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©2019 by Manushya Foundation.

Founded in 2017, Manushya Foundation serves as a bridge to engage, mobilise, and empower agents of change by: connecting humans through inclusive coalition building and; by developing strategies focused at placing local communities’ voices in the centre of human rights advocacy and domestic implementation of international human rights obligations and standards.

 

Manushya Foundation strengthens the solidarity and capacity of communities and grassroots to ensure they can constructively raise their own concerns and provide solutions in order to improve their livelihoods and the human rights situation on the ground.

SAI THONG NATIONAL PARK CASE

14 LAND RIGHTS DEFENDERS UNFAIRLY TREATED AS CRIMINALS

Download the Profiles and Summary of the Charges faced by the 14 Land Rights Defenders here:

See the profiles of the 14 villagers below and the charges they faced:

1.1. Enforcement of the Appeal Court Judgment

On 7 July 2019, a court notice was sent to enforce the order of the appeal court, asking Mrs. Seenuan Phasang to vacate her land within 15 days. She was also asked to pay 150,000 THB to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP). However, it has been concluded that no action can be taken until the final judgment of the Supreme Court is provided. However, if the villagers lose their case and the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the Appeal Court, they will be evicted from their land and no compensation or alternate land will be provided.

1.2. Appeal to the Supreme Court

To follow up on the cases of all the villagers, their lawyer Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap has submitted appeals to the Supreme Court within 30 days from the date of the appeal court judgment for 13 of the 14 villagers, along with an application for bail on 2 July and 15 July 2019 respectively. In the appeal before the Supreme Court, the lawyer questioned the validity of the exclusion of the poor villagers from NCPO Order 66/2014 which should protect them from being charged under NCPO Order 64/2014.

On 2 July 2019, the appeal petition before the Supreme Court was submitted for 5 villagers, including Ms. Nittaya Muangklang in one case (case 1739/2017) against her, and for Mrs. Seenuan Phasang, Ms. Sunee Nalin, Ms. Pattama Komet, and Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk. The Supreme Court accepted these petitions that were approved by the Court of First Instance and Chaiyaphum Provincial Court with respect to questions of law and fact, as provided under Section 221 of the Criminal Code.

 

On 15 July 2019, the lawyer submitted the appeal petition before the Supreme Court for the remaining 8 villagers, including Mrs. Thongpan Monggang, Mr. Wanchai Arphonkaeo, Mr. Samon Somchitr, Mr. Put Sukbongkot, Mr. Sompitr Taenok, Ms. Narisara Muangklang, Ms. Suwalee Phongam, and Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi. As of 27 August, the Supreme Court has accepted all appeal petitions except for the petition submitted by Mr. Samon Somchitr, who has been sentenced to 1 year monitoring.

It is important to highlight here that the appeal petition for Ms. Nittaya Muangklang in a second case (case 1738/2017) was submitted before the Supreme Court only on 26 July 2019. This is because all judges of the provincial court at first did not certify the appeal petition, without which the submission to the Supreme Court could not be done. After a meeting with Ms. Nittaya, the judges of the Provincial Court approved the appeal petition, but only allowed for arguments before the court with respect to the law in question. This is of concern as being a community leader, it would seem that Ms. Nittaya has become a victim of persistent and ongoing judicial harassment.

1.3. Requesting effective access to Justice

The accused villagers felt mistreated in the Court of First Instance and in the Appeal Court. The villagers stated that they are poor and should therefore have the right to remain on the land that they have rightfully inherited by birth, however, this was not recognised in any of the lower courts. In order to ensure that the villagers would not be mistreated in the Supreme Court, on 24 June and 12 July, they wrote the Supreme Court a letter in which they requested the Supreme Court (1) to accept their individual submissions; (2) treat the villagers fairly; and (3) to consider the case carefully without rush. On 20 September, a letter was received from the Court of Justice, which oversees the Court of First Instance, Appeal Court, and the Supreme Court, responding to their request. Even though all accused villagers had sent a letter, the letter of the Court of Justice was only addressed to Mr. Put and Mr. Suwit and stated that fairness cannot be requested through a letter, and since they already submitted their appeal petition to the Supreme Court, they should await the outcome of the Supreme Court. The letter as well included that judge in the Appeal Court had ruled correctly as Mr. Put and Mr. Suwit are not considered poor and do not have proof that they lived on the land before the issuance of NCPO Order 64/2014. Providing his feedback on this letter, the lawyer, Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap, provided that he is unsure whether this letter will influence the villagers’ case. He wishes not to respond to the letter, as this might interrupt the judicial process of the Supreme Court.

1.4. Family pressure to Confess for 2 HRDs

Mrs. Sakl Prakit, due to pressure from external sources, her husband has asked for her appeal to the Supreme Court to be submitted separately and using a different lawyer. Due to pressure received from various actors, Mrs. Sakl has confessed to have encroached the land. Consequently, she has been released on bail on 19 July 2019.

 

On 15 July 2019, the lawyer, Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap, submitted the Appeal petition of Mr. Wanchai Arphonkaeo to the Supreme Court. However, shortly after that, due to family pressure and the expectation to have his sentence of 6 months and 20 days of imprisonment, and a compensation of damages of 300,000 THB reduced, Mr. Wanchai confessed to have encroached the land. As Mr. Wanchai has confessed, it is likely that the Supreme Court will take a long period of time to consider the Appeal petition submitted. Moreover, if the Supreme Court will accept the case, Mr. Wanchai’s chances to win the case have been reduced due to the confession. Since the confession, the case of Mr. Wanchai is handled by a different lawyer. Mr. Wanchai has been released on bail from the Chaiyaphum Provincial Prison on 6 August 2019.

1.5. Emblematic case 

It should be noted that the ‘Sai Thong National Park’ case is emblematic with respect to the proceedings before the Thai Supreme Court, as this will be the first time that such a case, questioning NCPO Order 66/2014, will be brought to the Supreme Court. Moreover, a judgment in the cases of the villagers are expected to be given between six-months to one year due to the high volume of cases submitted to the Supreme Court, operating in Bangkok, and this would most likely be a closed-door process which defendants and prosecutors being unable to attend. Instead, once a final decision is reached, a written judgment will be provided by the Court to the lawyer.

 

Thus, we are concerned with the lack of transparency and due process as there is no knowledge about how laws are analysed and decisions are reached. In the event the Supreme Court dismisses the cases against the villagers, they will be entitled to receive compensation for the time they unjustly spent in jail. 

1.6. Granting of Bail

Of the 14 villagers, bail applications were submitted along with the appeal petition for 12 villagers represented by Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap, who are facing prison sentences. For 1 villager, Mr. Samon Somchitr, he is only being monitored.

