Thailand: Protect human rights defenders in Loei

Asia Human Rights
April 7, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

A group of human rights defenders in northeast Thailand are facing death threats and a defamation case in court over their attempts to protect community resources against a gold mining operation. According to Rights Coalition and Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC), the Khon Rak Ban Kerd group of human rights defenders was formed in 2007 by villagers from six communities surrounding the mine in Wang Saphung District of Loei province, northeast Thailand, calling for a clean environment and opposing the mining operation conducted by the Tungkhum Company Limited since 2006.

On 29 May 2015, Tungkhum Company Limited was seeking 50 million Baht reparation with 7.5 percent interest in a civil defamation lawsuit from six Khon Rak Ban Kerd village leaders over a banner they erected at the entrance to their village. The banner read, "This Village Doesn't Want Mining" and "Close the mine for the peace of mind of the community".

On 24 February 2016, the six defendants went to court and testified that it was a decision by the villagers to put up the banner; no leader imposed the decision. The action was a result of people's livelihoods being damaged by the activities of the mine. Furthermore, State agencies were approached to find a solution to rehabilitate the chemical contaminated areas of the village that affect their livelihoods. The villagers put up the banner precisely because the authorities have not been able to solve these problems. The placing of the banner is part of the people's right to public participation, and informing the public and authorities about the issues facing them.

Additional testimony was given by expert witnesses, who noted the heavy metal contamination in soil around the gold mining area, which confirms the possibility of the presence of contaminants in food, plants and water, which may result from mining activities.

On 30 March 2016, Loei Provincial Court dismissed the charges against the six defendants. The court ruled that the villagers of Wang Saphung have been affected by the mining operations and they have the right to state their concerns against the company. However, Tungkhum Company Limited has the right to appeal the verdict, which must be done within 30 days. If they appeal the verdict, the six human rights defenders will continue to face judicial harassment - the use of the legal system to silence or intimidate them.

Furthermore, according to the legal team representing the villagers in the dispute with Tungkum Company Limited, the company earlier filed 19 lawsuits against human rights defenders in Loei province. Eight of these have been withdrawn in exchange for allowing the company to transfer some of the ores, which were already mined by the company. On 15 May 2014, the villagers in Ban Na Nong Bong, one of the villages in Wang Saphung, were beaten up by 300 armed men. A leader of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd group reported that they had also received death threats from people believed to be working for the company.

The AHRC is thus concerned about community human rights defenders in Loei province faced with judicial harassment due to promoting community rights in the region. In the recent case, the human rights defenders simply exercised their right to freedom of opinion and expression by erecting anti-mining signs within the village; these actions constitute the legitimate work of human rights defenders, which Thailand has a duty to protect as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The state's failure to protect the defenders in Loei province will also serve to make other human rights defenders feel unsafe. The AHRC points out that Article 12(2) of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders outlines the obligation for the State to "take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration."

Meanwhile, the Tungkum Company Limited should drop all charges against the human rights defenders and end this outrageous legal campaign against fundamental freedoms, which is ultimately harmful to Thailand. The company should also be more mindful towards the environment and community that it is affecting.

The AHRC exhorts the government of Thailand to pay serious heed to the rights under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as encourage all stakeholders to continue to raise concerns on the security protection of Loei villagers including the Khon Rak Ban Kerd group.