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  • Standard Deviations

    So before we have to appear at this UPR thing at the UN, …

    What’s UPR?

    Ah yes, being police you wouldn’t know.  Universal Periodic Review.  Every member of UN comes up every 4 years or so and gets questioned on their human rights record.  We’re up soon so we want to be able to respond to the inevitable questions about crowd control.

    None of their business.  Our internal affair.  As true Thais we will not be lectured on …

    Yes, yes.  But it’s part of being in the UN.  We have to do it and embarrassing as it is, we have to be ready with some plausible answers.

    Answers to what?

    Well, you claim, and the PM claims, that your crowd control methods follow international standards and don’t violate anyone’s rights. 

    That’s right.  That’s what we’ve been told to say.

    But what international standards are you using?  Is it the UN standards?

    Pardon?

    What exactly do your standards say? 

    Er, …

    You must have something written down, some document or handbook or something.

    Oh, they’ve probably got something at HQ.

    Have you read it?

    No, why should I?  They tell us what to do.  Reading stuff takes too long.

    OK, so someone gives you a briefing on the standards you have to follow.

    Well, not really.  See, first we get kitted out ahead of time and if they give us batons, or tear gas, say, then we know we have to use them and if the water cannon are then we know they’ll be used.

    Yes, but how do you know how to use them?

    How to use a baton?  Well you hit people with it.  I mean, like it’s obvious, isn’t it?

    But where do you hit them?

    Oh I see what you mean.  Well, not where there are any press or cameras around, so behind a wall or something.  Between parked cars is good.

    No, I mean where on the body do you hit them? 

    Ah, well now, there are different opinions on that.  Some of the lads say go for the head, but my experience is that they’ll put their arms up or some of them even have hard hats, so I go for cracking them on the back of the knees first.  Get them on the ground and then you can hit them where you like.  Others say go for the goolies, but it’s hard to get a really good swing for that.

    I see.  Have you been told that you must not direct blows to sensitive parts of the body? 

    You mean we can’t hit them in the goolies?

    No, nor in the stomach, or on the head, or the kidneys, or …

    What?  That’s ridiculous.  What’s the point if you can’t knock them out or at the very least knock them down and give them a hiding they won’t forget? 

    OK, so let’s talk about warnings.  You do give warnings before you use any crowd control measures, right?

    Erm, yeah, sometimes.  Actually, now I come to think about, we were told about that.  What was it?  It’s coming to me.  Ah yes, I remember.  See, they’re supposed to get a permit before they can protest and they never do, and even if they asked we’d never give them one, and they all know that, so like they already know they’re in trouble.  So that’s as good as a warning.

    That’s not exactly what the Public Assembly Act says, but what I mean is, do you tell the protestors that you going to use batons, for example, or water cannon?

    Well, they’re not stupid.  They can see we’ve got batons or if the water cannon come up.  Most of them are the same lot as before anyway.  They know what’s coming.  Why do they need a warning?

    OK, let’s turn to rubber bullets.

    We don’t use them.

    Pardon?

    Rubber bullets.  We don’t use them.  Unless we get caught on camera using them or somebody picks up a round somewhere and shows it on the internet.  Then we are allowed to say we use them.

    So let me get this straight.  You don’t give any warning that you’re going to fire rubber bullets …

    Definitely not

    … and if you do use them, you deny it.

    Yeah, that’s what we’ve been told to do.  But you should be asking about this at HQ.  They are the ones who keep changing their story from one day to the next.

    OK, but under what circumstances do you use rubber bullets?  Is that set out in your international standards?

    Well, maybe not in so many words.  See, we don’t all have the rifles for it, so it’s just special blokes and we are supposed to sort of crowd round them so they can’t be spotted.  Then when they want to fire, we open up and give them space.  The bigwigs of course tell us to be careful about getting snapped on somebody’s cell phone, but give me a break.  Everybody’s got one.

    What I mean is what would cause you to use rubber bullets in the first place?

    Er, well, first we’d have to have them issued to us and would you believe they’ve sometimes sent us out without any?  And, er, there has to be a protest, of course. 

    This is not going to look good at the UN.  If you have never read anything about international standards, have you watched any training films, say?

    Oh yeah.  We watch YouTube clips of riots and the police all the time.  Russia, South Africa.  You can pick up some good tips. 

    Tips?

    Yeah.  That lot in Myanmar are really good at it.  We’re learning a lot from them.

    OK, well, thank you for your time.  It’s been, er, enlightening.

    No problem.  And best of luck with your URP thing.

    We’ll need it.

    3 March 2021
    9096 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • A famous pop singer arrested for allegedly burning a portrait of the King

    Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues, is among 3 people against whom the police have requested an arrest warrant for lèse majesté, arson and computer crimes over the burning of a King Rama X big portrait in front of Klong Prem Central prison on the night of 27 February.

    The portrait in front of the prison was set on fire and later extinguished.

    As of 17.00 of 3 March, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights tweeted that the court has rejected the bail request. Matichon reported that the police has put him under custody while treating his body injuries at the Police Hospital.

    Bangkok Post reported that the police have arrested Chaiamorn in 00.40 of Wednesday morning. However, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that he was arrested at Ratchathani Hospital in Ayutthaya while tending to his illness. He was transferred to the Police Hospital in Wednesday morning.

    On Wednesday afternoon, a post has appeared on Chaiamorn's Facebook's timeline, stating that he alone was responsible for the burning. The reason for the action was his disappointment in unabling to help those who are under detention, referring to Parit Chiwarak and 3 others who had been put in detention pending the trial for over 20 days.

    "The burning of the portrait this time, I accept that [it] is a foolish idea that put myself under danger,"

    "But the meanings that are hidden in this burning are many. It is symbolically simple which [I] hope everyone will understand and see them." stated the post.

    According to Khaosod, the Criminal Court issued the arrest warrant on 2 March against Chaiamorn. It is not confirmed whether the warrants against the other 2 have been issued yet.

    Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, earlier stated that the police requested the warrant based on CCTV footage and other material evidence. He confirmed that the police have clear video footage of before and after the incident as well as the escape route.

    Prachachuen Police Station, which oversees the area, reportedly collected the video evidence and found that there were 3 perpetrators, one being a famous male singer and activist. The singer was the one who set fire to the portrait of the King while the other 2 remained in a car. The police were ready to make an arrest as soon as the warrant was issued.

    Chaiamorn is one of the public figures that spearheading the pro-democracy movement since its significant uprising in 2020. He can be seen in many protest site, performing music or even standing as a guard.

    Despite the surge in verbal and symbolic expressions about the monarchy, the expression via burning is not new. In 2017, 6 youngsters in Chonnabot and Phon districts, Khon Kaen Province, were arrested after successfully setting fire to 2 arches honouring King Rama X. They were charged with lèse majesté, criminal association and arson.

    In 2019, the Appeal Court dropped the lèse majesté charge due to the inability to verify their intentions. However, they were still found guilty of the other charges.

    In Thailand, portraits and arches are widely used by local authorities to honour members of the monarchy. According to a brief Prachatai survey in 2020, the cost of an arch ranges from ten thousand to millions of baht depending on the size and design.

    According to the Facebook page of Watchdog.ACT, in 2020 provincial administrative organizations (PAO) had a 381,736,295 baht budget for building royal arches countrywide. The page also claims that Lampang PAO corruptly profited by 5,849,000 baht from overbudgeting an arch construction project.

    Burning images of the royalties are not new to the world as well. In September 2007, Enric Stern and Jaume Roura, Catalan independence supporters set fire to a life-size photograph of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia.

    The two were sentenced to 15 months in prison for insulting the monarchy, which later reduced to a 2,700 euros fine.