 

On 18 July 2019, the Supreme Court granted bail to 4 villagers, Mrs. Seenuan Phasang with the bail amount set at 180,000 THB; to Ms. Pattama Komet with the bail amount set at 500,000 THB; to Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk with the bail amount set at 180,000 THB; and to Mr. Put Sukbongkot with the bail amount set at 200,000 THB. On 19 July 2019, after the payment of the bail as provided under the Justice Fund, 3 villagers were released on bail from the Chaiyaphum Provincial Prison. However, Mr. Put continued to be detained and was only released once he was granted the bail amount through the Justice Fund on 25 July 2019.

 

On 25 and 26 July 2019, the Supreme Court granted bail to Ms. Sunee Nalin and Ms. Suwalee Phongam respectively. After payment of the bail amount set at 160,000 THB as provided under the Justice Fund, Ms. Sunee was released on bail. Unfortunately, Ms. Suwalee is currently still awaiting her release on bail, as her bail amount is still to be granted under the Justice Fund which will only be considered at a meeting scheduled for 5 August 2019.

 

On 31 July 2019, the Supreme Court granted bail to Ms. Nittaya Muangklang in both cases filed against her and she was released after payment of the bail amount set at 350,000 THB, as provided under the Justice Fund.

 

On 13 August, the Supreme Court granted bail to Ms. Suwalee Phongam, Mrs. Thongpan Monggang, and Ms. Narisara Muangklang. The bail amount of Ms. Suwalee amounted to 150,000 THB, while the bail amounts of both Mrs. Thongpan and Ms. Narisara are 200,000 THB.

On 26 August 2019, the Supreme court granted bail to Mr. Sompitr Taennok in both cases filed against him and he was released after payment of the bail amount set at a total of 400,000 THB for both cases, as provided under the Justice Fund.

On 29 August 2019, the Supreme court granted bail to Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi. On the same day, after payment of the bail amount set at 200,000 THB as provided under the Justice Fund, Mr. Suwit was released on bail from Chaiyaphum Provincial Prison, until his trial by the Supreme Court at a later time.

1.7. Provision of Bail amount through the Justice Fund

In Thailand, the Justice Fund Act of 2015 provides legal aid to assist indigent persons being tried by the court system. The justice fund supports access to justice and justice procedures, by financially supporting legal assistance in litigation, temporary release for the defender on bail, compensation for human rights abuses, and for legal education of the public. The Justice Fund is managed, approved and disseminated by the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) of the Ministry of Justice at the National level, and by Provincial Justice Boards in each province across the country.

Following continuous engagement by OHCHR and civil society organisations with the RLPD, the bail amounts were approved by the Provincial Justice Board for Mrs. Seenuan Phasang, Ms. Pattama Komet and Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk on 18 July 2019; for Ms. Sunee Nalin as well as Mr. Put Sukbongkot on 25 July 2019; and for Ms. Nittaya Muangklang on 31 July 2019. An application has also been submitted to the Justice Fund for the provision of the bail amount to Ms. Suwalee Phongam, who was granted bail by the Supreme Court on 26 July. The Provincial Justice Board only approved her bail amount during a meeting which was held on 5 August 2019.

During the meeting held on 5 August 2019, the Provincial Justice Board did not only approve the bail amount of Ms Suwalee, but also approved the bail amounts for Mrs. Thongpan Monggang; Ms. Narisara Muangklang; Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi, and Mr. Sompitr Taennok. Although at the time of the meeting the Appeal petitions were not yet accepted by the Supreme Court, the Provincial Justice Board had approved the granting of bail amount for these cases in advance.  Another meeting had been scheduled on 9 August 2019, to discuss the receipt of the bail amount by the provincial administrative authorities in order to release the HRDs from jail. During the meeting, it has been suggested that a contract with the defenders’ family members needs to be established, stating that they will not leave the country. Resulting from the meeting of 9 August, the money had been received, and the 5 Human Rights Defenders have been released on bail from Chaiyaphum Provincial Prison on 13 August, 26 August, and 29 August.

    2. Case Monitoring 

Manushya Foundation observed and monitored the court hearings, until the last ones on 3 July 2019, to support the 14 land rights defenders and members of the Isaan Land Reform Network. We also conduct prison visits to the Sab Wai villagers already jailed. You can access all our summaries here:

  • Court hearing of 15 May 2019English / Thai 

    • Ms. Nittaya Muangklang

  • Court hearing of 4 June 2019:  English / Thai

    • Mrs. Seenuan Phasang

  • Court hearing of 5 June 2019English / Thai 

    • Ms. Nittaya Muangklang

  • Court hearing of 12 June 2019: English / Thai

    • Ms. Pattama Komet

    • Ms. Sunee Nalin 

    • Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk​

  • Court hearing of 18 June 2019English / Thai

    • Mrs. Sakl Prakit

Manushya Foundation continues to monitor the proceedings in the case of the 14 land rights defenders and members of the Isaan Land Reform Network, including with respect to the enforcement of the appeal court judgment against them, their appeal before the Supreme Court, granting of bail, and provision of bail amount under the Justice Fund. You can access all our summaries here:

  • Enforcement of the appeal court judgment as of 7 July 2019English / Thai (Mrs. Seenuan Phasang)

  • Information on the Supreme court appeal and the bail of 3 WHRDs as of 19 July 2019English / Thai (Mrs Suphaporn Seesuk, Mrs Seenuan Phasang and Ms Pattama Komet)

  • Information on the Supreme court appeal and the bail of 2 land rights defenders as of 25 July 2019English / Thai (Ms. Sunee Nalin and Mr. Put Sukbongkot)

  • Information on the Supreme court appeal and the release from jail of 1 WHRD as of 31 July 2019: English / Thai (Ms. Nittaya Muangklang)

  • Information on the Supreme court appeal and the release from jail of 3 WHRDs as of 13 August 2019English / Thai (Ms. Suwalee Phongam, Ms. Narisara Muangklang, and Mrs. Thongpan Monggang)

  • Information on the Supreme court appeal and the release from jail of 1 HRD as of 26 August 2019English / Thai (Mr. Sompitr Teannok)

  • Information on the Supreme court appeal and the release from jail of 1 HRD as of 29 August 2019: English / Thai (Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi)

  • Court Hearing of 25 June 2019English / Thai

    • Mrs. Thongpan Monggang 

    • Mr. Wanchai Arphonkaeo 

    • Mr. Samon Somchit 

  • Court hearing of 2 July 2019English / Thai

    • Mr. Put Sukbongkot 

    • Mr. Sompitr Taennok (for his first case)

  • Court hearing of 3 July 2019English / Thai

    • Ms. Narisara Muangklang 

    • Ms. Suwalee Phongam 

    • Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi

    • Mr. Sompitr Taennok (for his second case)

         3. Solutions proposed by Sab Wai villagers to resolve land disputes

 

After the 14 Sab Wai villagers were sued by Royal Forest Department officers for encroaching and trespassing on Sai Thong National Park in 2015 and 2016; the villagers and the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), a network of grassroots communities and forest dwellers advocating for land rights, undertook various actions to address the land disputes in Sai Thong National Park. In 2016, they engaged with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and other relevant government agencies and it was agreed to (1) temporarily halt the eviction of villagers from the national park area and (2) establish a ‘provincial working group to resolve land issues in Sai Thong National Park’. 

