Ethnic Karen in Ratchaburi vulnerable to forced eviction

Ethnic Karen of Ban Wang Kho, Tambon Tanao Si, Suan Phueng District, vulnerable to forced eviction
 
Government urged to heed cabinet resolution to provide restoration of the livelihoods of ethnic Karen
 
A fact-finding mission to Tanao Si was made on 9 January 2018 by representatives of the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and the Karen Network for Culture and Environment. On 27 December 2017, a combined force of forestry officials and military and police officers had gone to Ban Wang Kho as part of an operation that had been going on since November. Local villagers were then informed about a forced eviction plan. The villagers were given until 31 January 2018 to relocate. This has caused much concern among the ethnic Karen as they are being forcibly evicted from land that belonged to their ancestors.
 
Ban Wang Kho is a part of Ban Huai Nam Nak, Mu 6, Tambon Tanao Si, Suan Phueng District, Ratchaburi, and is composed of 25 households and 189 residents, of which 53 are schoolchildren. There are also some old people in the village. According to the villagers, they have been living there for more than 50 years. According to the 1988 census by the Hill Tribe Development and Welfare Centre, all of them are registered in the Thai household registration system and all have ID cards issued by the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Provincial Administration. Apart from that, there is a Buddhist monastery, a Christian chapel, a daycare centre and access to utilities.
 
The villagers revealed that as a result of their lack of legal understanding, they had put their fingerprints on a consent form on 23 November 2017 which basically returns the forested area to the authorities. And they are supposed to be evicted by 31 March 2018. The authorities have not yet provided information on a relocation site to accommodate up to 200 people. As a result, they will have to move and stay in their relatives’ homes. The villagers have therefore submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission. 
 
According to local officials of the Internal Security Operations Command, the area along the border has been designated as a security-related area and based on satellite images, it had recently been encroached. On the contrary, the villagers insist that they are not new settlers but they are extended family members. Permission was always sought from the authorities prior to any construction in the area. And in 2017, the district authority even helped to build toilets for them. Apart from about six rai of land on which they live a simple life, most of the villagers have no farmland. 
 
Any activity by the state has to comply with national and international law including human rights treaties to which Thailand is a party, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which guarantees the right to housing. No activity should lead to the forced eviction of local people without an agreement on the relocation site, which must provide equal or better means of livelihood. Local people should rather be encouraged to participate in efforts to collectively preserve forest resources.
 
All parties are urged to consider the impacts on the ethnic Karen in accordance with the Cabinet Resolution of 3 August 2010 on the Policy Approach and Protocol for the Restoration of the Karen Way of Life covering five issues: (1) ethnic and cultural identity; (2) resource management; (3) the right to nationality; (4) cultural inheritance; and (5) access to education. Compliance with this Resolution will be made impossible if the Ban Wang Kho villagers have to be relocated within three months, while no relocation site can be secured. They would simply become internally displaced persons. 
 
“Instead of the government helping the villagers achieve security of their homes and farms so that they can live according to the way of life and culture of their ethnic group, which as time goes by is disappearing, these citizens are being forced to leave.  They are being removed from the area while at the same time we find that in nearby areas, capitalists from outside are laying claim to large plots. So it will be better if they prosecute the large-scale encroachers and allocate that land to the villagers who have no farmland because right now all the villagers have only their homesteads and no farmland,” said Mr. Surapong Kongchantuk, Chairperson of CrCF.