Drop All Charges Against Land and Human Rights Defenders from Ban Sapwai, Chaiyaphum

The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Indigenous Women’s Network of Thailand (IWNT) express our concerns over the charges against land and human rights defenders from Ban Sapwai, Chaiyaphum province.  

Today, 12 June, three women land and human rights defenders Supaporn Srisuk, Sunee Narin, Pattama Komet from the community will be on trial because of their work to defend rights to land and livelihood. They are all farmers who have grown cassava for sustainable livelihoods on the land long before it was announced a reserved forest area. We call on the Thai authorities to ensure the fair administration of justice and drop all charges against the land and human rights defenders from Ban Sapwai community.

The recent crackdown on farming communities  dwelling in forest area has been aggravated due to the Junta’s ‘forest reclamation’ policies. “While the policies intend to combat climate change, instead of going after big investors and corporations that cause large scale environmental degradation, they only work to displace farming  communities that have lived and tilled land well before the land was declared reservation area,” said Naengnoi Saeseng, Indigenous Women’s Network of Thailand (IWNT) Representative.

The Ban Sapwai communities are not the only ones affected by the NCPO’s Order 64/2014, 66/2014 and the Forest Master Plan. The NGO Coordinating Committee on Development estimates that about 9,000 families would be evicted from their lands. As communities continue to be displaced, land and human rights defenders fight harder to assert their right to land and livelihood. It is of great concern that they are criminalised to advance government’s climate change policies, when these forest lands are being given away to coal mining companies and expansion of special economics zones.

“Climate solutions must strive to uphold human rights as well ecological justice. It must consider the livelihoods of the communities impacted and strive to achieve an ecological balance that sustains the forests in harmony with the traditional communities living there and respecting their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC),” said Wardarina, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

APWLD demands that human rights of the six land rights defenders are upheld during the course of the court proceedings. At the same time, it is vital that land rights of communities are recognised, respected and legally protected.

Case Background

In August 2018, 14 farmers who are land and human rights defenders, nine out of which are women, from the Ban Sapwai community, Chaiyaphum were found guilty by Chaiyaphum Provincial Court for violating the Forest Act, B.E. 2484 (1941), the National Reserved Forest Act, B.E. 2507 (1964), and the National Park Act, B.E. 2504 (1961). Each of them face years-long imprisonment and hefty fine ranging as much as 900,000 baht, even though their cases are pending the consideration of the Office of the Prime Minister and a taskforce has been set up to review their rights for community land use.

On 15 May 2019, the Appeal Court reaffirmed Chaiyaphum provincial court’s decision made in August 2018 which found Nittaya Maungklang guilty of encroaching the land inside the national park without permission. Nittaya is  leading woman human and land rights defender from Ban Sapwai community who now faces a 12-month imprisonment and a fine of 190,000 baht. On 4 June 2019, another land rights defender from the same community, Sinuan Pasang, a 61-year-old woman was also sentenced to 5-month imprisonment and 150,000 baht fine for similar charges. Twelve other land and human rights defenders from Ban Sapwai will soon hear their verdicts in hearings in upcoming months.