UPDATE: The Nakhon Phanom provincial court in Thailand has dismissed the case against 29 villagers in Tambon Aat Samat, Amphoe Mueang, Nakhon Phanom for land encroachment offences based on insufficient evidence presented by the public prosecutor.
In 2015, in Nakorn Phanom province, to comply with the government’s initiative of turning the area into Special Economic Zones (SEZs), the provincial administration’s land committee issued an order to reclaim the land resulting in the eviction of approximately 300 families. The provincial administrators had offered small compensation to the villagers, but most of them did not want to relocate. Military officers from Internal Security Command (ISOC) reportedly went into the community to tell the villagers to relocate and then took the villagers to the police station to be charged with land encroachment offences.
With the great efforts of the team from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and Assembly of the Poor and the ongoing support of representatives from the European Union (EU) and Protection International, this dismissal means the members of the village can now move forward.
Representatives from the European Union (EU) and members countries including Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and Finland, visited villagers of Tambon At Samat District, Maung District, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand on 26 July 2016. Over 30 villagers shared their stories of looming eviction from the land they have lived and worked on for decades. The EU representatives and its member countries also met with human rights defenders (HRDS) working on land, forest and mining issues. The HRDS have been living in danger and battling harassment, particularly after the coup. Local people and HRDS have been prevented from taking part in decision making and must fight under severe restrictions and intimidation, with threat of forced disappearance and death.
The villagers have pleaded to the representatives from the EU and its member countries to:
- Conduct observation on 4 October 2016 during the trials against the villagers at the Provincial Court of Nakhon Phanom for destroying land for common use. Also observing any further hearings to show their solidarity with the aggrieved villagers and to ensure that justice will be served for them.
- Meet, negotiate and help the government authorities, administrative officials and concerned agencies to understand the problem properly and to stop any harassment against the villagers.
- Follow up with and urge the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate the complaints relating to the human rights violations inflicted on the villagers. The two complaints that had been submitted to the NHRC over two years have not yet progressed and the villagers fervently hope the NHRC would conduct a field visit to investigate the cases and to coordinate with the state officials.
- Coordinate with concerned government agencies, should the villagers have to be relocated, to ensure that they receive proper compensation and can begin anew with their livelihood. (The villagers have proposed that a new plot of land be provided for the relocation and assistance to ensure that they can earn their living in a new place with a fund being set up to accommodate their reconstruction of their livelihood and to cover any expenses incurred during the relocation.)
- Ensure that government officials and concerned authorities understand the problem and help to ensure the villagers will be kept informed of the useful, correct and righteous information and to bridge the gap of understanding between the government agencies and the affected villagers to prevent further conflicts.
The villagers and HRDS see the visit of the European Union as a positive step forward and are hopeful the EU will stand firm on promoting human rights principles and democracy. They are also hopeful these principles will be applied to provide support and protection of all HRDS in Thailand.
Until now, the government has touted Nakhon Phanom as a pilot area to develop industrial complexes in the Special Economic Zone causing villagers to fear losing their housing and farmland. They have been subject to harassment committed against them by administrative officials and have been prosecuted for occupying land for common use. Previously, Crown Lands Certificates have been issued on the parcels of land that overlap areas of land the villagers already have documented occupancy for. The authorities want to appropriate the land and develop it into a Special Economic Zone in the Northeast. While many of the villagers have land titles (including NS2 or NS3 to prove their case that they have been living and utilizing the land) they are still being accused of encroaching.
In the past two years, the villagers have sought justice from various government agencies including the Damrong Tham Center and even an independent organization such as the Lawyers Council of Thailand (LCT), but the assistance has not been forthcoming.