Posts Tagged ‘Waewrin Buangern’

Being a Woman Human Rights Defender in Thailand is risky

February 10, 2020

Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le
Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le

Growing up, cassava farmer Nittaya Muangklang did not think she would ever become an activist – let alone that she would lead a group of land rights defenders in the first-ever bid to challenge Thailand’s government and its “take back the forests” policy at the Supreme Court. “We did encroach on the national park, but as poor farmers, we should be eligible for exemption,” said Muangklang, who is fighting eviction, imprisonment and fines. Faced with what farmers and rights groups perceive as increasing judicial harassment, more women living in rural areas have joined the fight for land rights in Thailand – amid the spectre of intimidation and the threat of jail time or even being killed for their activism. The appeal court last year sentenced Muangklang and 13 other land rights defenders from Ban Sap Wai village in Thailand’s northeast to up to four years in prison, and ordered them to pay fines of between 40,000 and 1.6 million baht (between US$1,300 and US$52,000) for encroaching on and damaging land in Sai Thong National Park. The court said the farmers failed to prove they had occupied the land before the park was established in 1992. Muangklang, out on bail since last August, said her family had not applied for a land certificate when they moved to Ban Sap Wai in 1986 because they never thought it necessary until the day they faced eviction.

..Thai NGOs estimate that at least 8,000 households have been threatened with eviction since 2015. Meanwhile, Thailand’s ruling junta has in the past five years given away around 999 hectares of forest conservation land as concessions to large corporations, including cement and mining companies, according to Land Watch Thai. Muangklang’s case caught the attention of United Nations special rapporteurs, who last August expressed their concern that Thailand was misusing the forest reclamation policy. In a letter to the government, the UN said Muangklang’s prosecution “appears to be a result of her work as a community leader”, and pointed out that the eviction of the Ban Sap Wai farmers might violate their human rights. The Thai government has yet to respond to the UN’s request to justify its prosecution of the farmers. Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment did not respond to This Week in Asia’s request for comment.

Being a female advocate for land rights in Thailand is a dangerous calling. In 2012, female activists Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonnak were brutally killed. Since 2014, 225 female human rights defenders from Thailand’s rural areas have been subjected to judicial harassment, according to NGO Protection International, which estimates that 70 per cent of these activists are land rights defenders accused of encroaching on national parks and other lands. However, their work is often overlooked and underappreciated…Even when efforts are made to enshrine women’s rights, as is the case with gender equality in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a 17-section blueprint on achieving a sustainable future by 2030 – on-the-ground implementation when it comes to female land rights defenders tends to be lacking. “There’s a challenge there because many times states are not really connecting a human rights-based approach with [the SDGs’] development approach,” said Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on violence against women. Thai human rights activist Matcha Phorn-in, who works with marginalised communities, agrees. “When the government is the key actor, [SDGs won’t work for] many people who oppose the government because of violations of human rights,” she said, explaining that this meant a lack of indicators and data to assess how female land rights defenders were being affected….On top of this, Phorn-in fears that millions of people could be affected, now that officials involved in the forest reclamation policy have search-and-destroy powers they can use without first needing court orders.

Protection International’s Somwong explained that with the labour involved in household and family-care duties, female activists were essentially “doing double work” while also facing the risk of sexual harassment. Consequently, rights groups have been calling for gender-sensitive support for these activists. “When you’re not protecting women, you’re not protecting the family, the community, or the movement,” Somwong said. Nine of the prosecuted Ban Sap Wai farmers are women.

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…Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, said it was her habit of questioning authority that led her to activism. She contended that the local authorities and the Kiew Lueng Company, which oversees the project, had not been transparent with local villagers on the environmental and economic impact of the mine. As a result, she and members of the conservation group have faced more than a dozen defamation lawsuits from the mining company as well as the local government. The project was put on hold in 2015 after the group counter-sued. The company got a mining permit in 2015 but has not been able to move forward since then due to the lawsuits. Jo has paid a steep price for her perseverance. She lost her job at the local school, another job as assistant to the village chief, and suffered two miscarriages due to the stress of activism, which also took its toll on her marriage and saw her divorce her husband. At 36, Jo’s main sources of income are farming and being an administrator of a Facebook group. But she has found a different family. Of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group’s 1,400 members, 70 per cent are women. …….

Early last year, Ban Haeng villagers received a note that the government was planning to annex the forest the community had been relying on as a source of livelihood, and turn it into a national park. The villagers have submitted a letter of objection, stating that people are living in the area. Jo is positive that no one will get evicted. Unlike the Ban Sap Wai case, she said, the people of Ban Haeng had clear proof of the village’s history – a namesake temple that dates back to 1851….

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3048456/thailands-female-land-rights-defenders-activism