    However, in March 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the judges were not convinced that the burning could reasonable be construed as incitement to hatred or violence. The court ordered Spain to reimbures the fines and pay for their legal costs.

    The ruling also stated that the act had not been a personal attack on the king of Spain geared to insulting and vilifying his person, but a denunciation of what the king represented as the head and the symbol of the state, according to The New York Times.

    Source: 
    prachatai.com/journal/2021/03/91933
    3 March 2021
    9095 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • A collection of blind alleys: murder cases from the 2010 protest crackdown going nowhere after 10 years with nowhere in the world to file a lawsuit (yet)

    Story by Sorawut Wongsaranon
    Cover picture by Kittiya On-in

    It has been 10 years since the Abhisit Vejjajiva government dispersed the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protests which had been going on for 3 months since March 2010, demanding the dissolution of parliament and a re-election. That is half of the statute of limitations. We want to review the situation, especially progress in the 94 murders stemming from the crackdown involving 84 civilians and 10 officers (cited from The People's Information Centre (PIC) report ‘The April-May 2010 Crackdowns,’ which includes 3 deaths that occurred after the event, but resulting from the crackdown).

    We first have to restate that protests in that era were mostly prolonged in an attempt to achieve their demands. The UDD protests started on 12 March. The main masses, other than urban dwellers, included a large number of people from other provinces ready to hunker down and stay for a long time.

    On 7 April, the government announced a severe emergency situation so as to exercise authority under the Emergency Decree. The Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) was established, with the Deputy Prime Minister for security mattters, Suthep Thaugsuban, as the Director, and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan as the Deputy Director.

    Suthep Thaugsuban

    The committee members consisted of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Commanders-in-Chief of all the armed forces, the National Police Chief, permanent secretaries of various ministries, the Attorney-General, etc. All operations in the protest suppression originated here. Many of the personnel who sat in the CRES at that time are currently placed in various positions of power today.

    Three days later, the CRES deployed military forces equipped with war weapons to suppress the protest for the first time, under the gentle-sounding operation name of ‘requesting return of the area’ on Ratchadamnoen Road on 10 April, before a second operation equipped with war weapons was deployed under the friendly-sounding name of ‘securing the area’ where soldiers circled the Saladaeng area from 13 May and successfully suppressed the protest on 19 May.

    Transferring the case from the police to the DSI – opening a channel without a timeframe

    The night of 10 April was an important starting point since it was the first incident to cause a large number of casualties. Next on 16 April, the CRES decided to hand all cases related to the UDD protests to the DSI. Tharit Pengdit was the Director-General of the DSI and part of the CRES at the same time.

    This step is very important, because transferring the cases to the DSI became a significant obstacle and has led to the cases of almost 100 murders not going anywhere even today, since the DSI law does not have a time limit for murder investigations as ordinary cases do.

    We must understand the legal process first. If there is an unnatural death, including murder or death during detention or medical treatment involving state officials, no matter if they are military personnel, police, Department of Corrections personnel or doctors and nurses, a ‘death examination’ is required, according to Section 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This clearly stipulates that the police and public prosecutor must conduct an investigation within a maximum of 247 days, allowing for all possible extensions, before the case is sent to court for a death examination. After the court has ordered a death examination, a criminal prosecution then gets underway.

    The process, in summary, is as follows:

    1. Local police and the Scientific Crime Detection Division collect and examine evidence
    2. The police, public prosecutor, administrative officials and forensic physicians jointly conduct an autopsy
    3. The police send the case to the public prosecutor
    4. The public prosecutor examines the case then requests the court to hold a death examination
    5. The court examines the death and issues an order on who the dead person is, where the death occurred, cause of death, and who is the perpetrator.

    According to Article 150, no matter how long this takes, it cannot take longer than 8 months before reaching the court without the involvement of the DSI. The court’s investigation process may take from 1 month to 2 years, depending on the number of witnesses.

    Sergeant Kacharat Niamrod (left) and Sargeant Saruengkarn Tawecheep (right), two soliders who were called by the DSI to testify as witnesses about the events on Rama IV Road. 

    When a case reaches court, a public trial will be held (even though many times, in cases of the protest suppression, the judge ordered a ban on recordings or did not allow journalists to listen, claiming privacy for military witnesses). The public prosecutor will call witnesses to testify about the incident and present evidence on who the dead person is, and when, where and how they died. The deceased’s family can appoint a lawyer to examine witnesses, ask to look at the prosecutor’s evidence and present additional witnesses and evidence to the court. But when these cases landed in the hands of the DSI, it created a delay, because when the local investigative officers had conducted an autopsy, instead of sending it straight to the prosecutor, the case file had to be returned to the DSI for further investigation. The 2004 DSI Act does not stipulate a timeframe of how many days it must be completed in, so it is not strange that there is barely any news of movement in the cases.

    However, the cases of the 91 deaths (official statistics) made some progress for a short while during the administration of PM Yingluck Shinawatra, before power was eventually seized in the coup. As far as Prachatai has been able to investigate, the deaths of 33 people have already been examined in court. After the courts issued investigation orders, the cases were returned to the DSI again to make the criminal case file, then handed to the prosecutor for consideration of whether to prosecute the case as a criminal case (or not).

    Results of the examinations of 33 deaths

    • In 11 deaths, the courts have issued clear orders that the cause of death was due to the actions of soldiers.
    • In 16 deaths, the courts only indicated that the bullets came from the side of the military but do not know the perpetrator (in 3 of these cases, the courts stated where the bullet came from but did not state that this area was already under the control of the military).
    • In 6 deaths, the courts did not indicate either the perpetrator or the bullet trajectory

    Waiting to learn of progress in the cases from the DSI

    After the coup, no progress was seen in these cases for more than 6 years. In May 2020, Prachatai wrote a letter to the DSI requesting to be informed of the progress in the remaining cases of death, asking them what step they had reached at that time. The DSI refused to provide information, claiming confidentiality for the case file. Prachatai then wrote to the Official Information Commission (OIC). The OIC judged that the DSI must provide the information since the request was only for progress, not for information in the case file. On 16 Oct 2020, the DSI responded “All case files on the remaining deaths have already been sent to prosecutors at the Department of Special Litigation” (list of names can be seen below).  Additionally, Prachatai wrote to the Office of the Attorney General on 11 Sept 2020 to ask for progress on all the cases and how many cases had been investigated and whether any cases had been criminally prosecuted. As of November 2020, the Attorney General had not replied, other than a telephone call from an official who said that they were in the middle of collecting data from the Department of Special Litigation. In other words, after 6 months spent following the progress of the cases from the 2 agencies, the conclusion is that there is no clear answer.

    Civilian courts do not accept cases - military prosecutors do not file charges

    There appear to be at least 2 death cases where there has been some progress:

    • Phan Khamkong. His family and lawyer filed a lawsuit in the Criminal Court themselves. The Criminal Court and Court of Appeal did not accept it, claiming that it is in the jurisdiction of the Military Courts.
    • Kamonked Akhad. The DSI gave an opinion to order a prosecution and passed the case to the military prosecutor. The military prosecutor dismissed the case, claiming a lack of evidence.

    At the stage of the death examination, the Courts of Justice think that these two cases have enough evidence to rule that the deaths were due to the firing of war weapons by the military. These are the only two cases which have progressed to the point of criminal prosecutions. Although the prosecutions followed different paths, they ended up at the same point, that is, unable to move forward, and with nobody taking responsibility.

    “If it went according to the normal judicial process, it would not be like this. This is not normal, because someone made it not normal. It’s not like how it should be,” Chokchai Angkaew said.