 

From 2016 to 2018, meetings were held between government agencies and local representatives to resolve land disputes in the area and affected villagers in Sai Thong National Park proposed a ‘sustainable land and natural resources management plan through participatory approach’ as a solution to the dispute. The villagers’ plan was accepted by the ‘provincial working group to resolve land issues in Sai Thong National Park’ in March 2018, during a meeting held in Korat. Unfortunately, as of yet, the plan has not been approved or adopted by the Chaiyaphum provincial administration. Moreover, members from the Chaiyaphum Provincial administration who attended the meeting in Korat have in the meantime left their positions without having done a proper handover. Consequently, the current Provincial administration is not aware of what was discussed and agreed on during the meeting. Therefore, the plan proposed by communities has not yet been implemented. Once the community’s plan will be approved by the provincial administration of Chaiyaphum, it will then be sent to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment or the Cabinet for its approval. If approved, the villagers will be able to continue living in Sai Thong National Park area; pass on the land to their children, and they will be protected from being sued in the future. However, villagers will not be able to expand their land outside the permitted area.[i] 

 

Further, in November 2018 the last meeting with the provincial working group to resolve land issues in Sai Thong National Park was held. However, even though a request has been made several times, the villagers have still not received the meeting minutes from this meeting. This is problematic as these meeting minutes could strengthen the defendant villagers’ cases, since they could have been utilised as evidence to show their collaborative approach and prove to the Appeal Court that discussions and solution-seeking procedures were ongoing.

 

The lawyer of the Sab Wai villagers, Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap, presented the above mentioned ongoing procedures to the Court; but the Court has not considered them at all. 


From the above, it can be concluded that the villagers of Sab Wai village have undertaken various actions to seek solutions for the land dispute in Sai Thong National Park and that they are willing to engage and collaborate with relevant government agencies at the provincial level to seek and reach solutions together. However, until now the provincial authorities lack the political will to implement the solutions proposed by the villagers, such as the ‘sustainable land and natural resources management plan through participatory approach,’ and the provincial authorities have also not provided the villagers with the necessary documents and materials stating that discussions on resolving land disputes were ongoing, which they could have utilised as evidence in the Appeal Court to strengthen their cases.

         4. Advocacy Efforts

 

4.1. Submission of Urgent Action to 7 UN Special Rapporteurs

A complaint (submission of information for urgent action related to alleged human rights violations) has been submitted to relevant United Nations Special Procedures requesting their urgent intervention to stop the ongoing unfair criminalisation of the 14 Sab Wai villagers and to call on the Thai Government to revise its controversial forest conservation policies hurting communities rather than targeting capitalist investors undermining the environment. The submission was shared with the following 7 Special Rapporteurs Mandates:

  • UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

  • UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

  • UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

  • UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing

  • UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

In addition, updates were shared with the 7 UN Special Rapporteurs regarding the monitoring of court hearings on 25 June, 2-3 July 2019, prison visits to the imprisoned Sab Wai villagers and Appeals to the Supreme Court.

The submission made on 23 June 2019 can be accessed here:

The additional updates can be accessed here:

- Court hearings and prison visits of 25 June 2019

- Court hearings of 2-3 July 2019, prison visits and Appeals to the Supreme Court 

- Appeal to the Supreme Court, provision of bail, granting of bail under the Justice Fund and amendments to the law, as of 7 August 2019.

Appeal to the Supreme Court, provision of bail, granting of bail under the Justice Fund and amendments to the law, as of 29 August 2019

4.1.1. UN Communication to the Royal Thai Government

On 19 August 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, together with the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Housing, on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, and on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, responded to the submission and sent a communication to the Royal Thai Government, expressing their concerns about the conviction of the 14 land rights defenders in Sai Thong National Park, and about the misuse of the Forest Reclamation Policy and related NCPO Order 64 and 66/2014. The communication to the Royal Thai Government has been made public on 23 October 2019. The UN Special Rapporteurs highlighted in their communication that the government should uphold human rights while protecting the environment, therefore it is crucial that conservation policies integrate these rights.

In their communication to the Royal Thai Government, the special rapporteurs requested the Thai government the following:

  • Any additional information or comments on the allegations mentioned in the communication;

  • Information on the legal and factual basis of the prosecution and conviction of the 14 land rights defenders, along with information on how these are compatible with international human rights law;

  • An explanation of the legal procedure and criteria invoked for identifying individuals excluded from protection under NCPO Order 66/2014, and a definition of the “poor” under this order, and how it is employed in the process of granting protection from impacts of NCPO Order 64/2014;

  • Information on how the evictions of forest-dependent communities from their lands, as being pursued under the Forest Reclamation Policy and supplemental NCPO Orders, as well as the lack of corresponding relocation or compensation matters, are compatible with Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law;

  • Information about what steps have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders, including land rights defenders in Thailand are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment, free from any physical, judicial or other harassment.

The UN Communication from the UN Special Rapporteurs to the Royal Thai Government can be accessed here.

Cover pages 09.08.34.png

Following the procedures of the United Nations Special Procedures, the Royal Thai Government was given 60 days to reply to the UN Communication of 19 August 2019. Unfortunately, as of today, the government has not replied.

 

Manushya Foundation is pleased that the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment is taking the lead to question Thailand’s false climate change solution: The Forest Reclamation Policy and supplementing NCPO Orders 64 and 66/2014. 

4.2. News Releases and Joint Statement have been issued in support of the 14 HRDs:​

4.3. Working Group to amplify advocacy efforts in support of the 14 HRDs

A Working Group comprising human rights organisations and academics has been established in support of the 14 HRDs. It includes the following: 

  • Manushya Foundation

  • Isaan Land Reform Network (ILRN)​

  • Focus on the Global South (FOCUS)

  • iLAW

  • Protection International (PI)

  • Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

  • Rangsit University

 

As part of the Working Group, Manushya Foundation won’t stop fighting until the Thai government stops criminalising communities and human rights defenders and continues violating land rights under the pretext of protecting the forests, when local communities know better than anyone else how to take care of the forests and protect the environment. 

5. Responses by the government with regards to the land disputes and legal charges

 

5.1. Data collection to demonstrate that the accused villagers are poor

On 30 August 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had a meeting to discuss the case of the 14 accused villagers of Sab Wai village. Resulting from the meeting, the minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had assigned the Deputy Director of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation to visit the 14 villagers, which was done accordingly on 2 September 2019. During the visit, the Deputy Director discussed with the villagers how their case could be supported and initiated to collect data of the villagers which would show that they are poor and should not be treated as investors. The data would include: (1) the family size of the villagers, indicating the number of people they take care of; (2) the villagers’ debt amount resulting from the payment of compensation of damages; (3) the villagers’ income and expenses; (4) their livelihood and health situation; (5) their occupation, and (6) the type and size of their land. Besides that, any document the villagers obtain indicating that they have been declared ‘poor’ by the government would be collected. Examples of such documents are scholarships and welfare money that villagers have received in the past. After collection, this data could then be submitted to the Supreme Court in order to strengthen the villagers’ cases. 

