Thai government to proceed with Kaeng Krachan World Heritage nomination

The Thai government is insisting on nominating the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex for World Heritage status despite a recommendation from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for the nomination to be postponed due to concerns regarding human rights violations against indigenous communities in the area.

Protesters gathering at the Government House on 15 February 2021 to demand justice for Bang Kloi community members who returned to their ancestral land at Chai Phaen Din. 

A cabinet resolution issued on 13 July stated that the Thai delegation to the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee should try to convince the Committee, its advisory bodies, and the World Heritage Centre about the situation regarding communities in the Kaeng Krachan forest area, if it seems like the result of the session will not be in Thailand’s favour, and to back Thailand’s effort to have the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex inscribed as a World Heritage site. The representatives should also ask to amend any draft resolution that would affect future proceedings.

The cabinet also appointed World Heritage commissioner and former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Puangketkaew to lead the Thai delegation to the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee, which is planned to take place on 16 – 31 July 2021 in Fuzhou, China.

The resolution also refers to a report on conservation of the World Heritage site at Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, and stated that the Thai delegation should try to convince the World Heritage Commission, its advisory bodies, and the World Heritage Centre not to list the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex as an Endangered World Heritage Site and to explain to the World Heritage Commission Thailand’s conservation efforts.

Meanwhile, the NHRC has submitted a letter to the Prime Minister and the Chair of the National Committee on the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of Thailand, proposing that the government postpone their nomination of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex for World Heritage status due to unresolved human rights violations against indigenous Karen communities in the area.

The NHRC letter states that, while the NHRC sees the value in the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex becoming a World Heritage site, there are still ongoing issues in the area, such as the dispute over the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community’s right to land. Even though the government has already allocated land to members of the Bang Kloi community who have been relocated from their original land, the community still faces problems as they were not allocated enough land to make a living, and the land they were given was not fit for agriculture.

Members of the Bang Kloi community who returned to their ancestral land at the beginning of 2021 were arrested and are facing prosecution, while their issues remain unresolved. The NHRC therefore proposed that the government postpone their nomination of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex until the issues faced by the indigenous communities are resolved.

In response to the letter, Varawut Silpa-archa, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, told Matichon that he has not seen the letter, but insisted that the nomination is not related to human rights as it is more about conserving natural resources.

On 21 June, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as an advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, published an addendum to the 2020 and 2021 IUCN World Heritage Evaluations, in which they also recommended that the World Heritage Committee refer Kaeng Krachan’s nomination back to the Thai government to allow it to resolve concerns regarding community rights and ensure that the nomination is supported by all affected indigenous peoples and local communities.

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