Authorities must act now to prevent another killing of land rights defenders and mitigate the serious death threats against members of Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT).

Bangkok, 20 October 2020 – Protection International is issuing an urgent call to the government of Thailand  to act and prevent another killing of land rights defenders in Thailand and mitigate the serious death threats against the members of Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT). These threats are due to the intense land disputes between communal peasant communities, multinational companies and State agencies.

The latest incident occurred in the early morning of 20 October 2020 in the SantiPattana  Community. A man, believed to be a multinational mining company’s employee, pointed a firearm at the head of a member of the SantiPattana community, Mr. Dam Onmuang, in an attempt to kill him. However, the gunman drove away, as Mr. Onmuang luckily dodged the shot.

 

The perpetrator eventually surrendered himself at Bang Sawan Police Station, where Mr. Onmuang and members of the community went to report him for attempted homicide. The police are now trying to mediate the case between parties.

 

The SPFT, an umbrella organisation comprised of 5 communities living and farming public land that advocate for land reform and self-determination over natural resources, has repeatedly faced serious human rights violations: members have been murdered, attacked, threatened and criminalised.

 

  • Protection International calls on all who hold human rights dear to reach out to Thailand National Human Rights Commission as well as Thai authorities (in particular, Thailand’s Ministry of Interior, the Royal Thai Police, the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Agricultural Land Reform Office, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives as well as the Provincial Governor of Surathani) and ask for:
     
    • the safety and protection of Mr. Onmuang and all other members of SPFT, who continue to defend the right to land, community rights and the right to care for the environment;
       
    • the police to carry out transparent and credible investigations to ensure that justice is met for the crimes committed against Mr. Onmuang and other threats against SPFT members;
       
    • both administrative and security authorities to exercise their utmost power to provide safety and protection to those land rights defenders that are members of the SPFT. They are simply exercising their rights according to the Constitution and they must be able to do so without fear of reprisals.
       
  • Protection International calls on The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UNOHCHR, the UN Working Group on business and human rights, and all other international stakeholders to take urgent and concrete action to ensure that the Thai government and its agencies protect the SPFT members while there is still time to do so. In the longer term, they must use their resources to ensure that the Thai Government and all relevant enterprises immediately end practices encouraging killings, intimidations and judicial harassment.
    Protection International urges all stakeholders to strengthen their working methods and develop a more proactive strategy for reaching out to high-risk human rights defenders in need of protection. The diplomatic community and UN agencies, in particular, should be more vocal and publicly call for action when human rights defenders are at risk or are murdered.
     
  • Protection International calls on the diplomatic and civil society community to foster dialogue with Thai authorities, encouraging them to support these requests and to promote W/HRDs’ safety and protection mechanisms. We must collectively condemn all forms of violence and impunity as they compound limitations on freedom of expression and assembly.
     
  • Protection International calls on the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), which works on business and human rights issues, to use their existing resources and power to ensure that the Thai government and related businesses will end both physical and legal harassment of the defenders. Moreover, policy-based and judicial harassment against land human rights defenders of the SPFT must stop immediately. The NHRCT must take concrete action to protect the safety and well-being of land and human rights defenders, and promote respect of business and human rights principles. Protection International hopes that the NHRCT will enable women human rights defenders to work with the Thai government and relevant UN agencies to ensure that business and human rights principles are ensured for all
     

Background

 

The Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SPFT), officially formed in 2008, is an umbrella organisation comprised of five communities (Klongsai Pattana, Nam Daeng Pattana, Phoem Sap and Khao Mai in Chai Buri District, and Santi Pattana, all located in Phra Saeng District) that live and farm public land while advocating for land reform and self-determination over natural resources. The SPFT is also a member organisation of the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move) which has advocated at the national level for community land and natural resources management by marginalised people in Thailand.
 

Currently, around 592 families are members of the SPFT, who are former landless peasants and workers who gathered in newly settled communities under the concept of Community Land Titles. The lands where the communities are situated is either owned by state agencies, such as the Agricultural Land Reform Office and the Royal Forest Department, or it has been unused for a long period of time, with titles claimed by the private sector, especially palm oil companies.
 

Over the past ten years, Women and Men Human Rights Defenders from the SPFT have been confronted with violence in many ways, including murder, forcible eviction, arbitrary arrests and detentions, property and crops destruction, intimidation, as well as judicial harassment. All communities reported receiving threats by unidentified armed groups, believed to be connected to palm oil companies, local influential groups or other business sectors.
 