 

In first instance, the Deputy Director noted that the data would be collected by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation. However, the villagers did not agree on this and argued that they would want to collect the data themselves, and develop a report which would then be certified by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation. The villagers preferred collecting their own data to build credible evidence which would inform community-based recommendations. 

 

Consequently, on 6 September 2019, a meeting took place with the Deputy Director of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation, the Prosecutor, and the Provincial Governor of Chaiyaphum during which they discussed the data collection’s methodology, as well as relevant laws and regulations. During this meeting, it was concluded that the data would be collected by the villagers themselves and would then be certified by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation. After that, the certified data would be handed over to the villagers so that the lawyer can submit the data to the Supreme Court, providing evidence that the villagers are poor and should not be treated as investors. This will be beneficial for all accused villagers as it is likely to strengthen their cases in the Supreme Court. However, it has to be noted that for Ms. Nittaya Muangklang, these data will only be beneficial for case 1739/2017 against her, as for case 1738/2017 against her, the judges of the Provincial Court have only allowed arguments before the Supreme Court with respect to the law in question, not facts. Further, it has to be noted that the data will only be collected from 11 villagers, including: Mrs. Thongpan Monggang, Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk, Ms. Nittaya Muangklang, Ms. Narisara Muangklang, Ms. Pattama Komet, Ms. Suwalee Phongam, Ms. Sunee Nalin, Mr. Samon Somchitr, Mr. Sompitr Taennok, Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi, and Mr. Put Sukbongkot. The three defenders whose data won’t be collected are: Mr. Wanchai Arphonkaeo and Mrs. Sakl Prakit, who have confessed and will therefore not be included, and Ms. Seenuan Phasang, who has chosen not to have her data collected.

 

5.2. Community’s land and resource management plan and area surveys

On 22 September 2019 the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment visited Sai Thong National Park in order to seek solutions for the land dispute. Resulting from the meeting, it was concluded that in order to solve the problem, the community’s land and resource management plan, which was approved by the provincial working group in March 2018, should be revised by villagers and representatives of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation. It was as well concluded that in the future, prior to the development of any policy that would affect the area, an area survey should be conducted. Surveys are already being conducted and so far five communities have been surveyed. The Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation will allocate budget to continue the survey from October 2019 onwards.

 

On 24 September 2019, the lawyer, Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap, had a meeting with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and discussed the case of 11 defendants (three defendants wish to pursue their cases individually) in Sai Thong National Park. They discussed whether the villagers are poor, according to NCPO Order 66/2014. It is important that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment certifies that the accused villagers are poor because only then the Ministry will be able to develop guidelines that would guarantee the community’s right to manage their land in the future. The statement of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment could as well be used in the court.

   6. Thailand’s false climate solution & the misuse of forest conservation policies to criminalise rural communities                   rather than capitalist investors

Thailand is one of the developing countries participating in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), which is a global partnership of governments, businesses, civil society and indigenous peoples focused on reducing emissions from deforestations and forest degradation, forest carbon stock conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (activities commonly referred to as REDD+).[ii] The FCPF hosted by the World Bank has created a framework and processes for REDD+ readiness, which helps participating countries get ready for future systems of financial incentives for REDD+.[iii] Thailand was selected as one of the REDD participant country in 2009. Its REDD+ readiness preparation proposal was approved in 2013 with a condition to undertake additional consultations with the concerned stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities that have been monitoring the REDD+ implementation in the country.[iv] Subsequently, in 2014, the Forestry Master Plan, the ‘Forest Reclamation Policy’, was issued based on NCPO Order 64/2014.

 

6.1. The Forestry Master Plan: ‘Forest Reclamation Policy’ as a strategy to evict the Poor

With this policy, the Thai government, specifically the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE),[v] and the Royal Forest Department (RFD), aims to combat problems such as forest destruction and trespassing on public land, while intending to increase Thailand’s national forest area by 26 million Rai or upto 40% of the total area of the country. The Master Plan was around the discourse that commercial investors’ exploitation of Thailand’s natural resources is responsible for deforestation and must be stopped. The government appeared sincere in its intentions to target only wealthy investors after it released Order 66/2014, a supplemental directive which states that government operations must not impact the poor. However, implementation of the Master Plan has overwhelmingly targeted impoverished villagers and indigenous peoples who lived on their lands for decades as “investors” or alleged that local communities were being funded by wealthy investors, while it was found that in ISOC’s operations, no organisations or capitalists have been arrested or charged for conducting illegal logging or encroachment.[vi] This has resulted in a complete disregard of the protection measures set out by Order 66/2014. The Royal Forest Department does so by misusing laws and policy by confiscating land and evicting villagers from their land, by enforcing various forests and national park related laws such as (a) the Forest Act B.E. 2484, (b) the National Reserved Forests Act B.E. 2507, and (c) the National Park Act B.E. 2504.

6.2. Focus on the controversial NCPO orders operationalizing the Forest Reclamation Policy

To operationalise the forest reclamation policy, orders were also passed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) consisting of the military junta. The two most relevant orders include NCPO Order No. 64/2014 and 66/2014.

  • NCPO Order 64/2014 related to the suppression and cessation of encroachment and destruction of forest resources, provides that authorized state agencies are to suppress violations and arrest those who encroach on, seize, possess, destroy, or act in any manner that may cause damage to the forest, specifically on protected land. The aim of the NCPO Order 64/2014 is to stop deforestation which has been caused by commercial investors’ exploitation of Thailand’s natural resources.

  • NCPO Order 66/2014 suggests that the primary targets of these measures must be investors or large-scale outside developers, whereas the poor, landless and those who have settled in the land before it was declared as a protected area, should not be affected by the NCPO order 64/2014. NCPO Order 66/2014 establishes a list of such people who are permitted to use the land. The Order 66/2014 appeared to focus only on wealthy investors. However, during its implementation of the Forestry Master Plan, the government has persistently identified impoverished villagers who lived on their lands for decades as “investors” or alleged villagers as being funded by wealthy investors, resulting in the loss of protection as set out by Order 66/2014. Five strategies have been followed by the NCPO to evict people, namely stopping illegal logging, stopping forest encroachment, seizing encroached areas, destroying villagers produce while filing lawsuits, and conducting area surveys.