    Chokchai Angkaew is one of the lawyers assisting the families of many victims of the crackdown in death examinations. He also acted as the lawyer for Phan Khamkong’s family. Victims’ relatives tried to ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the DSI, and the public prosecutor to press charges against the perpetrators, but eventually it all came to a stop, as if they were being obstructed on every path. In the end, they had to be self-reliant and prosecute the perpetrators themselves.

    “We started the lawsuit on Phan Khamkong’s death in September 2019 because the court had issued a clear order on the death examination, saying that the death resulted from actions by military personnel. The evidence was relatively clear, including video clips, witnesses who know the military unit responsible, and the operation commander. We pressed charges against the operation commander for the actions that were the cause of death of Phan Khamkong, but the court issued an order not to accept the case,” Chokchai said.

    The lawyer explained that when a lawsuit is filed against soldiers jointly committing an offence against a civilian but without knowing who was responsible, normally the court will accept the case first then investigate if there are any civilians or other related parties that have not yet come to press charges. But when the court issued an order not to accept the case, they appealed. In the end, the Court of Appeal issued a verdict upholding the Court of First Instance. However, he insists that there is still a way to continue the lawsuit, but they may do it at an appropriate time – when we are fully democratic.

    Military barricade on Ratchaprarop Road in the afternoon of 14 October 2010

    “Before the power seizure, I knew that there were many corpses where they had carried out the death examination, but then it went silent after they took power, such as, Cher’s case (Samaphan Srithep),” Chokchai said.

    The NACC dismisses the case against Abhisit-Suthep-Anupong since it came under the Emergency Decree

    In the past there have been attempts through other channels. One was the case that the DSI prosecuted against those who issued the orders: Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban. But all three Courts had the same response – dismissed, claiming that the Courts were not authorised to examine the case, as it came under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions where the investigation authority is with the NACC.

    The NACC also resolved to dismiss the complaint against Abhisit, Suthep and Gen Anupong Paochinda, so that there was no offence as accused, because at that time they had proclaimed a severe emergency situation. The Court had also stated that the UDD protests were illegal assemblies and that there were also individuals who used firearms at the protests.

    Abhisit Vejjajiwa and Suthep Thaugsuban (left) and Tharit Pengdit, former DSI director (right)

    The DSI’s action in prosecuting Abhisit and Suthep at that time caused Tharit, former Director-General of the DSI and three other DSI officers, to be sued by Abhisit and Suthep for the wrongful or bad faith exercise of official duties, with the intention of persecuting others to receive criminal penalties according to Articles 157 and 200. They claimed that the summary case file submitted to prosecute Abhisit and Suthep at that time was a distortion of the facts and intentional persecution of the two of them. Even though the Court of First Instance dismissed the case against Tharit and the DSI officers on the grounds that the evidence had little weight, on 5 March 2020, the Court of Appeal reversed the verdict and sentenced Tharit and the other three officers to 2 years’ imprisonment. This case is not yet finalized and all four have been granted bail to fight the case.

    Chokchai spoke about the case the DSI had brought against Suthep and Abhisit. At that time the  relatives of the deceased were also co-plaintiffs, but in the end the court gave a verdict of a kind that the DSI investigation was unlawful since it was within the jurisdiction of the NACC. The issue then became that the channel for prosecution was wrong, and the investigation was wrong, but there was no opportunity to examine whether the actions of the defendants were really offences or not.

    “Actually, the proclamation of the Emergency Decree clearly stipulated that actions must be taken only when necessary and in good faith. The situation that arose is beyond what the emergency decree covers. The order for the crackdown was not in line with international standards. Real bullets were used. We can clearly see that the operation went beyond what the law will protect,” Chokchai remarked.

    Chokchai also said that in the 2007 constitution, there was a channel under Section 275 enabling victims to submit a complaint to a full panel of the Supreme Court to request an independent investigator to examine the case, in cases where the NACC dismissed an investigation into a political office holder, but this channel was removed in the 2017 constitution.

    Chokchai thinks that in this case we have to hope that the government is intent on bringing about justice. But for this government, it would be like crashing into a wall. There are still 10 years left for criminal cases with a 20-year statute of limitations, but for crimes of malfeasance in office then there is only 5 years left since the statute of limitations is only 15 years.

    Unable to file a case in the Civil Court or the Administrative Court

    Apart from the criminal lawsuits almost coming to an end, civil procedures were also finalized when compensation was paid for injuries and deaths during the Yingluck government, since a condition for receiving compensation money was that no further civil lawsuit may be filed.

    The Administrative Court also lacked authority to examine the case since Section 16 of the Emergency Decree stipulates that administrative orders issued under the authority of an Emergency Decree are not administrative offences.

    The Administrative Court passed the case to the Constitutional Court to adjudicate on this issue and on the issue of whether the Administrative Court is authorised to examine the case or not since Section 16 of the Emergency Decree excluded the Administrative Court from consideration of cases arising from government orders issued under the Emergency Decree. On 9 June 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of a severe emergency situation was reasonable since there was a riot and damage to lives and property, so there was a necessity to exercise state authority to end the situation.  The fact that Section 16 of the Emergency Decree excluded the Administrative Court’s authority to consider cases was so that state activities can be exercised quickly in solving a situation, and in addition to the Emergency Decree, other laws also exclude the authority of the Administrative Court to examine cases. The Constitutional Court therefore ruled that Section 16 of the Emergency Decree was not in conflict with the 2007 constitution.

    From all that has been said, it seems that the judicial process in the country almost cannot work to restore justice to the victims of this situation. Those connected to the violent actions are also still in power in the government or the army to this day.

    Avenues of legal action outside the country to call for justice were once the topic of discussion, after the 10 April 2010 incident led to 25 deaths. A few days later, Chaturon Chaisang talked of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the first time, saying that those who dispersed the protest may be prosecuted there.

    Thai state did not ratify the ICC for fear of affecting the protection for the Head of State

    The ICC is a court established on 1 July 2002 under the Rome Statute and has jurisdiction in prosecuting international criminals for 4 offences: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression; and on 3 conditions: the severity of the case, the state party does not wish to take or is not capable of taking legal action, and the accused has never been found guilty by any other court for the same crime. This Court has special jurisdiction to examine cases before the establishment of the Court. Cases that are well-known and were examined by the ICC are war crimes in Libya, Sudan, Iraq, etc.

    Even though Thailand signed the Rome Statue on 2 Oct 2000, the state did not proceed with the ratification process. This is an important step for the Statute to be put in effect and will allow the ICC to expand its jurisdiction to cases in Thailand.

    When the Yingluck government was elected to replace the Abhisit government in 2011, campaigns urging the Thai government to ratify this Statute increased, with special pressure from victims like the UDD. The question of Thai government becoming a state party was also raised at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in the same year, but the government did not respond.

    When the government remained unresponsive, Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer from the Amsterdam & Partners law firm which Thaksin Shinawatra had hired to provide help to the UDD, took action on his own by gathering information on the crackdown and requesting the ICC to carry out an initial investigation, also demanding that the United Nations Security Council file a case with the ICC. But these efforts faced an important obstacle, which is that as long as the Thai government does not complete its ratification as an ICC state party, nothing can proceed.

    During that time, the opposition also came out to voice their opinions. They emphasised that a country’s head of state must be under the jurisdiction of this international law, according to Article 27 of the Rome Statute which makes all persons equal without the ability to claim official authority and their status as the head of state to protect themselves. Thailand’s Head of State means the King. On 1 Oct 2013, the Ad Hoc Committee on Senate Affairs expressed the view that acceptance of the ICC reduces the protection of the King against violation which exists in Thai law. If an ill-intentioned person filed a complaint with the ICC, accusing the Thai Head of State of various offences, it may have an impact on the Thai King even though His Majesty is above any and all conflict. Thailand will not be able to prevent it at all. Additionally, the Committee saw that Thailand’s judicial process can still be applied and there is no need for the ICC to supplement the Thai justice system.