Four members of Klong Sai Pattana Community (two of them women) lost their lives because of their struggle for land reform and self-determination over natural resources:
 

  • On 11 January 2010, Mr. Somporn Pattaphum was shot and killed in the community area;
     
  • On 19 November 2012, Ms. Pranee Boonrak, and Ms Monta Chukaew were both shot dead while traveling to and from the community;
     
  • On 11 February 2015, Mr. Chai Boonthonglek was shot and killed while at home.

On 8 April 2016, gunshots fired by an unidentified man seriously injured Mr. Supoj Kansong. Many other SPFT leaders and prominent land rights defenders are still receiving death threats. Among them:
 

Ms. Natthaphan Saengthap, WHRD and a member of SPFT women’s committee and the Santi Pattana community committee. She is also a member of the sub-committee under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment established under the governmental committee to resolve issues concerning the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move). She has regularly faced intimidation as a result of her role defending the community and standing up for land rights against the palm oil industry.
 

The SantiPattana community is one of five communities within the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand who have fought for the right to land and settled as the "new community" in 2006 in an area that used to belong to the United Palm Oil Industry Public Company Limited. After the land concession by the palm oil plantation area expired, the SPFT seized the empty land in order to re-allocate usable space to landless farmers and labourers from the area.
 

Since then, local mafia groups connected with the companies have harassed the SantiPattana community members.  The criminal court already issued a decision that the palm oil company has illegitimately obtained the land title in that area, but authorities refuse to take action against the company. In contrast, the civil court made a contradictory decision in favour of company and ordered 12 members of community to leave the land and pay compensations to the company. Currently, there is a case pending at the administrative court to review whether or not the land title originally issued to the company is illegal. Until then, there should be no legal action by any party against the community members.
 

However, on 13 September 2020, around noon, a group of men suspected to be involved with the local influential groups entered the community land managed by the SPFT and attempted to seize the land that belongs to the SantiPattana Community.
 

Representatives of the Santi Pattana Community requested to have peaceful negotiations with the group, who did not agree to negotiate. The group went ahead and constructed a hut in the area without consultation and consent. The encroachers have left the community while the construction remains built in the community’s land.
 

After the incident, there have been inquiries regarding Ms. Saengthap’s whereabouts. As recent as 2 October 2020, random men have been asking questions about Ms. Saengthap to her family members.
 

Mr. Pianrat Boonrit is a land rights defender involved in a dispute with the Thaibuanthong Oil Palm Company. He is currently sitting on the governmental committee to resolve issues pertaining to the People’s Movement for a Just Society as well as a subsequent sub-committee under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. On February 2015, he was detained, incommunicado, at Surat Thani Army central prison for three days following the military coup in 2014 for “attitude adjustment camp”.
 

Mr. Teeranet Chaisuwan, one of the SPFT steering committee members, was targeted due to his role in advocating for national land policies with the People’s Movement for a Just Society. He has joined Khlong SaiPattana Community in 2009 and he has been member of the SPFT executive committee since 2016. Currently, he is a member of the governmental committee to resolve issues pertaining to P-Move, as well as a subsequent sub-committee under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and the sub-committee on abandoned private land and public land use under the Ministry of Interior.

The Khlong Sai Pattana community is involved in a land dispute with oil palm plantations. A campaign of harassment and violence has been going on against members of the community since 2009, which led to the killing of four women human rights defenders.

On 10 October 2020, members of the SPFT told Mr. Chaisuwan that the police of the Chaiyaburi District, Surat Thani Province, have inquired about his whereabouts. The police, suspected to have links with the influential groups connected to the companies, asked where Mr. Chaisuwan and another member, Pianrat Boonrit, have been before 9 October 2020. The police also reportedly asked if Mr. Chaisuwan and SPFT members would join the pro-democracy protest in Bangkok in 14 October 2020. The same member also said that Mr. Chaisuwan  and Pianrat should be very careful, as the gunmen have been monitoring them closely.
 

Mr. Pratheep Rakhanthong is a member of the SPFT Management Committee and a member of the Khlong Sai Pattana community. He is one of the high-profile members that has been receiving death threats for the past few years.
In 2015, a bounty of 300,000 Thai Baht (approximately €8600) was allegedly offered for the killing of Mr. Rakhanthong, as well as Mr. Supot Kansong and Mr. Chaisuwan. Mr. Chaisuwan has made a number of formal complaints to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand regarding the situation of the Khlong Sai Pattana community. Mr. Kansong performs public awareness-raising and campaigning on social media regarding alleged human rights violations committed against the Khlong Sai Pattana community. On 8 April 2016, Mr Supoj Kansong was seriously injured outside Khong Sai Pattana community, Chai Buri district, Surat Thani province as a result of gunshots fired by an unidentified man.
 

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