6.3. Discrepancies in the application of NCPO Order 66/2014, meant to protect poor people from being evicted for forest land

In order to target HRDs protecting their land and protesting against land evictions, the government has purposely excluded villagers from the protection guaranteed to poor people under NCPO Order 66/2014. The Sai Thong National Park case clearly demonstrates the discrepancies in the application of NCPO Order 66/2014: the Royal Forest Department (RFD) said that NCPO Order 64/2014 is meant to target investors and NCPO Order 66/2014 is meant to exclude poor people from NCPO Order 64/2014 and protect them from being sued by the government. The definition of poor, according to the Royal Forest Department, is not properly defined and depends on the appreciation of the Thai authorities and judges. In the case of the 14 Sab Wai villagers currently prosecuted, the judges did not consider them as poor because they were allegedly owners of 2 to 3 plots of land[vii] but villagers find themselves unfairly targeted as they are only small-scale farmers. This highlights the unequal application of the NCPO Order 66/2014, considering that those who were supposed to be protected, not only lost their land but also were found guilty of the charges of trespassing, having to pay a fine of between 40,000 THB to 1,6587,211 THB, together with jail time ranging from 5 months 10 days to 4 years. Finally, their criminalisation further put them in poverty situation, leaving their families, elders and children behind, with insufficient financial resources and care. 

6.4. Unlawful usage of the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 which is by itself flawed in its implementation

Another reason why the 14 Sab Wai villagers were declined protection under NCPO Order 66/2014 is because the appeal judgment ruled that the villagers had newly moved into the area. The court concluded that the villagers had no proof that they had lived in the national park area before its’ establishment in 1992 because their names are not listed in the survey, which was conducted under the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998. Even though it is stipulated in NCPO Order 66/2014 that an investigation and rights-proving procedure would take place for new encroachers, verification methods of communities’ land rights, such as examining the traditional, cultural, and historical context, have been neglected by law enforcers[viii] and instead, the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 was utilised as a land-rights identification method. Under the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998, aerial photographs and satellite images were taken and surveys amongst villagers living in national parks and reserved forest areas have been conducted. Based on the images and surveys, a list was created and those included in it were allowed to make a living in national reserved forest and national park areas.[ix] The lawyer, Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap, pointed out that the 14 prosecuted villagers of Sab Wai villagers were not on the list because survey data is missing, and even though they are heirs to the land, their names are not included on survey documents. This is due to the flawed implementation of Cabinet Resolution 30 June 1998 as: (1) authorities have limited time available to conduct surveys; (2) the number of personnel conducting surveys is limited, and (3) the budget allocated for surveying is insufficient. Therefore, in the case of the Sab Wai villagers, when authorities ran out of funds to survey, they did not continue the surveys but allowed villagers to continue living on the land.[x] The villagers also pointed out that surveys were not conducted fairly. Villagers had approached surveying rangers on various occasions to ensure that their land was surveyed and they would be included in the list, but the rangers made excuses not to survey their land and told them that another survey would take place after four years.

 

The lawyer of the 14 Sab Wai villagers, Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap also identified another flaw by questioning the usage of the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 as a land-rights identification method because the usage of this Resolution is not specified in either NCPO Order 64/2014 or 66/2014. NCPO Order 66/2014 states that an investigation and right-proving procedure would take place for new encroachers but in the case of the Sab Wai villagers, officials have chosen to utilise the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 as a land-rights identification method. According to Mr. Somnuek, the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 can only be utilised if the NCPO Orders require to do so. In the case of the Sab Wai villagers, the court has interpreted and applied the NCPO Orders as the primary source on which the charges are based. The NCPO Orders overrode the Cabinet Resolution and thus the intentions of the NCPO Orders should be followed, with (1) villagers being protected from eviction under NCPO Order 66/2014 of the Forest Reclamation Policy and (2) a right-proving procedure taking place. Mr. Somnuek Tumsupap had attempted to use this argument to fight the cases of the villagers, but it was not considered by the court.


These existing laws, policies and NCPO Orders place limitations on community rights, while restricting land rights, management and utilisation of natural resources by local people, especially in protected areas. In this manner, authorities enforce strict legislative and implement coercive measures against those who have settled and sustained their livelihoods in forest areas. By December 2015, Order No. 64/2014 had impacted nearly 1,800 families, mostly in the north and northeast, home to large indigenous populations. At that date, 681 cases filed against exercise of powers under Order No. 64/2014 towards local and indigenous communities were recorded, and 168 of these cases amounted to judicial harassment.[xi] Further, since the 2014 military coup, there are at least 226 women human rights defenders (WHRDs) from rural areas who have been subjected to judicial harassment by State and non-state actors.[xii]

 

6.5. Abolition of NCPO Orders 64/2014 & 66/2014 but misuse of forest conservation policies will remain with controversial National Park Act of 2019. 

An important development with respect to the law used to criminalise the 14 villagers has been the repeal of 70 NCPO Orders including NCPO Orders 64/2014 and 66/2014 on 9 July 2019.[xiii] These orders were withdrawn using the newly issued NCPO Order 9/2019 by the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha in his capacity as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). However, NCPO 64/2014 and 66/2014 will continue to criminalise the legitimate actions of communities and individuals as: (1) This new order will take some time to come into effect, during which time the NCPO Orders 64/2014 and 66/2014 will continue to be misused; and (2) The content of the NCPO Orders 64/2014 and 66/2014, particularly their negative aspects have already been embedded into other laws including the new amendment to the National Parks Act of 2019.[xiv] [xv]

6.6. Focus on the National Park Act 2019

In May 2019, the National Legislative Assembly in Thailand passed the National Parks Act 2019, which will be effective from November this year. This law is the continuity of NCPO orders 64/2014 ad 66/2014 and is expected to affect the livelihoods of local communities, indigenous peoples and forest dwellers living adjacent and within national reserved forest areas and protected areas.

Article 65 of the new law allows communities who have traditionally lived in or near parks to access them and use some of the forest resources; however, the power to give permission to do so rests solely at the discretion of National Park authorities. Main concerns with the law are related to: 

 

  • Restrictions on the amount to be harvested by the communities allowed to live on the national park areas;  

  • The use of natural and renewable resources from national parks can only be done legally through government-approved projects; therefore the process to obtain the approval might be arbitrary and complicated;

 

  • Forest officials will be provided with ‘search and destroy powers’ without the need to acquire court orders. Such powers are likely to result in forced evictions of communities and destroying of their properties, such as houses and crops;

 

  • The law will impose stricter penalties to further limit the rights of Thai farmers, indigenous peoples.

Under this new law, the penalties for those convicted of encroachment are much higher compared to the National Parks Act of 1961. Whereas in the National Parks Act of 1961, the maximum punishment for encroachment is 5 years of imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 20,000 Thai Baht, in the New National Parks Act of 2019, those convicted might face imprisonment not exceeding 20 years, and fines not exceeding 2 million Thai Baht.

 

  • The law will impose the use of Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 to prove land rights of those living in reserved forest areas and national parks. As previously explained, the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 is problematic in its enforcement as forest officials tend to exclude community members who would need to be protected to remain on their lands. Additionally, it has been argued that the enforcement of the Resolution is flawed and has caused problems between authorities and local people. Communities’ rights to manage forests are not given importance by the Resolution, and on aerial photographs taken under the Resolution, it is almost impossible to determine traditional farms of indigenous peoples.[xvi].