    Thida Thavornseth, former President of the UDD, said that after the crackdown, she and Amsterdam, together with academics like Thongchai Winichakul, visited the ICC to explain Thailand’s situation and clarified that although Thailand’s loss of life was not as great as in other countries, for Thailand, the number is not as important as the frequency of this kind of repeated violence.

    Thida continued, saying that later in November 2012, Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, travelled to Thailand and met with Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Yingluck government to explain the steps needed to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction. This occurred in the midst of discussions of whether completing the ratification required prior parliamentary approval or not, according to Article 190 of the 2007 constitution. But in the end, the Yingluck government did not do anything until power was seized in the coup of May 2014.

    “If the Yingluck government had ratified to join the ICC at that time, the coup may not have happened,” Thida said.

    The UDD’s former president believes that the 2014 coup was connected to the massacre of people in 2010 because in the period of the Yingluck government, more than 30 cases of deaths entered the death examination process. Although none of the cases had yet been prosecuted as a criminal offence, the death examinations of many cases revealed information related to the military operations, and the names of soldiers and those related to the operations . In some cases the courts ruled that the deaths were the result of military actions, such as Phan Khamkong’s case and 6 deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram. This is one factor that made it necessary for the army to halt the process.

    Pratubjit Neelapaijit, an important human rights activist, thinks that although the ICC cannot take the 2010 crackdown for consideration as long as the Thai state refuses ratification, there are still other international mechanisms. In the past, information was not yet sent to these mechanisms, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, who will send questions for Thailand to answer. Information has been provided according to the mechanisms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Thai government has been asked about progress, but there has been no clear answer from the government, except for the response that they have compensated the victims.  

    Pratubjit said that in the past no one had updated information on the cases sent to international mechanisms. For example, families of the victims who came out to demand justice such as Phansak Srithep, Samaphan Srithep’s father, and Phayao Akhat, Kamonked Akhad’s mother, were threatened and prosecuted for coming out and campaigning on the issue. Information on obstacles and progress in cases related to the crackdown has not been updated. She believes that there is still another mechanism that has yet to be tried and that is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, where it is possible to send information on individuals, as in the case of Phayao who, as a woman, has faced various obstacles in the justice system in her daughter’s case.

    Culture of impunity  

    Puangthong Pawakapan, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, shows in her article ‘License to Impunity’ that in incidents of violence in the past, people connected to the incidents never had to take responsibility for their actions at all, and the perpetrators were never taken into the judicial process.  Self-amnesty laws were also used. For the April-May 2010 crackdown, Puangthong thinks that the state used a different way of creating impunity for the perpetrators. Apart refusing to take responsibility and claiming that the protestors used violence, had their own armed forces and shot themselves, the state also deployed the ‘independent organisations’ as a tool of impunity legitimizing the government’s actions at that time. This includes a committee that Abhisit established himself, the independent National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and existing mechanisms like the National Human Rights Commission,  which was established under the constitution, and the Courts of Justice.

    Apart from the issue of independent organisations, the search for truth and justice stopped completely after the NCPO carried out its coup in 2014.  Puangthong points out that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, while acting as Prime Minister and Head of the NCPO, issued an order to establish a new special case investigation committee by adding 7 officers from the military to the DSI investigation in order to set a framework for the  investigation into the deaths.

    Justice in a (not yet) transitional period

    In the 10 years s the crackdown, within academic circles and those working in human rights, there was often talk about the process of democratic revival and rule of law principles called “transitional justice.” In summary, transitional justice is to make justice happen and become embedded in a democratic society, after a transition in the governance system from dictatorship with violence towards its own people, with the objective of resolving the violence that occurs and preventing any more violence from happening.

    For the factors that can bring about transitional justice, the state has 4 essential duties. 1. Investigate, prosecute and punish those related to the commission of offences. 2. Reveal the truth to victims and their families. 3. Make amends to and compensate victims. 4. Screen out state officials with a history of violating human rights from state agencies and reform security agencies so that they perform their duties by respecting human rights principles.

    “Right now, for Thailand, no case can stop any action the next time or lead to the collective creation of a standard. This is an important issue, because there is no change to the political power structure and it continues to maintain the status quo of the old system,” Pratubjit gave her opinion about transitional justice in Thailand.

    Examples from various countries around the world that have succeeded in creating transitional justice all have one important factor - their people’s sector is strong enough to create democracy and the rule of law, and has a government that has the political intention to wash away the history of rights violations.

    3 March 2021
    9094 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • 16-year-old protester speaks out about arrest

    During the protest at the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters, 23 people were arrested, 4 of whom were minors. They were charged with violating the Emergency Decree and the Communicable Diseases Act, and resisting arrest, among other charges, and were reportedly assaulted during the arrest.

    Sainam

    Sainam, 16, was arrested at the Shell gas station opposite the 1st Infantry Regiment, and was also assaulted.

    Sainam said that he arrived at around 21.00 and was trying to get to the protest side from the Din Daeng side, but the road was blocked by riot control police, so he tried to get through to the other side by catching a ride with another protester. When he got to the Veterans General Hospital, the riot control police were already trying to take control of the area, so he crossed over to the gas station.

    He said he doesn’t know why the riot police were using rubber bullets and assaulting protesters, and that there were many people gathered at the gas station, including volunteer medics and injured people. He also said that the protesters were not obstructing the roadway as they were all on the footpath.

    Sainam said that he was shot by a rubber bullet as he was helping another protester up, and that the riot police then pushed him to the ground, kicked him, and beat him with batons.

    “A while after that, they held onto me and tied my arms up behind my back, and then they kicked me a bit more, and then they asked me ‘Why did you hurt my friends? Why did you hurt my friends?’ I said I didn’t do anything, because I just got there, but they didn’t care, and they continued to stamp on me and repeatedly asked me ‘Where are your friends?’ Sainam said.

    Sainam said that a plainclothes police officer who knew him came by after that, and told the riot police to back down. Sainam was then carried off to another location. He was held to the ground and searched.

    He said that he was being held along with a few other protesters by the Veterans General Hospital, and that he saw the other protesters beaten and all were tied up. He also said that everyone who was being held with him was assaulted.

    Sainam and three other minors were then taken to Sutthisan Police Station, while 18 others were taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters. He was charged with assaulting an officer, joining an assembly, and violating the Emergency Decree. Everyone was later released on bail.  

    3 March 2021
    9093 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Regional lawmakers alarmed at the surge in violence and arbitrary arrests in Myanmar

    On 2 March 2021, lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today urged the Myanmar military to immediately put an end to their campaign of arrests, unconditionally release all those currently detained, and refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters.

    Bullet marks on a car which was parked in order to block the police mobility at Mandalay. (Source: Khit Thit Media)

    “The scale of arrests since the coup gives you a clear indication of where the military junta is taking the country: a place with no space for critics, or any political opposition to exist,” said Mu Sochua, a Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and former Cambodian Member of Parliament (MP). “All regional and international actors must get this clear: there can be no way out of the current situation without all those arbitrarily arrested being released.”

    According to rights organization Assistance for Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), in just four weeks at least 913 individuals, including politicians, members of the previous Union Election Commission (UEC), civil servants, human rights activists and students, have been arrested and remain in detention, or have outstanding arrest warrants against them. AAPP also estimates that about 30 individuals have been killed due to the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters by Myanmar’s security forces. 

