PI and Enlaw Foundation coordinated for UN OHCHR visit to the Khon Rak Kroksomboon Group
Environmental human rights defender under the physical threats and judicial harassment in Prachinburi Province
On 23-24 July 2020, representatives from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for South East Asia visited community-based women and men human rights defenders (W/HRDs) from Khon Rak Kroksomboon Group and Khon Rak Ban Nong Talad Group in Prachinburi Province, eastern Thailand. The visit is to follow up on the security and protection of the W/HRDs, who are facing high risks in defending their community and environmental rights.
The OHCHR representatives also held official meetings with representatives from the Prachinburi Provincial Office, the Provincial Industry Office, the Provincial Justice Office, and the Provincial Police Station to clarify understanding and coordinate with the authorities regarding the security and protection of the W/HRDS.
Under the coordination of EnLaw and Protection International, OHCHR representatives met and discussed with the W/HRDs their security situation. They also discussed the progress on hoped solutions for problems of toxic smells and alleged chemical contamination of the water and soil in the communities, problems allegedly coming from a nearby industrial waste management company.
In late August 2019, around 700 members of the Khon Rak Kroksomboon Group and Khon Rak Ban Nong Talad Group gathered in front of the Prachinburi Provincial Hall to submit a complaint letter to the Provincial Governor, calling for an official investigation into the issues. As a result, the tripartite committee was set up comprised of the local authorities, the company, and the community representatives. Since then, the committee has convened regularly to review and solve the problems.
However, in April 2020, Sumeth Rainpongnam, an environmental HRD and a signatory to the complaint letter submitted to the provincial governor, received a court notice outlining complaints against him for defamation, filed by the waste management company, with the request of 50 million baht compensation (approx.1, 602,564 USD). The company claimed that the complaint letter submitted by the groups had damaged the company’s reputation. A month later, he received a second court notice informing him that the company filed a second defamation charge against him, citing a Facebook post.
Earlier in September 2019, Sumeth and his wife were attacked by unknown assailants in three different incidents with a total of 14 gunshots as they were driving home at night. Fortunately, they were not harmed. Amongst the wider community, at least two other W/HRDs have faced life-threatening intimidation as a result of their environmental campaigning.
The OHCHR representatives express concerns regarding the security situation faced by the W/HRDs. They emphasize that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) should be respected to ensure that W/HRDs can do their work without fear of reprisals from businesses or authorities.
The visit by the OHCHR representatives took place as Thailand became the first Asian country to launch a National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights. However, human rights violations from businesses still occur regularly. Thailand should urgently act to protect human rights defenders and utilize mechanisms to prevent Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) as identified in the NAP.
Pranom Somwong, Protection International’s Thailand Representative, said that though Thailand has a National Action plan and the Thai government has often indicated its good intentions, there has been little change in the lived experience of W/HRDs, who continue to face violations, threats, and judicial harassment. We urge the UN OHCHR, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to request that the Thai government provide details of the concrete actions to be taken to uphold business and human rights principles for all, beginning with an end to the intimidation and judicial harassment. The Thai government must be asked to show measurable goals with a clear-cut timeframe.
In June 2020, Protection International, along with 53 organisations and 23 individuals, submitted a letter to the UN agencies organising the UN Annual Meeting on Business and Human Rights. The signatories called for the Thai government to ensure that it would end judicial harassment to W/HRDs who face judicial harassment and SLAPP cases, such as Sumeth.
Sumeth is due to have a second mediation meeting on 11 August 2020 on the first defamation case at the Prachinburi Provincial Court. If the mediation does not yield agreement, the preliminary hearing will proceed to take place on 31 August 2020 at the Prachinburi Provincial Court.
The Kon Rak Kroksomboon Group plans to organize a public forum on 30 August 2020 to draw attention to the industrial waste management problems, which have caused significant environmental and health impacts on the residents in Prachinburi Province. This issue is also very prevalent along the Eastern Economic Corridor of Thailand, where there is a large-scale industrial zone development.