 

Furthermore, imposing the strict usage of Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998 will prevent Thai courts from ordering forest agencies to abide by other Cabinet Resolutions which are more beneficial to local communities[xvii], such as the Cabinet Resolution of 3 August 2010. The Cabinet Resolution of 3 August 2010 reaffirms article 70 of the 2017 Constitution[xviii], and states that Karen people have the right to stay in their ancestral land and continue their traditional farm rotation system. Moreover, the Resolution prohibits arrests of indigenous Karen forest dwellers.[xix] The Supreme Court referred to this Cabinet Resolution of 3 August 2010 in the case regarding the eviction of villagers belonging to the traditional Karen community, residing in Kaeng Krachan National Park, in 2012. The Court concluded that the eviction of the villagers and the destruction of their property through the application of the National Parks Act of 1961, the Forest Act of 1941, and the National Reserved Forest Act of 1964, was in violation of the protection guaranteed under the Cabinet Resolution of 3 August 2010.[xx] 

 

Finally, the implementation of the Forest Mastery Plan and the NCPO Orders continue to be in the hands of the military, with the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), established under the Internal Security Act involved in enforcement.[xxi]

 

6.7. 20-Year National Strategy: increase the country’s forested area to 55 percent by 2037

As written in its 20-Year National Strategy, the Royal Thai Government (RTG) aims to increase the country’s forested area to 55 percent of the total Thai territory by 2037. The forested area will include 35 percent of natural forest; 15 percent of forest plantations, and 5 percent of recreational areas. [xxii] The RTG wishes to achieve this ambitious goal through the following strategies: (1) suppressing forest encroachment; (2) promoting the restoration of forested areas and the ecosystem; (3) communities’ participation in protecting forest resources and planting forests; (4) developing a tourism strategy to limit the number of tourists;[xxiii] (5) providing incentives to corporations doing business in the forest plantation industry;[xxiv] and (6) enhancing natural resources management by amending natural resources legislation.[xxv]

 

6.8. New Forest Plantation Model

In 2019, the Royal Forest Department (RFD) noted that through its current model and budget it will not be possible to increase the country’s forested area to 55 percent by 2037. The department blamed this on landless villagers who occupied newly planted forests, leading to a decreased rate of forested area despite replantation efforts made by the Royal Forest Department. Therefore, the Royal Forest Department introduced a new forest plantation model through which the cost could be reduced to 1,000 THB per Rai[xxvi]  and more forested area could be created. According to the Director of the Royal Forest Department, this new forest plantation model would economically benefit communities; solve problems of landlessness, and reduce income inequality.[xxvii] Under the new model, the recently appointed military government introduced a land allocation scheme in which 1.21 million Rai of public land in degraded forests will be given to communities, to plant trees from which they will economically benefit. Communities who will be allocated land will be given sprouts and have to utilise 20 percent of their land to plant three types of trees: (1) native trees that they will not be allowed to cut; (2) economic trees that they can cut for personal use but must be replanted, and (3) edible trees.[xxviii] 

 

As noted, only 1.21 million Rai of public land of degraded forest will be given to communities under the new forest plantation model. Even though this may sound like a lot, it is only 0.37 percent of the Thai territory, which amounts to approximately 321 million Rai. 1.21 million Rai would not be sufficient to accommodate all those in need of land, and who rely on it for their livelihood.

 

Moreover, the government aims to achieve its goal of expanding forested area to 55 percent by 2037 by suppressing encroachment and promoting restoration of forested areas and the ecosystem, which has proved problematic.[xxix] Consequently, the RTG makes significant efforts to increase the number of National Parks in the country and has established five parks, equal to 331,952 Rai, between 2016 and 2019. Currently, the RTG is in the process of establishing additional 22 National Parks, equal to 44 million Rai.[xxx] In total, Thailand will have 155 National Parks, which will together amount to 146,488,000 Rai[xxxi] or 45 percent of Thai territory. The increase of national parks to 45 percent of the country will be problematic for local communities living within and adjacent to such areas as they will be subject to the restrictive National Parks Act of 2019 described above and face increased risks of being evicted from their lands and not being able to make a livelihood. Therefore, it can be concluded that the plan to increase the forested area to 55 percent by 2037 is more likely to worsen the issues of poverty, landlessness, and income inequality, rather than enhancing them not just for at present but also for generations to come.

7. Recommendations

 

In order to address the damage caused by legislations and policy on forest reclamation that affect the 14 villagers and land rights defenders of Sab Wai, we believe government authorities must constantly be urged to:

 

  1. Immediately drop all criminal and civil charges against the 14 villagers for the legitimate use of their land;

  2. Stop, without further delay, the abuse of forest conservation laws and policies, to evict local communities and individuals from land they have been living on for generations;

  3. Address the impact of NCPO Orders 64/2014 and 66/2014 that disproportionately impacts the marginalised and poor local communities and their right to land, right to work and earn a livelihood, instead of targeting investors and large-scale businesses;

  4. Provide a fair remedy and compensation to those who have been affected by the unjust use of the law, policies, NCPO Orders, and for protecting their fundamental rights under these;

  5. Guarantee the prompt and effective implementation of the Sustainable Land and Natural Resources Management Plan, inclusive of community participation, which was approved by the Provincial Working Group (created to resolve land issues taking place in Sai Thong National Park) in March 2018.

8. Donate to support the legal fight at the Supreme Court level of the Land Rights Defenders challenging unfair forest conservation policies

While the working group established to support the Land Rights Defenders was able to secure sufficient funds to support their cost of living while they were in prison and their families left behind, was also able to secure bail funds from the Justice Fund, please consider making a financial contribution to support the legal processes at the Supreme Court level (legal empowerment of communities, legal strategy workshops, court hearings and lawyers fee).    