    Of those arrested and detained, at least 59 are elected representatives of the Union and local parliaments. These include the State Counsellor, President and Vice President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Chief Ministers, and Union and regional-level MPs.

    Most are detained in unknown locations, without charge or access to their lawyers. Some are detained in military barracks, such as tactical command centers. 

    “Most of those detained have not been charged, and have not seen a lawyer, nor their families in about a month. Those people are at risk. Being out of sight is where torture and ill-treatment can happen, and we all know this is not foreign to Myanmar’s jails,” added Mu Sochua.  

    In the few cases where they have been charged, the laws used against the MPs include: Section 505(b) of the Penal Code (publication or sharing of statements with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public), Section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law (causing a disaster through any negligent or wilful act), Section 8 of the Export and Import Law (exporting or importing prohibited goods), and Section 67 of the Telecommunications Law (for possessing or using telecommunication equipment that requires a license). 

    In addition, the junta has been threatening and harassing members of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). Members of the Committee took an oath days after the coup, and have pledged to continue carrying out their mandate as representatives of the people.

    On 26 February, the new military-appointed UEC announced that it is illegal to form committees representing parliaments and threatened those who do so with legal action. At least 21 elected representatives, including 17 members of the CRPH, are now in hiding after they were informed that arrest warrants were issued against them under Section 505(a) or (b) of the Penal Code and/or the Natural Disaster Management Law. 

    By imprisoning and harrassing elected representatives who are merely exercising the mandate of the people, the military is trying to take away people’s voices and choices, said APHR. 

    “We call on all parliamentarians worldwide to act in solidarity with Myanmar, and use their position in and outside of parliament to call for all those arbitrarily detained to be immediately released and to work for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Let’s make sure our colleagues sit in parliament, not in jail,” Mu Sochua said. 

    2 March 2021
    9092 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Rubber bullets used against protesters on Vibhavadi Road

    Protesters gathering near the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Regiment, the King’s Guard in Bangkok last night (28 February) were met with tear gas and rubber bullets during a clash with riot control police.

    The protest, which was called by the activist group Free Youth movement, now known as REDEM (Restart Democracy), started at the Victory Monument before marching to the 1st Infantry Regiment to demand that prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha move out of army housing, as he retired from the army in 2014. The group also said that electricity and water bills for the army housing are paid for with taxpayer money. 

    The 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Close Bodyguard, was also one of the army units recently transferred to King Vajiralongkorn’s personal control. The group is therefore demanding that the control of the army units be transferred out of the King’s control.

    REDEM also calls for the monarchy’s power to be limited, for the military to stay out of politics, and for universal state welfare.

    However, the authorities blocked Vibhavadi Road with shipping containers and razor wire. At around 18.00, the protesters managed to move one container, but found that riot control police were stationed behind the containers.

     

    While removing the blockade, some protesters reportedly warned journalists not to take photos and to stay behind the frontline.

    At 18.15, protesters clashed with riot control police around the Don Mueang toll plaza, during which 2 protesters were arrested and were also reportedly assaulted by the police. Riot control police then formed a line in front of the nearby PTT gas station. 2 water cannon trucks were also parked nearby.

    A rubber bullet casing found near the Veterans General Hospital

    At 18.40, Voice TV reported that the police fired tear gas and water cannon blasts at protesters gathered in front of the Veterans General Hospital. Several explosions could also be heard.

    Even though the REDEM Telegram group announced at 20.05 that the protest had ended, by 21.33, the situation has already escalated into a crackdown on remaining protesters on Vibhavadi Road. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used without prior warning.

    A protester who was leaving the protest site said that riot control police surrounded the protesters and blocked the exit on the Din Daeng side, so the protesters had to climb over the traffic island to get away from the police and leave the protest site.  

    It was also reported that one person was arrested after they crossed the road to retrieve their car that was parked on the other side, near where the police were stationed. The police also announced at one point that reporters must leave the road, or they would be arrested.

    The Erawan Paramedic Centre reported at 22.45 that at least 16 people were injured during the clash. Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that 19 people were arrested and were taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters, one of whom was a reporter from Naewna.

    TLHR reported today (1 March) that the Naewna reporter was released during the inquiry process, while 18 others were granted bail. 

    2 March 2021
    9091 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Land of their hearts: the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community on their long road home

    Story by Anna Lawattanatrakul
    Cover picture by Kittiya On-in 

    “We are people, living on the same land, joined together into one forest.

    We are people, living on the same stream, nourishing the plants, nourishing the land.

    We are people. Pha k’Nyaw means people. In our humanity, we are the same,”

    sang Commoner Band singer Natthapong Phukaew at the protest in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on 22 February 2021, surrounded by the lights from protesters’ mobile phones. Natthapong and the other protesters were holding a banner saying “#saveBangkloi,” while one protester held up a placard saying “we are all human.”

    One protester at the BACC protest holding up a placard saying "we are all human." 

    The protest was held to demand an end to human rights violations against the Bang Kloi Karen indigenous community in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, Phetchaburi Province, after it was reported earlier in the day that national park officials, police, and military officers had flown into the Kaeng Krachan forest to evacuate a group of community members who had returned to their ancestral land deep in the forest in mid-January – the third time for the community to be forced out of their homeland after the first evacuation around 25 years ago.

    The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex lies in the rain forest of the Tenasserim Range on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The vast area spans the borders of three provinces and four conservation areas, one of which is the Kaeng Krachan National Park.

    With an area of 2915 square kilometres, the Kaeng Krachan National Park is Thailand’s largest national park and one of its popular tourist destinations.

    Once, the forest area that is now the national park was home to an indigenous Karen community at the Bang Kloi Bon and Chai Phaen Din (meaning “heart of the land”) villages, which are located deep in the forest. The community was forcibly evacuated in 1997, and once again in 2011, when park and military officials burned down their houses and rice barns, and forced them to relocate to the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village.

    Historical evidence, such as a map by the Royal Thai Survey Department dating to 1912 which includes the location of the Chai Phaen Din village, confirmed that the indigenous communities in the Kaeng Krachan forest predate the national park, which was declared in 1981.

    The Supreme Administrative Court also ruled, after the community’s spiritual leader Ko-i Meemi and 5 other villagers filed charges against park officials for burning down the village, that the Bang Kloi-Chai Phaen Din community is a traditional local community in the area, and therefore the officials’ action was unlawful and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment must pay compensation to the community.

    Despite this, the Bang Kloi-Chai Phaen Din community continues to face unresolved community rights issues, including lack of land and loss of their traditional way of life. They are also not allowed to return to their ancestral homeland.

    This land is whose land?

    “Before [the forced evacuation], the villagers lived comfortably. There were no issues, no going out to demand our rights,” said Pinnapa Pruksapan, or “Minor”, wife of community rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014 after he was last seen in the custody of park officials.

    “But after 2011, they were burning the land, burning the houses, burning the rice barns. The problems started from that moment. Everyone suffered, and we had to move to Bang Kloi Lang (Pong Luek – Bang Kloi) At first, Billy took Grandpa (Ko-i Meemi) to call for our rights, and he did it according to the procedures, but he had not yet succeeded and had not got anywhere before he went missing.”

    Pinnapa currently lives in Pa Deng village, another indigenous community on the edge of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, with her mother and five children. A poster from Billy’s local election campaign still hangs from a wall in front of the raised bamboo house surrounded by a garden. Before his disappearance, Billy told his wife “The people involved in this aren't happy with me. They say that if they find me, they'll kill me. If I do disappear, don't come looking for me. Don't wonder where I've gone. They'll probably have killed me.”

    Billy's local election campaign poster hanging from a wall at Pinnapa's family home. 

