Thai military dismisses UN concerns on human rights violations against land rights activists

Thai military has dismissed the UN’s expression of concern and suggestion that Thai authorities should uphold human rights while solving land conflicts, saying that the information which claims that the military harassed villagers is false.     

Col Tawee Kerdsomboon, the Deputy Army Commander of the southern province of Surat Thani, where tension over land disputes is highest, on Monday clarified to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the communication from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the junta’s policy to solve protected area issues by forced evictions and violence.

In the statement issued on 11 March, the OHCHR said it is “concerned” about the situation. The land dispute has led to four murders and one disappearance of land rights activists in the past ten months, the OHCHR stated. The Office also suggested that the Thai government should stop forced evictions, which are happening countrywide as a result of the junta’s “Return the Forest” policy.   

In June 2014, the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued Order No. 64/2014, which states that encroachers into protected areas and poachers of illegal forest goods shall face severe legal actions.

Col Tawee said members of the Phoemsap community, an embattled community of Chai Buri District in Surat Thani, illegally encroached on public land, and accused the leaders of the community of acting as a local mafia group to occupy the land plot under the pretext of the villagers’ grievances.

After the military gave its statement on the issue, the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT), the leading land rights advocacy group in the South, declared the military’s statement to be false and pointed out that the military’s response was aimed at covering up the conflict to benefit local interest groups.

Meanwhile on Monday, the SPFT urged the governor of the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat to stop the eviction of the Thung Thab Khwai Community in Bang Khan District.

The community is located on land plots which overlap with the Thung Thab Khwai Protected Area.

According to the SPFT, the acting governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat in January authorised the eviction of the Thung Thab Khwai Community by 15 April.

The eviction order was issued before completion of a survey to determine the boundary between the protected area and the community, the SPFT pointed out.

The organisation stated in the letter that the local authorities should wait for the final resolution from the committee to solve land conflicts which was established in November 2014 by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister.