[Bangkok] 7 September 2020.- On 4 September, the women and men human rights defenders (W/HRDs) of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group achieved a tremendous victory in their 26-year struggle against quarry mining by reclaiming the mining zone and proclaiming it a community forest zone.
At least 300 W/HRDs from the local communities within the Dong Mafai Sub District of Nong Bua Lamphu Province marched to occupy the mining zone. They performed traditional rituals and held rejuvenation ceremonies to revive their motherland back to its prosperous state, to the likes of its condition before mining.
The declaration of their victory and reclamation of justice came after the company’s forest utilization permit for quarry mining expired on 3 September 2020. After this date, the company no longer has valid legal permission to utilize the mining zone, forcing a halt to all operations. The affected mining operations occupied 175 Rai (28 hectares) of reserve forest on Huak Cliff, Dong Mafai Sub District, Suwannakuha District, within the Nong Bua Lampu Province of Northeast Thailand.
The rituals performed include the ordination of forestry—a traditional ritual done by the community to protect the forest from invaders—a declaration of the determination by the people of Dong Mafai to protect all the cliffs and forest from mining, a declaration of reclaiming justice for those who were killed from defending the community and forest from mining, and Bai Sri Suu Kwan, which is a traditional Thai blessing ceremony.
The community W/HRDs of Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group have been opposed to the mining operations for over two decades due to the negative impacts they have had on locals’ access to food sources in the forest, the damage to buildings due to debris caused by explosions at the mine, and its consequential pollution. Between 1995-1999, four environmental W/HRDs within the conservation group were killed for their activism work. No perpetrator has been held responsible for the crimes, further feeding the vicious cycle of impunity.
To date, the company still has access to the stone mill, which currently occupies 50 Rai (8 hectares) of land next to the mining zone. The Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group will continue to protest and blockade to mining site until the permit to the stone mill expires on 24 September 2020, which is when the company’s overarching mining permit expires. The group plans to enter the mining areas and shut down the mining site permanently on 25 September 2020.
Protection International would like to congratulate and commend the W/HRDs’ continued efforts to put a permanent end to environmentally destructive mining operations. Thailand has clear obligations to respect the rights of environmental W/HRDs and protect them from harm. They should combat impunity for attacks and violations against environmental W/HRDs, particularly by non-State actors, who in turn also have responsibilities under human rights law. Business enterprises have a responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights, a duty which is independent of State obligations.
Protection International urges Thailand and the businesses operating within its borders to respect the right to defend human rights. We implore States to protect our environmental protectors. We encourage all key stakeholders to #StayWithDefenders throughout the current pandemic and beyond, as we continue to adapt our means of protest and freedom of expression.
The Declaration of Phu Pha Huak
Reclaim the Cliffs and the Forests, Reclaim our Motherland
The prosperity and our life security derive from the right to land, consisting of three parts: land for setting up our housing; land for livelihood to grow crops and raise animals; and collective land that provides us with a food source such as vegetables, herbs, bamboo, mushrooms, and meat.
Right now, the Huak Cliff, once taken away by the bloody capitalists for extracting stones for their own profits, is now completely reclaimed by us.
We have been fighting for the betterment of our society, even though it is full of injustice. This is especially true on the legal matters which require separated forest utilization permits for mining operations and for the stone mill. Today, we have reclaimed the forest land on which the mining operation is set on, as its forestry utilization permit expired on the 3 September.
On the 24 September, the mining permit of the company will expire. According to the law, when the mining permit expires, the rights to the stone mill must also expire.
Therefore, on the 25th of September we will uproot all the mining operations out of our community by evicting the stone mill.
We request that relevant state agencies and the company ensure that all the equipment, trucks and any related materials in the mining operations be taken off the land by the 25 September.
We request that the quarry mining company withdraw themselves from all the cliffs along Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Cliffs. No company should be extracting any stone here anymore. We see that our request is reasonable, most compromised, and based on solidarity that is good for all sides.
We request that the mining company accept and take responsibility for the consequences of its horrible mining operations that have already extracted far too much profit. We see that now it is the time stop such selfish operations.
If so, we are willing to forgive the loss of the four people whose lives have been lost. If so, we are willing to forgive all the judicial harassment that we have faced in the past. If so, we are willing to forgive all the police brutality that has harmed the people in the community. If so, we are willing to forgive all the intimidation and threats against our community members which have caused us to live in fear.
Today all those fears have ended. The determination to reclaim our forest and our motherland will heal all the pain in the past we have endured because we have all been exploited.
This is a historical moment for Dong Mafai, which, from now on, will never be the same.
We have the grand dream of protecting all the cliffs and mountains in Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai from mining forever, by building up a strong foundation for sustainable development in Dong Mafai.
We still have an important mission to fulfil after the full closure of the mine. We aim for full rehabilitation of the forest and to revive the prosperity of the Huak Cliff that was once destroyed, as well as to develop Dong Mafai to be an important ecological and archaeological attraction site.
This is the mission of our dream that we will pass on to the later generations who will carry on the flags of victory towards the bright future.