    For the past 7 years, Pinnapa has been fighting for justice for her husband and her community, but the case of Billy’s disappearance appears to have stalled. In September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) announced that they had found charred bone fragments in an oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Dam, DNA evidence from which matches Billy’s mother. The DSI then laid charges of premeditated murder, illegal confinement, and concealing a victim’s body against four suspects, including the then-national park chief and two other officials who took Billy into custody.

    Despite this, the public prosecutor decided in January 2020 to drop all but one of the charges, that of official misconduct, against the park officials, citing lack of evidence that Billy had died. 

    Meanwhile, members of the Bang Kloi community continue to face unresolved issues. When the community was relocated in 1997, the authorities promised them that each family would be allocated 7 rai of land each and that they would help the community get Thai citizenship.

    However, they were not given the land they were promised, and the land they did receive was not suitable for growing crops. Many members of the community are also still in the process of getting their citizenship, causing them to miss out on land allocation and welfare.

    Due to these issues, part of the community moved back to Chai Phaen Din, until in 2011 park officials once again forced them to evacuate by burning down their houses and rice storage barns, leading to the court case filed by Ko-i and five other community members against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in 2012.

    Pinnapa said that the lack of agricultural land forced people to leave the community to find work elsewhere, or take on weaving projects at the local craft centre, while the community’s issues remained unresolved almost 25 years after the first evacuation.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the issues, as many of those employed outside the village began to lose income. In mid-January 2021, it was reported that around 70 members of the Bang Kloi community decided to leave the village and returned to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional way of life.

    The community would also like to perform the final funeral rite for Ko-i, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 107. The ceremony requires his descendants to grow rice on the land at Chai Phaen Din and use the rice to feed people who participated in the ceremony.

    Pinnapa Pruksapan

    Pinnapa said that she felt that the authorities are not making serious efforts to solve their problems, and that they do not care to listen to what the community has to say. She once organised a meeting between the community and park officials, but the national park chief did not stay for very long.

    “For what I feel, it’s like he didn’t take the villagers seriously. He came to talk for a bit, and then he left the room. He said he has urgent things to do somewhere else, so he left. There were many villagers who wanted to ask him about problems with the land. Some people got to ask their questions, some didn’t, but he already left,” Pinnapa said.

    The Bang Kloi community is not alone in their problems, however, as other indigenous communities in the Kaeng Krachan forest also face a similar situation, especially when it comes to lack of agricultural land and legal prosecution when the land on which they have been making a living becomes part of the national park.

    Wansao Phungam, 50, lives in Tha Salao village in the Nong Ya Plong District – another indigenous community on the edge of the Kaeng Krachan National Park. Wansao works on a piece of land she inherited from her parents, but when the government launched the One Map Project in 2016, the borders of the Kaeng Krachan National Park were redrawn and Wansao’s land was included inside the national park.

    Wansao Phungam

    In 2018, Wansao was arrested for encroaching on national park land. The Court of First Instance sentenced her to 3 years and 8 months in prison and a fine of over 2 million baht. Although the Appeal Court later dismissed her case, for the past three years as she has been fighting her case, Wansao has not been able to live on her land and had to leave her home behind.

    “The court asked since what year I’ve been living here. I said I can’t remember, because when I was born, we already had this land. I came to work on it with my mother,” Wansao said. She insisted she has never encroached into the national park area, and has always believed her land to be outside the national park.

    “This is the only property my parents left me, for me to make a living. If they seize this land, then what am I going to do? This is all I have,” Wansao said.

    Thailand’s unrecognised indigenous people

    The communities in the Tenasserim Mountain area are part of the indigenous Karen population scattered through 15 provinces across the country. With a population of around 400,000 – 500,000, the Karen people are the largest of Thailand’s 39 groups of indigenous peoples, none of whom are recognised as indigenous by the Thai state. While the current Constitution mentions the right of “ethnic groups” to live according to their cultural traditions peacefully and without interference, no legislation uses the term “indigenous people”.

    And despite the fact that Thailand, along with 143 other countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the government’s policies and legislation still do not take into consideration indigenous ways of life, and as a result, indigenous communities like the Kaeng Krachan Karen communities continue to face human rights issues from the lack of agricultural land to legal prosecution, lack of citizenship, and loss of cultural identity.

    Members of the communities holding a traditional ceremony to inform the spirits that the event is being held before a discussion on community rights issues on 16 December 2020. 

    Apinan Thammasena, a researcher from the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC), said that Thai society often views indigenous peoples in a negative light, a result of the Cold War situation that pressured the Thai state to aim for assimilation. Indigenous groups like the Karen or other groups in the north who practice rotation farming are often viewed as destructive to the forest, or are believed to be drug traffickers. They are viewed as the Other, which means that those who try to get Thai citizenship must go through a lengthy, complicated process. Not having Thai citizenship also means that they often have a hard time accessing basic welfare.

    Apinan also said that many indigenous communities are often excluded from making use of resources on the land where they live, especially in conservation areas which are viewed by the state as national property that can only be cared for by the government. State conservation policy also often focuses on preserving forest areas without allowing people to make use of it, while the idea that only state agencies can care for conservation areas means that communities are not able to participate in decision-making processes, therefore neglecting the communities’ body of knowledge that can be used in conservation efforts.

    According to Apinan, these problems put the communities at risk of losing their cultural identity, and with it the communities’ body of knowledge and what he refers to as “cultural capital” which the communities can use to manage themselves.

    For the Karen communities at Bang Kloi, Pa Deng, and Tha Salao, the lack of land means that it has become impossible for them to use their traditional rotational farming method, which requires a larger amount of land than what they are limited to by various laws and regulations in order to switch to a different plot of land to allow the forest to recover. Many communities now have to turn to chemical fertilizers, as farming the same land over and over means the soil loses its nutrients, while community members must seek work elsewhere to supplement the income from farming, which is no longer enough to make a living.

    This also causes concerns that traditional crops will one day go extinct. Wansao said that local rice varieties are becoming lost, as they must be grown using the rotational farming method, as well as a particular variety of chilli known as the ‘Karen chilli’.

    Traditional beliefs and ceremonies are also at risk of disappearing. Rung Sanetibang, a member of the Karen community at Huai Kra Su, Phetchaburi, spoke of a tradition where, once a child is born, the child’s umbilical cord is put into a bamboo container and tied to a tree to ask the spirits of the tree to care for the child. However, as the current generation of children are born in hospitals, this ceremony is no longer performed. For Rung, this is the same as severing his people’s ties with the forest.

    Meanwhile, Pinnapa said that her community used to hold an annual ceremony where they used newly harvested rice to worship Mae Phosop, the rice goddess, but because they are no longer able to grow rice due to lack of land, the ceremony no longer takes place.

    “We don’t have the land. We don’t get to grow rice. Our children will not get to see these traditions. They’re disappearing day by day,” said Pinnapa.

    Leave no one behind: from cabinet resolution to an indigenous rights bill

    Signs at the discussion on 16 December 2020, one of which says "indigenous communities have been here before the national park. Arresting people is not the solution to the problem," which another says "Respect indigenous community rights according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." 

    There have, however, been previous attempts by the government at creating a policy guideline to resolve issues facing indigenous communities in Thailand. In 2010, the cabinet of the day issued two cabinet resolutions, one on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life and one on the sea nomad communities.

    Both cabinet resolutions contain guidelines for short- and long-term measures for solving the issues faced by each community, such as the lack of citizenship, land rights, the lack of resources, and how to support their traditional ways of life. The cabinet resolution on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life also states that conservation zones which overlap with the locations of Karen communities that lived in that area before it became a conservation zone should be revoked.

