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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

Mekong Follow-up Exchange of Human Rights Defenders on Holistic Security

BANGKOK, Thailand – On 8-9 September 2019, Manushya Foundation, in partnership with Lifeline and Backyard Politics, held a two-day workshop titled, ‘Mekong Follow-Up Exchange of Human Rights Defenders on Holistic Security’ attended by Human Rights Defenders from Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Thailand. The Exchange was organised as a follow-up from the regional holistic security training held in February 2019, and aimed at enhancing the capacities of human rights defenders and their skills to protect themselves, physically and digitally, and their well-being while fighting for human rights.

The exchange brought together community-based environmental human rights defenders and their organisations from Mekong countries, to share their experiences, challenges and lessons learnt in the implementation of strategies to improve their security. Environmental and land rights defenders, particularly women and those from indigenous and minority communities are among the most vulnerable to risks and reprisals. The co-learning exchange was organised in collaboration with expert organisations so that the defenders were able to receive targeted assistance to address their challenges. The exchange was scheduled before the ASEAN Peoples Forum (APF), so that the defenders participating in the exchange could also attend the APF to share their security concerns and lobby for regional actions, using the skills and advocacy exercises that they had learnt at the Exchange.

Throughout the exchange, the human rights defenders shared their risks, threats and strategies used against attacks, to strengthen their capacity to maintain their well-being, creating space for activism and resistance. They also worked on understanding the stakeholders involved in their everyday risks, identifying those that can help, and those in which it is necessary to take precautions.

In a dedicated panel discussion, Ms. Nittaya Muangklang and Ms. Suwalee Phongam, Human Rights Defenders, in the Sai Thong National Park case, who were unfairly criminalised under the Forest Reclamation Policy for living in their land, demonstrated their struggles and their fight for justice. Their stories and risks were felt by the other Human Rights Defenders who showed support and expressed similar issues. Find more information about the case here.

Nittaya Muangklang, Isaan Land Reform Network

“We thank Manushya Foundation for their help: they gave us advice and our community felt stronger and ready to fight. If Manushya Foundation did not help me, this fight would have ended already. If we win, we will become an example in Thailand - as this law affect hundreds of communities. We hope that we are the last sent to jail for living on our land.”

Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director, Manushya Foundation

“I think you (WHRDs of the Sai Thong National Park case) are an inspiration for other communities in Thailand. You went to jail, you fought and you came back. People will realise that the policy is unjust and change has to be made. 14 of you are fighting and it has given hope to other communities that did not fight and for others to continue the fight. Thank you for being here and for inspiring all of us”

At Manushya Foundation, we recognise that the digital sphere is quickly emerging as one of the key spaces in which human rights are under threat. For this reason, a session was dedicated to strengthen the digital security knowledge of the participants and teach digital security tools to mitigate against the risks and threats HRDs may experience online. A focus was placed on social media platforms and the protection of personal devices, to assist the participants in safely navigating the digital world and protecting themselves, their organisations and communities.

Ke Jung, Indigenous Peoples' Partnership

“We feel unsafe because people who are in power can use cyber laws and legal tools to control us. There is always a misuse of cyberlaws and discrepancy in laws that they can use against HRDs”.

Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director, Manushya Foundation

"It is crucial to protect ourselves on Facebook and other social media, as they can become a powerful tool against us.”

The exchange concluded with a session held by Sattara Hittarat, Founder of Backyard Politics, which focused on creating good practices for physical and psychological well-being while living under stresses and risks. Environmental HRDs in the Mekong region, due to the high-risk nature of their work, experience particular vulnerabilities in regards to their physical and psychological wellbeing. The practices shared by Sattara Hittarat built the capacity of the participants to be able to take care of themselves both personally and in their work.

The Exchange created a stronger network between Human Rights Defenders from different countries in the Mekong region and amplified their voices to share their risks, strategies and the impacts on communities. This exchange also demonstrates the efforts of WHRDs in Thailand, with the special panel discussion presented by Ms. Nittaya Muangklang and Ms. Suwalee Phongam on the issues of Sai Thong, and the fight towards receiving justice for indigenous communities.

Manushya Foundation heartily thanks Backyard Politics for the collaboration and assistance at the exchange, and Lifeline for the generous support without which the training would not have been possible. We would also like to thank all the HRDs who joined us for this Exchange and shared their stories and challenges their communities face.

Access more photos of the event here

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