Bank Details for donation

  • Name Bank: Krungthai Bank, Nongbuarahew Branch

  • Account number: 335-0-34997-8 

  • Account names (members of Isaan Land Reform Network): Panida Thanongped; Kaewfah Aphonkaew; Suchit Roo-ngarn; Siriwan Srikhammuan; and Sa-gnuan Laung-aram

[i]        Prachatai English, The forest reclamation case: when the court sent Sapwai villagers to prison and off their land, (16 

        August 2019), available at: 

https://prachatai.com/english/node/8177utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+prachataienglish+%28Prachatai+in+English%29

[ii]       Forest Carbon Partnership. N.d. About FCPF. [online] Available at: https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/about-fcpf-0

[iii]      Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. N.d. What is REDD+?, available at: https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/what-redd

[iv]      Thailand R-PP: TAP Comments and Recommendations, 2013, available at: 

           https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/sites/fcp/files/2013/Thailand%20R-PP%20TAP%20Comments%20and%20Recommendations.pdf . See                     also, Response Matrix to TAP Final Review, available at:                                          ffffffffffhttps://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/sites/fcp/files/2013/Response%20matrix%20to%20TAP%20Final%20review%20%20comment%2018%20Ma             rch.pdf

[v]       ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Thai Junta Militarizes the Management of Natural Resources, Issue 2015(47), (3 

           September 2015), available at: https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2015_47.pdf

[vi]      Prachatai English, The forest reclamation case: when the court sent Sapwai villagers to prison and off their land, (16 

           August 2019), available at:

https://prachatai.com/english/node/8177?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+prachataienglish+%28Prachatai+in+English%29

[vii]     Prachatai English, The forest reclamation case: when the court sent Sapwai villagers to prison and off their land, (16 

           August 2019), available at:

https://prachatai.com/english/node/8177?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+prachataienglish+%28Prachatai+in+English%29

[viii]     ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Thai Junta Militarizes the Management of Natural Resources, Issue 2015(47), (3 September     2015), available at:

https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2015_47.pdf

[ix]      Nation Thailand, Call to overhaul ‘unfair’ 1998 resolution to determine forest land rights, (24 November 2016), available at:

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/30300792

[x]       Prachatai English, The forest reclamation case: when the court sent Sapwai villagers to prison and off their land, (16 

           August 2019), available at:

https://prachatai.com/english/node/8177?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+prachataienglish+%28Prachatai+in+English%29

[xi]      Thai CSOs Coalition for the UPR, Information on the Status of the Human Rights Situation in Thailand – UPR Advocacy Factsheet on The Rights of                 Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, developed by the Network of Indigenous Peoples of Thailand(NIPT) and the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)                 to inform Thailand 2nd UPR Cycle, (2016),  available at:

           https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/THA/INT_CCPR_ICO_THA_23570_E.pdf

[xii]       APWLD and Protection International, Joint Statement of 25 May 2019 ‘Human Rights Groups Urge Thai Government to Release Nittaya              ffffffffffMuangklang, Women Human Rights Defenders Working on Land Rights Issues’, available at: https://apwld.org/statement-human-rights-groups-                     urge-thai-government-to-release-nittaya-muangklang-women-human-rights-defenders-working-on-land-rights-issues/

[xiii]    Prachatai, Military authorities can still arbitrarily detain civilians, (13 July 2019), available at: https://prachatai.com/english/node/8133  

[xiv]    Rina Chandran, Thai villagers face greater threat under new national parks law, (7 June 2019), available at:

           http://news.trust.org/item/20190607065812-i44e8/   

[xv]      Bangkok Post, More violence ahead for forest poor, (17 July 2019), available at:

           https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1713840/more-violence-ahead-for-forest-poor   

[xvi]     Nation Thailand, Call to overhaul ‘unfair’ 1998 resolution to determine forest land rights, (24 November 2016), available at:   

           http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/30300792

[xvii]   Bangkok Post, More violence ahead for forest poor, (17 July 2019), available at: 

           https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1713840/more-violence-ahead-for-forest-poor

[xviii]   IPHRD, Thailand: Uphold the Article 70 of the 2017 Constitution and the Cabinet Resolution of 3 Aug. 2010 re Restoration of the Karen Traditional ffffffffffLivelihood; Protect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, (14 June 2018), available at:

https://iphrdefenders.net/thailand-uphold-article-70-2017-constitution-cabinet-resolution-3aug2010-restoration-karen-traditional-livelihood-protect-rights-indigenous-peoples/

[xix]    Forest Peoples Program, Karen Indigenous People – Request for Consideration of the Situation, (2016), available at:

           https://www.forestpeoples.org/en/environmental-governance-world-heritage-convention-legal-human-rights-human-rights-mechanisms/news

[xx]     IPHRD, Thailand: Uphold the Article 70 of the 2017 Constitution and the Cabinet Resolution of 3 Aug. 2010 re Restoration of the Karen Traditional  ffffffffffLivelihood; Protect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, (14 June 2018), available at:

https://iphrdefenders.net/thailand-uphold-article-70-2017-constitution-cabinet-resolution-3aug2010-restoration-karen-traditional-livelihood-protect-rights-indigenous-peoples/

[xxi]    ISEAS Perspective, Thai Junta Militarizes the Management of Natural Resources, (3 September 2015), available at:

           https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2015_47.pdf

[xxii]   iLaw, Supplementary document to the 20 Year National Strategy 2017-2036, available at: 

           https://ilaw.or.th/sites/default/files/20%E0%B8%9B%E0%B8%B5.pdf

[xxiii]  iLAW, ประกาศ เรื่อง ยุทธศาสตร์ชาติ (พ.ศ. ๒๕๖๑ - ๒๕๘๐), available at: 

https://ilaw.or.th/sites/default/files/national%20strategic%20plan%20by%20ncpo.PDF

[xxiv]  The Board of Investments Thailand will provide incentives for those doing business in the forest plantation industry. Conditions for receiving         

incentives are (1) the project should have research and development capacity; (2) plantations must cover at least 300 Rai of which at least 50 Rai must be adjacent, and (3) projects must be approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Thai Lawyers Ltd, BOI Promotion for Economic Forest Plantation, (13 July 2018), available at: https://thailawyers.com/boi-promotion-economic-forest-plantation/

[xxv]   Bangkok Post, New laws chased to boost afforestation, (10 August 2018), available at: 

           https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1518826/new-laws-chased-to-boost-afforestation

[xxvi]  1 Rai equals 1600 Square Meters

           Siam Legal, Land measurement in Thailand, available at: 

           https://www.siam-legal.com/realestate/thailand-convert-rai.php

[xxvii] Bangkok Post, New forestation plan to slash costs, (17 August 2019), available at:              

           https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1731711/new-forestation-plan-to-slash-costs

[xxviii] Bangkok Post, New forestation plan to slash costs, (17 August 2019), available at:              

           https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1731711/new-forestation-plan-to-slash-costs

[xxix]   iLAW, ประกาศ เรื่อง ยุทธศาสตร์ชาติ (พ.ศ. ๒๕๖๑ - ๒๕๘๐), available at:

https://ilaw.or.th/sites/default/files/national%20strategic%20plan%20by%20ncpo.PDF

[xxx]    Travel News Digest, TAT announces five new national parks in Thailand, (19 August 2019), available at: 

            https://www.travelnewsdigest.in/2019/08/tat-announces-five-new-national-parks-in-thailand/

[xxxi]  Travel News Digest, TAT announces five new national parks in Thailand, (19 August 2019), available at:  

https://www.travelnewsdigest.in/2019/08/tat-announces-five-new-national-parks-in-thailand/

About Manushya Foundation (MF)
Manushya Foundation is an Asia regional organisation aiming at empowering local communities to put
them at the heart of decision making processes that concern them, to advance human rights, social
justice and peace. Manushya Foundation serves as a bridge to engage, mobilise, and empower agents of
change by: connecting humans through inclusive coalition building and; by developing strategies focused
at placing local communities’ voices in the centre of human rights advocacy and domestic
implementation of international human rights obligations and standards. Manushya Foundation
strengthens the solidarity and capacity of communities and grassroots to ensure they can constructively
raise their own concerns and provide solutions in order to improve their livelihoods and the human
rights situation on the ground. 