    However, there have been problems with putting both cabinet resolutions into practice. Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, the current chairperson of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, an indigenous rights NGO based in Chiang Mai, said that local officials often do not acknowledge the cabinet resolutions and argue that the Forest Act is a higher-ranking law and therefore they do not have to follow the resolutions. It has, therefore, become necessary for the country to have a law protecting indigenous rights.

    Several bills are now in the process of being drafted and proposed, one of which is the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, which was drafted by the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT) and proposes to set up a formal indigenous peoples’ council to give Thailand’s indigenous population the opportunity to resolve community rights issues in ways that are suitable to their way of life.

    Kittisak said that the Council of Indigenous Peoples bill will allow for the protection of indigenous rights in every aspect, from economic rights to cultural. He said that these rights are not new, but are what the indigenous communities once had and would like to have enshrined in law.

    “We would like there to be policies and exclusive plans that are suitable for addressing our issues, because from what we have seen from the lessons in the past, most policies issued by the government sector are very centrist and very grey, and when they are applied in practice, they don’t really solve people’s issues. Even for the Council of Indigenous Peoples itself, we would like an exclusive plan that actually fits with our needs, and we would like to live according to the traditional way that we want to live. It’s like being able to determine the fate of our own lives,” said Kittisak.

    The NIPT is now inviting members of the public to back the bill in order to propose it to parliament. Thai citizens over 18 years old who would like to back the bill can still do so by sending the necessary documents along with a copy of their ID card to the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (CIPT) in San Sai District, Chiang Mai, before 15 March 2021.

    Meanwhile, the SAC is in the process of drafting another bill, called the Protection and Strengthening of Ethnic Way of Life bill, which will protect indigenous people’s right to choose to live according to their traditional way of life and their access to fundamental rights as Thai citizens.

    Apinan said that the bill is intended to uphold equality and cultural diversity, and to put an end to discrimination. It will also include measures protecting indigenous ways of life, including the declaration of a “cultural protection area” in order to create a mechanism to allow indigenous communities to participate in decision-making processes about conservation and to allow for self-management.

    If passed, the bill would also become a central mechanism for government agencies to use to resolve indigenous rights issues. Apinan said that this bill is not about granting privileges to indigenous peoples, but is about protecting the rights which were previously violated. 

    But new legislation may not be enough if existing laws are not changed. Sunee Chaiyaros, former human rights commissioner and lecturer at the College of Social Innovation at Rangsit University, said in a panel discussion organised by the SAC on 21 January 2021 that Thailand’s conservation forest laws, which are outdated and go against human rights principles, must also be revised.

    Sunee also said that amending national park laws would be beneficial not only to the Bang Kloi community, but also to other communities still living in contested forest land. She said that the Constitution has already recognized community rights, which is also protected by international agreements, but the Thai state has never put this into practice. If new legislation is to be drafted, Sunee said, it must not only protect but also empower the communities and give them the power to determine their own lives.

    The Kaeng Krachan Dam, where the oil drum containing bone fragments likely to be Billy's was found

    Raising awareness among the public about the protection of indigenous culture is also important. Kittisak said that the public still has a bias against indigenous peoples, and that time and serious campaigning efforts will be needed to undo them.

    “It’s like arranging flowers in a vase. If there are a hundred kinds of flowers, then it’s beautiful, but if there is only one kind, it would be a bit plain. If we are to make them see the dimension of beauty, the dimension of benefits, values, I think that the educational system is important. Campaigning is important,” said Kittisak.

    Meanwhile, Apinan said that trying to get the state to change its approach to conservation might be difficult without undoing negative stereotypes of indigenous peoples. It is therefore important to work on reducing cultural bias and communicating with the public to create a society that accepts indigenous ways of life before creating legislation, which he said is only a mechanism for solving the issues but may not lead to understanding.

    There seems to be, however, a glimmer of hope. For Apinan, the Doi Chang Pa Pae Karen community in Lamphun is a success story and proof that it is possible for the community to participate in conservation efforts. The community is part of the SAC’s special cultural area pilot project, which designated certain communities as places in which people can choose to live according to their traditional way of life and take part in resource management, and their work on preventing forest fires has proved that they are capable of caring for all 27,000 rai of forest while making use of only 270 rai each year.

    The Doi Chang Pa Pae community has also become a case study for government agencies to use as a policy guideline, which Apinan sees as the beginning of a change in how government agencies view indigenous people.

    Although there is work still to be done, especially in raising public awareness, Apinan said that there are signs of success. He observed that indigenous communities are now able to raise their voice and speak for themselves and are empowered to use their traditional knowledge to solve various issues.

    “I think that, after 10 years of cabinet resolutions, at the very least there is some kind of signs which show that it could lead to success, not that there is no sign at all,” Apinan said.

    Heart of the land, land of their hearts

    One of the representatives from CSO networks who came to submit a petition to the OHCHR to call for an end to human rights violations against the Bang Kloi community holding a portrait of Ko-i Meemi, the community's spiritual leader 

    Back at Bang Kloi, however, the situation has not got any better. Members of the community have faced intimidation from state officials. During the first weeks of February 2021, park officials, police, and military officers were stationed in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village and had been patrolling the area every day, while food donations are blocked at park checkpoints and prevented from being delivered to the community members who returned to Chai Phaen Din.

    Phone signals in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village were also periodically cut, while officials were asking for the names and whereabouts of community leaders. There is also a concern that the authorities would forcibly evacuate those who returned to Chai Phaen Din the way they did in 2011.

    After a three-day protest in front of Government House to demand an end to intimidation by state officials, four government officials signed an MOU with members of the community promising to allow the community to return to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional ways, to protect their righs to do so and to follow the policy guidelines stated in the 2010 cabinet resolution.

    The MOU states that, for community members who wish to stay at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, the authorities must allocate enough land to live and farm so that they can live securely. The authorities must also order officers stationed at the village to stop patrolling and setting up checkpoints, which is intimidating to community members, and must ensure community members’ safety.

    The community members who came to the protest at the Government House on 15 February 2021

    Despite this, on 22 February 2021, there were reports of helicopter flights taking military units up into the Kaeng Krachan Forest, as well as reports that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had ordered all community members to be forced out of Chai Phaen Din by 18.00 of that day. By the end of the day, it was reported that 13 community members were detained and taken back down to Pong Luek-Bang Kloi.

    Around 60 people remained at Chai Phaen Din on the night of 22 February 2021, one of whom is Ko-I’s son No-ae Meemi, who cannot walk and asked to be carried by his grandchildren up to Chai Phaen Din during the night of 21 February 2021.

    No-ae has said on several occasions that he would like to return to his community’s homeland, and that he would rather die than be forcibly evacuated again.

    One of the representatives from CSO networks who came to submit a petition to the OHCHR to call for an end to human rights violations against the Bang Kloi community holding a banner saying "no rights, no world heritage site." 

    The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex is on the way to becoming a world heritage site. After having their previous three nominations referred by the World Heritage Committee, who asked the Thai government to first resolve the issues of human rights violations against indigenous communities in the area before applying again, the Thai government will file a nomination for the fourth time at this year’s committee session, which is to take place in June – July 2021 in Fuzhou, China. This has raised concerns among the indigenous communities, who fear that their rights will continue to be violated, should the forest become a world heritage site before these issues are resolved.

    And even though the government may be able to pay compensation to the community, or provide other remedies, for the violence the community has been facing, the time they have been forced to spend far away from their ancestral land, while they faced persistent issues, while priceless traditions and body of knowledge become lost to time – how will the Thai state be held responsible? 

    This report was made with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network.

