Urge to drop charges against ethnic Karen in Kaengkachan National Park, Thailand
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Urge to drop civil and criminal charges against Kaeng Krachan ethnic Karens Attempts by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation may constitute to judicial harassment
During 25-31 October 2018, it has been widely reported that the Director General of the Department of National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation had instructed his officials to report the case with the Kaeng Krachan Police Station, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi against ethnic Karens including descendants of Mr. Ko-i Mimi, aka Grandpa Ko-I, and five other persons. The villagers are accused of occupying land in the National Park in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din, which has been included as part of the Kaeng Krachan National Park. In the wake of the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict which finds government officials’ act unlawful and requires government to compensate for the burning of houses belonging to Grandpa Ko-I and the ethnic Karen community by the authorities, undersigned organizations and individuals call the National Park Department to drop civil and criminal charges against Kaeng Krachan ethnic Karens.
The legal action has been taken in response to an incident in 2012 when Grandpa Ko-i and five other ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din have filed the case against the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, defendant no. 1 and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and defendant no. 2 with the Central Administrative Court in the Black Case no. S58/2555. It was an attempt to defend their community rights and indigenous rights, and the case has attracted public attention almost over the past decade. The six plaintiffs alleged that in 2011, during Operation Tanaosri, the officials of the Kaeng Krachan National Park had forcefully evicted them from their land in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din, the community in which they had been living and earning their lives for generations. The officials had also set fire to houses, rice barns and farmland belonging to them and dozens of other fellow villagers. The government officials claimed that such houses and farmlands were located inside the Kaeng Krachan National Park.
After nearly a decade of trial, the Supreme Administrative Court in its final verdict in the Red Administrative Case no. OS 4/2561 on 12 June 2018 found that even though Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din was located inside the Kaeng Krachan National Park, it had to be treated as a traditional community of the ethnic Karens (Paganyaw). The acts of the government officials including the demolition and burning of properties and buildings that belonged to the ethnic Karens and their failure to act in line with the cabinet resolution on 3 August 2010 regarding the policy for the restoration of the traditional way of life of the ethnic Karens including a recommendation to suspend any arrest and to protect the ethnic Karens, were deemed by the Court as unlawful and breaching to administrative law. Therefore, the defendants were required to provide Grandpa Ko-I and five other plaintiffs around 50,000 baht each as compensation (the full verdict). Nevertheless, during the operation, nearly 100 houses were burnt to the ground and the ethnic Karens who owned the houses have yet to file the case against the authorities through the Administrative Court.
After the verdict was delivered by the Supreme Administrative Court, concerned authorities have, however, failed to move toward compensating and protecting a number of ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din who had been affected by the violations of the government officials. Such compensation should include the restoration of their community rights and their right to return and live in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din to maintain their traditional way of life in line with their community rights and human rights. Instead, citing the instruction from their Director General, some officials of the Department of National Park proceed to report the case with the Kaeng Krachan Police Station against Grandpa Ko-I and five other plaintiffs accusing them of encroaching and occupying the land inside the Kaeng Krachan National Park, the incident that had taken place before the authorities forcibly removed Grandpa Ko-I and other ethnic Karens from Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din and burned their houses and farmland in 2011.
The fact that the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Kaeng Krachan ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din could live as a traditional community indicates that the community is entitled to constitutional protection. In addition, they should enjoy protection as provided by the cabinet resolution on 3 August 2010 regarding the policy for the restoration of the traditional way of life of the ethnic Karens. The Court also found the acts of the government officials unlawful, including the burning of ethnic Karens’ houses, rice barns, and farmland, for a project to expand the forced eviction of ethnic minorities from Kaeng Krachan National Park along the Thailand-Myanmar border and in Ban Bangkloy, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburiin 2011. It demonstrated that by living and utilizing national resources in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din, Grandpa Ko-I and his ethnic Karens descendants have been exercising their constitutional rights in line with the cabinet resolution on 3 August 2010. It is not a destruction of natural resources as claimed by the Department of National Park. Such allegation has, however, been cited as a reason to file both civil and criminal suits against Grandpa Ko-I and ethnic Karens. The ethnic Karens have been living legitimately in the area and have practiced their constitutional rights.
The stories of the ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din have gained much attention, particularly when Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, Grandpa Ko-I’s nephew and leading activist who protected the rights of ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi had disappeared on 17 April 2014, after being held in custody by officials of the Kaeng Krachan National Park (for more information)
The human rights organizations have found an attempt by some officials of the Department of National Park to report the case against Grandpa Ko-I and five other ethnic Karens who were plaintiffs in an administrative case by referring to an incident that took place ten years ago, apart from demonstrating their defiance to the verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court. This may constitute an attempt to harass, intimidate, and threaten in order to prevent dozens other ethnic Karens whose properties had been destroyed from coming out and demanding justice like Grandpa Ko-i did. It is also an attempt to obstruct the people from accessing justice.
The human rights organizations question the integrity of the officials as far as their performance of duties is concerned, since the ethnic Karen community is supposed to enjoy protection according to the Thai Constitution and international human rights law. In particular, Thailand is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which places an importance on traditional and indigenous community in forested areas. The Committee has urged the Thai authorities to review relevant forestry laws in order to ensure respect for the way of living, livelihood and culture of ethnic groups.
In light of the problems and the above reasons, the human rights organizations demand the following from the government and concerned authorities;
1. The Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation should act strictly in compliance with the verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court.
2. The authorities should immediately bring to halt any attempt to prosecute, in civil and criminal suit, Grandpa Ko-I and five other ethnic Karens who had filed the case with the Administrative Court, as well as other ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din.
3. The Department of National Park should offer compensation to the ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din whose houses, rice barns and farmlands burned down during the Operation Tanaosri a decade ago, in line with the verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court in the Red Administrative Case no. OS 4/2018.
4. The government and the Department of National Park should offer protection and help restore and rehabilitate the ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din by restoring them their community rights. They should be allowed to return to live in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din to maintain their traditional way of life strictly according to the cabinet resolution on 3 August 2010, regarding the policy for the restoration of the traditional way of life of the ethnic Karens.
5. The Department of National Park, government officials, and the government should repeal regulations, rules, ordinances, measures, and practices that discriminate against the ethnic Karens in Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din and other indigenous groups, in accordance to Thailand’s obligation to the International Convention on the Elimination
- Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT)
- Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Faculty Of Social Sciences ChiangMai University
- Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, Chiang Mai University
- “RAK BAN KERD” Group, Nam Plik, Muang Amnaj Charoen, Amnat Charoen
- Isan Land Reform Network
- Thai Development Support Center, NGO COD
- Highland Peoples Taskforce
- ENLAWTHAI Foundation [EnLAW]
- Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC)
- Federation for assistance to Mons communities
- Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)
- Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)
- Center for Protection and Revival of Local Community Rights (CPCR)
- Local Development Foundation
- Karen Network for Culture and Environment (KNCE), Tanaosri region
- Union for Civil Liberty [UCL]
- Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR)
- Academic Network for Ethnic and Cross-Border Development
- The Hill Are and Community Development Foundation
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