About the Isaan Land Reform Network (ILRN)
Isaan Land Reform Network is a community network and movement established to assist community
members access their land related rights. ILRN achieves this by raising awareness of communities on the
negative effects of domestic legislations and how they can impact the land related rights, life and
livelihood of communities. ILRN and communities work together to initiate sustainable land and natural
resource management plans through community participation, in order to emphasise the principle of
coexistence between individuals and the forest. ILRN promotes community rights on participatory
resource management, environmentally-friendly agricultural practices, integrated farming practices, and
biodiversity and forest expansion. ILRN also assists communities in guaranteeing their food security, by
organising various farming activities.

As of 29 August 2019:

  • All 13 prosecuted Human Rights Defenders who were sentenced to imprisonment have been released on bail until their trial by the Supreme Court at a later date. 

    • Two of the released Human Rights Defenders have confessed.

  • 1 Human Rights Defender has been sentenced to 1-year monitoring. His appeal petition is yet to be accepted by the Supreme Court.

 

 

The criminalisation of the 14 Sab Wai villagers in the Sai Thong National Park is a representative case of the false climate solution adopted by Thailand and the misuse of the Forest Reclamation Policy and NCPO orders related to its enforcement (NCPO orders 64/2014 and 66/2014), targeting poor communities and land rights defenders to evict them from their lands, rather than criminalising large-scale businesses and capitalist investors. Forest communities must be recognised as key caretakers and protectors of the forest, not unfairly casted as 'criminals'.

 

The case showcases ongoing human rights violations committed against prominent land rights defender, community leader and board member of Isaan Land Reform Network (ILRN), Ms. Nittaya Muangklang, who is facing court cases in relation to her legitimate human rights actions along with thirteen other villagers of the Sab Wai Village, all members of the ILRN. The other villagers are: Mrs. Seenuan Phasang; Ms. Pattama Komet; Ms. Sunee Nalin; Mrs. Sakl Prakit; Ms. Narisara Muangklang; Mrs. Thongpan Monggang; Ms. Suwalee Phongam; Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk; Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi; Mr. Samon Somchitr; Mr. Put Sukbongkot; Mr. Wanchai Arphonkaeo, and Mr. Sompitr Taennok. Ms. Nittaya leads her community, including the thirteen villagers, in their resistance against the Royal Thai Government’s push for eviction from their lands that is based on the misuse of the military government’s forest reclamation policy adopted in 2014.

This dedicated ‘Sai Thong National Park Case’ webpage includes the following sections:

  1. Summary of Charges, Convictions, Legal Proceedings for the 14 HRDs

  2. Summary of Case Monitoring

  3. Solutions proposed by Sab Wai villagers to resolve land disputes

  4. Advocacy Efforts

  5. Responses by the government with regards to the land disputes and legal charges

  6. Overview of the Legal Framework misused to criminalise the 14 HRDs: Thailand’s False Climate Solution

  7. Recommendations

  8. Donation to the Sab Wai Villagers to support legal processes at the Supreme Court level: legal empowerment of communities, legal strategy workshops, court hearings and lawyers fee

 

  1. Human Rights Defenders’ Summary of Convictions, Legal Proceedings & Granting of Bail

 

On 15 May 2019, Ms. Nittaya Muangklang, a Woman Human Right Defender and a board member of the Isaan Land Reform Network living in Sab Wai village was unfairly sentenced to 4 months in jail and a fine of 40,000 THB by the Chaiyaphum Provincial Appeal Court that found her guilty of trespassing in the Sai Thong National Park, in implementation of the Forest Reclamation Policy (NCPO order 64/2014). On 5 June 2019, she was sentenced for a second case to 8 months in jail and a fine of 150,000 THB for clearing land in the Sai Thong National Park. In total, she was charged with 12 months in jail and a fine of 190,000 THB. 

13 other Sab Wai villagers, 8 women and 5 men, were also convicted, unfairly accused of utilising, encroaching and clearing land in the National Park. On 4 June, the Appeal Court sentenced Mrs. Seenuan Phasang, elderly of 60-year old, to 5 months 10 days in jail and 150,000 THB fine. On 12 June, Ms. Sunee Nalin, elderly of 71-year old, was unfairly sentenced to 5 months 10 days in jail and 439,027 THB fine, as well as Ms. Pattama Komet, sentenced to 8 months in jail and 200,000 THB fine, and Mrs. Suphaphorn Seesuk, sentenced to 5 months 10 days jail time and 381,010 THB fine. On 18 June, Mrs. Sakl Prakit was sentenced to 4 years in jail, and 1,587,211 THB fine. On 25 June, Mrs Thongpan Monggang was sentenced to 8 months in jail and 100,000 THB fine, along with Mr Wanchai Arphonkaeo who was sentenced to 6 months 20 days in jail and 860,395 THB fine, and Mr Samon Somchitr, sentenced to a 1 year monitoring and 360,663 THB fine. On 2 July, Mr. Put Sukbongkot was sentenced to 6 months 20 days in prison and 370,000 THB fine; and Mr. Sompitr Taennok was sentenced for a first case to 10 months in prison and 100,000 THB fine. On 3 July, Mr. Sompitr Taennok was sentenced for a second case to 10 months 20 days in prison and 100,000 THB fine (in total, he was sentenced to 20 months 20 days in jail and 200,000 fine). On the same day, Ms. Narisara Muangklang was sentenced to 9 months 10 days in jail and 130,000 THB fine, along with Ms. Suwalee Phongam, sentenced to 5 months 10 days in jail and 160,000 THB fine; finally, Mr. Suwit Rattanachaisi was sentenced to 17 months in jail and 40,000 THB fine. 

 

All of the 14 villagers were found guilty: 13 villagers (9 women, 4 men) were sentenced to jail time, 1 villager (Samon Somchitr) was sentenced to authorities’ monitoring, and all 14 villagers were sentenced to pay damages for destroying the forest under the Forest Act B.E. 2484, the National Reserved Forests Act B.E. 2507, and the National Park Act B.E. 2504, all part of the Forest Reclamation Policy (NCPO order 64/2014). This law is being misused to target local communities, farmers and Indigenous Peoples rather than investors (NCPO order 66/2014), evicting them from a land they have been living on for generations, way before the creation of the Sai Thong National Park, and putting them further in poverty, leaving family and children behind. The criminalisation of the Sab Wai villagers is also violating their fundamental rights to life, livelihood, food, housing and due process. Please see our Section 4 providing an overview of the Forest Reclamation Policy and related NCPO orders 64/2014 and 66/2014.