    26 February 2021
    9090 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: Antidictatorshipvac
    25 February 2021
    9089 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Reversing the damage done by the Rasi Salai dam

    On the banks of the Mun River in northeastern Thailand, communities are still struggling with the impact of a dam that was built almost 30 years ago. After calls for the decommission of the dam were left unheeded, local activists are shifting the focus on the recovery of their livelihoods.

    When Pha Khongtham first heard about plans for a dam close to her home in the northeastern province of Sisaket in 1989 she supported the project. Government officials promised that damming the Mun River would improve irrigation and enable farmers to grow rice up to three times a year. Like many of her neighbors in Rasi Salai district, Pha was hopeful that the dam would help boost their incomes and improve their lives.

    “They even told us there would be more fish in the river,” the 69-year-old Pha remembers. “But in the end our fields were completely flooded and it became even harder to catch any fish than before.”

    The Department of Energy Development and Promotion (DEDP) initially claimed it was building a 4.5-meter rubber weir that would not raise water levels above the riverbank.

    But when the construction was completed in 1993, the Rasi Salai dam turned out to be a nine-meter concrete structure with seven floodgates. It inundated a vast area of wetlands and rice paddies upending the lives of thousands of people in the affected provinces of Sisaket, Surin and Roi Et.

    “The construction of the dam didn’t benefit us but had mostly negative impacts on our lives,” says Pha who became a leader of an anti-dam movement of 200 affected villages in the mid-1990s.

    After almost three decades of intense conflict, mass protests and unsuccessful calls to decommission the dam, in recent years activists’ focus shifted to the recovery of traditional livelihoods, environmental restoration and calls for fair compensation from the government.

    “It’s a shame, we should have opposed the project from the very start,” says Pha Khongtham, 69. For almost three decades, she has been fighting for justice after the Rasi Salai dam upended her life and that of thousands others in the Northeast. Photo by Luke Duggleby

    The Rasi Salai dam was part of a gigantic water diversion plan, the never completed Khong-Chi-Mun project. It was meant to address the northeastern region’s water scarcity, boost agricultural output and produce electricity. But these promised benefits did not materialize.

    Instead, the dam – approved without an environmental impact assessment – had severe effects on the ecosystem of the river and surrounding wetlands which in turn affected the traditional livelihoods of local residents.

    Before the construction of the dam, the local lives in Rasi Salai were intimately tied to the Mun River and its surrounding wetlands which were used for rice farming, cattle grazing and the collection of firewood, grasses for weaving, mushrooms, red ants eggs and other edible and medicinal plants.

    Approved without participation of the public or an environmental impact assessment, the Rasi Salai dam affected the lives of thousands in the northeastern region. Photo by Luke Duggleby

    “Our way of life changed,” Pha says. “Our fields were flooded as were the forests where we used to raise cattle; where we used to catch fish and collect snails, the water became so deep we couldn’t catch anything anymore with our traditional fishing gear.”

    The impact of the dam did not only make it more difficult for villagers to fish but it also affected the river’s biodiversity. According to a 2005 research report by the Living River Association about 15 fish species disappeared between 1993 - 2000 as a result of the dam.

    Sitting on top of large underground salt deposits, the water of the Rasi Salai reservoir has a high level of salinity making it less suitable for crop irrigation. As a result, instead of the promised 5,500 hectares of irrigated land, the dam is providing water for only about 1,600 hectares of farmland. Pha thinks the loss of the wetlands has actually intensified water scarcity in Rasi Salai and disturbed farmers’ traditional water management.

    Locals in Rasi Salai have depended on fishing as a sustainable source of food and income for generations. But as the dam caused water levels to rise, traditional fish spawning grounds disappeared affecting both diversity and the health of fish populations. Photo by Luke Duggleby

    It is estimated that the dam directly impacted the lives of up to 17,000 people according to information from the Environmental Justice Atlas. Many of them lost their farmlands and, in consequence, the foundation of their livelihoods.

    Pradit Koson, a resident of Rasi Salai, used to own more than 50 rai (about 8 hectares) of farmland. But when the dam was built he lost the land that used to yield a yearly income of 40,000 - 50,000 baht.

    “If I still had my land, I’m sure my life would be much better today,” the 62-year-old says. Without any land to farm, he was forced to take odd jobs to feed his family and accept financial support from his son who works in the capital.  

    Pradit received about 1 million baht (about 33,000 USD) for his loss of land in 2009 as part of one of several rounds of compensation that the government launched in the mid-90s after the anti-dam movement had organized large protests.

    Yet as many in the community did not have formal land titles, losses were at first not acknowledged by the government.

    In 2019, the military government of Prayuth Chan-ocha earmarked an additional 600 million baht (about 19,9 million USD) in settlements, or about 32,000 baht per rai of land.

    But many affected locals believe the payments are insufficient to compensate for the dire effects of the dam on their livelihoods and the loss of natural resources.

    “I don’t really want any more compensation payments,” Pradit says. “Instead I want my land, my livelihood back.”

    One of the early protests of villagers affected by the dam in 1995 in Rasi Salai district. File photo by Samakhom Khon Tham

    A scene of an anti-dam protest organized by the Assembly of the Poor in 1996. The banner reads “The Rasi Salai dam destroys the forest and the people.” File photo by Samakhom Khon Tham

    In 2011, the Wetland People’s Association was established to find solutions to mitigate the impact of the dam. Prani Makkhanan who leads the association is working on a joint study with Chulalongkorn University to evaluate the economic loss occurred as a consequence of the dam.

    This process also includes an evaluation of the benefits the wetlands provided to communities in Rasi Salai. Prani hopes that this will help them to assess the full extent to what people lost and lead to a review of the distribution of compensation.

    Prani wants the state to allocate resources to recreate the wetlands, restore traditional local livelihoods and provide public land for the community to use.

    “Although all the land is now state-owned, we want the government to allow us to use this land to gather food, use the forests and raise cattle like we did in the past,” Prani says.

    Prani Makkhanan of the Wetland People’s Association in Sisaket’s Rasi Salai district. Photo by Luke Duggleby

    But even with these new efforts and after almost 30 years of fighting for decommission of the dam, some in Rasi Salai have not given up hope that the concrete structure that upended their lives will one day be dismantled.

    “I want them to remove the dam,” Pha says. “Give us back our land and our natural resources.”

    Source: 
    https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/12/90965
    25 February 2021
    9088 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Protest leaders denied bail again, detained indefinitely

    Four protest leaders currently in detention pending trial have been denied bail for a third time after spending the past 14 days at Bangkok Remand Prison.

    From left: Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, and Patiwat Saraiyaem

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on Monday (22 February) that the Criminal Court once again denied bail for Anon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Patiwat Saraiyaem, and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, after lawyers from TLHR, along with former Thammasat University Rector Charnvit Kasetsiri and former Dean of the Faculty of Law at Thammasat University Panas Tassaneyanond, offered to post bail again using 400,000 baht in cash as security.

    The four activists have been detained for the past 14 days pending trial on royal defamation and sedition charges relating to the 19 – 20 September 2020 protests. Parit is also charged with royal defamation for a speech given at the protest at the Democracy Monument on 14 November 2020.

    The Court denied them bail on the same grounds as previous court orders because they are likely to repeat the offenses, and that there is no reason to change existing orders.

    Being detained pending trial means they are detained indefinitely until the trial is over or until bail is granted.

    TLHR also noted that the judge who isseed the order is Chanathip Muanpawong, who sentenced Ampon Tangnoppakul, or “Uncle SMS,” to 20 years in prison on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 in 2011, after Ampon was accused of sending messages to Somkiat Krongwattanasuk, who was at the time the secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which were deemed offensive to the King and Queen. 

    24 February 2021
    9087 at https://prachatai.com/english