  measures  to  ensure  the protection  of  all  human rights defenders in the country and particularly those  working  on  land  issues  who  face  the most risk. Thailand has an obligation  to  promptly investigate and bring to justice those responsible for  the  abovementioned  murders  and  disappearance  as well as any other violence or threats targeted at land right activists.
 
Restrictions  on freedom of expression and assembly imposed since May 2014, including through the ban on political gatherings of more than five people, have  further  impacted  on  the  rights  of  communities  and human rights defenders  to  participate  in  public  affairs.  It  also limits them from raising   the   visibility   of  their  issues,  thereby  increasing  their vulnerability. The authorities have cancelled a number of events and forums on  land  and  natural resources due to the restrictions. At the same time, OHCHR  is concerned that the implementation of recent land policies has led to  an  increase  in  the  number  of prosecutions of farmers and villagers deemed to be land encroachers.
 
The  implementation  of  the NCPO Orders No. 64/2557 and 66/2557 has led to the  destructions  of  crops  planted  in  disputed  areas. In violation of international  standards,  some  communities,  including  six  villages  in Buriram   province,   were  also  subjected  to  forced  evictions  without alternative  land  provided.  These  operations affected the enjoyment of a number  of  human  rights,  including  the right to adequate housing and an adequate  standard  of  living  and  do not appear to provide a sustainable solution for the problems at stake.
 
OHCHR  recommends  to  the  Royal  Thai  Government to halt or postpone the implementation of the NCPO Orders 64 and 66, as well as the “Master Plan on Solutions  to  Destruction  of  Forest  Resources and Land Encroachment and Sustainable   Forest   Management”,  pending  effective  consultation  with affected communities and civil society. This was also a recommendation made by  the  National  Human  Rights  Commission  of  Thailand.  Further, OHCHR recommends that the Constitution Drafting Committee retain sections 57, 58, 66  and  67  of  the  2007  Constitution  that  provided protection for key community  rights,  including  participating  in  decision-making affecting them.   Finally,   OHCHR  urges  the  Constitution  Drafting  Committee  to strengthen  the  National  Human  Rights  Commission of Thailand, which has played  a  key  role  in supporting a human rights approach to land related issues,  particularly  its  selection  process  to ensure its independence, impartiality and strong human righs expertise.
 
In  early June this year, Thailand will be reviewed under the International Covenant  on  Economic,  Social  and  Cultural  Rights.  Many of the rights provided under the Covenant, including the rights to food, adequate housing and self-determination, have been affected by the current land policies and practices. These issues are likely to be raised during the review.