25 May 2019
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Protection International (PI) strongly object to the recent decision of Chaiyaphum province Appeals Court to find Nittaya Muangklang guilty of land encroachment and unsanctioned clearing of national park land. The court’s decision upholds the provisions of a discriminatory forest reclamation policy, and disregards Thailand’s obligation to protect peoples’ access to land and to protect women human rights defenders (WHRDs).
On 15 May 2019, the Appeals Court reaffirmed Chaiyaphum provincial court’s decision made on August 2018 that found Ms Muangklang guilty of encroaching the land inside the national park without permission. She was immediately taken to the provincial prison along with her mother, sisters and 13 other villagers. On June 5, 2019, the appeals court will read another case against Ms Muangklang. The first court convicted her of encroachment and sentenced her to eight months in prison, requiring her to pay a fine of 80,000 Thai baht (about US$2,500) and ordering her to leave the land. These charges were lodged even though her case is pending the consideration of the Office of the Prime Minister and a special task force has been set up to review her case. Both of these factors are substantiated by letters from the relevant authorities.
As a peasant living in a village in the northeastern Thai province affected by the national forest policy, Ms Muangklang has played a crucial role in defending the collective rights to land and livelihood for communities affected by Thai authorities’ forest reclamation policies. Ms Muangklang belongs to the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), a national movement to demand social justice for the most marginalised groups in Thailand.
APWLD Programme officer Wardarina states: “I strongly urge the Thai government to stand for the rights, sovereignty and interests of its people by re-thinking the 2014 Forest Master Plan and similar policies that displace families and communities from their homes and livelihood. The government needs to heed the wisdom of community leaders like Nittaya instead of punishing them for standing up for their collective right to this land”.
After the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) came into power in 2014, its ‘Forest Master Plan’ and Order 64/2014, which aims to “restore” the national forest land for “sustainable resource management,” has affected thousands of poor families by forcing them to vacate areas that most have lived for generations before any were declared conservation areas.
The Forest Reclamation Policy came into force as the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment began to jointly conduct intensive operations to clamp down on many communities. Although the main purpose of the policies is to target investors’ logging and other large-scale extractive activities, it is mostly rural, indigenous communities who have been convicted of these charges and face exorbitant fines of up to 250,000 Thai baht (about US$7,850), even though they have been doing small-scale sustainable cropping for decades.
Protection International’s Pranom Somwong said, “There are at least 226 women human rights defenders based in rural areas who are the target of judicial harassment by state and non-state actors since the 2014 military coup. We urge the Thai authorities to drop all the cases against women human rights defenders. We reiterate that supporting and enhancing women human rights defenders, both rural and indigenous women working on land rights and natural resources management, is the best way to redistribute land, social and economic power to women.”
APWLD and Protection International call on the Thai Government to:
- Scrap the Forest Master Plan, Order 64/2014 and similar NCPO orders that fails to stand for and be accountable to people’s interest, rights and sovereignty;
- Drop the fabricated all charges against Nittaya Muangklang and the 13 other human rights defenders indicted
- Conduct prompt and independent investigations on attacks against land rights defenders and to publicly recognise the role of they play as key actors in the protection of common goods.
- Cease all forms judicial harassment, attacks, and criminalisation campaigns against women / human rights defenders
- Protect and support the work of women / human rights defenders according to the Thai government’s international human rights obligations in general, and particularly the UN General Assembly Resolution on Human Rights Defenders and CEDAW General Recommendations Nos. 33 and 34
- Ensure that policy development adheres to international standards and obligations namely the rights to land, development, livelihood and access to resources, particularly ensuring that people’s sovereignty is respected through affirming free, prior and informed consent in all stages of policy development.