Over two hundred villagers of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group organized a blockade to shut down mining operations after the Provincial Governor failed to agree to the Group’s demands.
17th August 2020, Bangkok – After more than two decades of struggle against quarry mining in Dongmafai Subdistrict, Suwannakuha District, Nong Bua Lamphu Province, a community of both women and men human rights defenders (W/HRDs) affected by mining activities carried out a blockade at the entrance of the mining site in an attempt to stop the mining operations.
The blockade was led by the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group, an environmental community-based group impacted by the mining operations. The group has opposed the mining operations for the past 26 years. Sadly, this led to the killing of four members of the group between 1995 and 1999. No perpetrator was held responsible for the crimes.
On the morning of August 13th negotiations took place between the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group and the Thai authorities (Provincial Industry Office), during which a representative from the group pointed out that, according to the Mining Act 2017, the Provincial Industry Office can shut down the mining at once. However, after five hours of negotiations, the Thai authorities concluded it was not within their power to shut down the mining operations. Thereafter, on the same day, the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation began the road blockade.
It is estimated that the daily explosions from the mining sites, which cause noise pollution and damage to households due to falling debris, affect around 4,000 people residing in six villages close to the mining sites. Mining activities are also hindering the villagers’ access to food in the nearby community forest since 175 out of 200 hectares are marked as mining areas.
The group demands the rehabilitation of the forest into a conservation zone. Thailand’s Department of Fine Arts, under the Ministry of Culture, has registered some parts of the area as an important archaeological site since mural paintings – estimated to be 2,000-3,000 years old – were found in the caves of a local cliff. According to the new 2017 Mining Act, a forest area containing watersheds or archaeological sites must be exempted from mining. However, although the reserve in Dongmafai Sub-district has both, authorities are still allowing the company to continue its mining operations.
In 2004, due to unsatisfactory fulfillment of regulatory requirements, the Administrative Court revoked the company’s permit to exploit the forest and its mining license. However, the Supreme Administrative Court later overturned this decision in 2010 – when the mining permit was about to expire – and, instead, the company’s license was renewed for 10 years. It is now due to expire on 24th September 2020.
In 2018, after the residents filed a lawsuit, the Udon Thani Administrative Court revoked the company’s second mining permit and ruled that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, as well as other government agencies, had failed to ensure public participation, as required by the constitution, before granting the mining permit to the company. However, the company appealed the decision, and the mining operations are still ongoing today.
Despite the residents’ strenuous opposition to exploiting the forest, which goes against the legal principle of obtaining a mining license, the company still sees its permit renewed. The Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group has found several illegalities. Stratagems were used for the renewal procedures at the sub-district administrative level, to get the forest reserve approved for mining exploitation despite the villagers’ opposition. A mark designating an area as minable was found in a cave containing an archaeological site.
Protection International calls on the Thai authorities and National Human Rights Commission to ensure the safety and protection of the community W/HRDs in Dongmafai who continue to defend their community and environment bravely. Four lives have already been lost; it is the duty of the state to guarantee that no more harm is done to the W/HRDs.
The Provincial Governor of Nong Bua Lamphu must ensure that both administrative and security authorities exercise their utmost power to provide safety and protection to the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group during the blockade and their activities. They are simply exercising their rights according to the Constitution and they must be able to do so without fear of reprisals.
Protection International also calls on The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and all business and human rights stakeholders to use their resources to ensure the Thai Government and all relevant enterprises immediately end killings, intimidations and judicial harassment of W/HRDs – especially women. It is also important that the Thai Government and all relevant enterprises take concrete steps towards the promotion of good business with a genuine commitment to human rights.