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THAILAND: Hunger caused by mass arrest of villagers

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

16 September 2004

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HA-02-2004: THAILAND: Hunger caused by mass arrest of villagers

THAILAND: Malnutrition, forced eviction, illegal arrest

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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concerned by reports of malnutrition among villagers of the Pang Daeng community, Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, after security forces arrested 48 persons for alleged land encroachment, under dubious circumstances. Although the persons--who are all from minority groups--have now been released from jail, the court cases against them are pending, and the whole community is suffering hardship as a result.

The AHRC urges you to write to the responsible persons in the government of Thailand to ensure that irrespective of other aspects of the case, nobody is made to suffer from hunger due to the actions of the authorities.

Urgent Appeals Desk--Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

On 23 July 2004, 48 people--34 men and 14 women from Pang Daeng community were arrested and charged with forest encroachment and illegal entry into the Chiang Dao national reserved forest in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand. Some 200 officers from 11 government agencies were involved, including army, police, forestry and local administrative officials. The arrested were all released on bail by September 9; however, the charges are still hanging over them and their livelihoods have been severely upset as a result of the authorities' actions. The first hearing in the case is set for 18 October 2004.

As most of the arrested persons were the earners for their families, those persons not arrested--mostly women and children--have suffered severe hardships. Families with newborns and young children in particular have had to reserve their food for the most needy. Among those affected were Korn Thamyod, and her two-year-old child Boonmee, whose husband, Sutha Thamyod, was among those arrested. Korn is suffering injuries from a car accident, and her child is also physically disabled; the two of them have suffered hunger as a result of the eviction. Another who was arrested was E Poma Jaku, who has two dependents: her six-year-old son Wanchalerm, and her mother Nasee, who is 48 and suffers from blindness and diabetes. In her absence, and with the whole community affected, her son and mother were left to fend for themselves. Apart from suffering malnutrition, some of the remaining villagers fearing further possible arrests had been fleeing into the forest to sleep at nights.

Although the detained persons have now been released on bail, they still face numerous charges that will severely affect their ability to survive. It should be noted that in small village economy when one or two persons face arrest and legal problems, others are available to provide for the food and basic needs of the affected families. However, when an entire community is massively disrupted as on this occasion, the prospects for survival are much worse. This community consists of 82 families, therefore, perhaps around half were directly affected by the arrests.

It should also be noted that there were numerous irregularities in the procedure of arrest, which lawyers from the Law Society of Thailand are now presenting as grounds for dismissal of the charges against the victims. Among them:

1. The police did not inform the persons that they were going to be arrested. They came at night and used various pretexts such as that they would "go to a meeting", "get blankets", "participate in a training" and "testify at the district office".

2. The authorities did not obtain the proper warrants from the court as required by sections 237-238 of the Constitution of Thailand.

3. The authorities claimed that the arrested persons were encroaching on the forest illegally under the National Reserved Forest Act (1964), however the community was officially established since the early 1980s, and documents of land title issued by the relevant officials, and a state school and other facilities established. In fact, the community leaders settled the area some 50 years ago. The people had also participated in government programmes for protection of the forests, and had been given assistance by government agencies in connection with these projects.

4. The eviction is a blatant act of discrimination, as the only persons arrested belonged to poor minority communities; however, there are numerous large-scale illegal encroachments in the area by businesspersons with orange farms, resorts, golf courses and other commercial enterprises, none of them affected.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

This was actually the third time that Pang Daeng villagers have faced arrest on allegations of illegal encroachment. On 26 January 1989, 27 were arrested; on 26 March 1998, 26. Both earlier times the arrested persons were all men; both times they were found guilty and sentenced to jail terms. On the second occasion, the arrests triggered national protests at heavy-handed treatment of poor rural people by the authorities in Thailand. Finally, new regulations were established, and the Order of the Forest Bureau in Chiang Mai Area No. 831/2542 (1999) put in place new arrangements for local people to participate in forest protection schemes. However, these arrangements were overlooked during the most recent arrest.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the Minister of Justice in support of the legal efforts by the Pang Daeng villagers to have the charges against them overturned in order that their right to food will be protected by way of securing their livelihoods against further threats from the authorities. Please also request that the villagers get compensation for losses suffered. A sample letter follows.

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Dear Mr. Pongthep

Re: Hunger in Pang Daeng community, Chiang Dao district

I am deeply concerned by reports that the villagers of Pang Daeng, Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, have been suffering from hunger due to the arrest and charges of forest encroachment against 48 persons, the details of which you will already be familiar.

According to the information I have received, as a result of the arrests, many members of the community have suffered severe hardships. Families with newborns and young children in particular have had to reserve their food for the most needy. These include Korn Thamyod, and her two-year-old child Boonmee, whose husband, Sutha Thamyod, was among those arrested. Korn is suffering injuries from a car accident, and her child is also physically disabled; the two of them have suffered hunger and malnutrition as a result of the eviction. Another who was arrested was E Poma Jaku, who has two dependents: her six-year-old son Wanchalerm, and her mother Nasee, who is 48 and suffers from blindness and diabetes. In her absence, and with the whole community affected, her son and mother were left to fend for themselves. Apart from suffering malnutrition, some of the remaining villagers fearing further possible arrests had been fleeing into the forest to sleep at nights. Although the detained persons have now been released on bail, I am deeply concerned by the fact that legal charges are pending against them in this case, which entails numerous irregularities.

I believe that you would not wish for agencies of the government of Thailand to do anything that would adversely affect the right of persons in Thailand to adequate amounts of food and other basic needs to live their lives in dignity. Irrespective of other aspects of this case, the right to food of the affected persons must be upheld.

I urge you to review this case with a view to dropping the charges against the villagers. I also urge you to recommend that they be paid compensation for losses suffered to their livelihoods as a result of the arrests, detentions and other state actions that have seriously affected the tenuous means for survival available to these persons.

In conclusion, I would like to remind you that the government of Thailand has obligations under international and national law to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food. I trust that you will endeavour to ensure that in all undertakings agencies of the government of Thailand uphold this right, and will take all necessary steps to this end, including putting in place guidelines and monitoring mechanisms.

Yours sincerely

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

Mr. Pongthep Thepkanjana

Minister of Justice
Office of the Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice Building
22nd Floor

Chaeng Wattana Road
Pak Kred, Nonthaburi 11120
THAILAND
Tel: +66 2 502 8223
Fax: +66 2 502 8224

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra
Prime Minister
Government House,
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District,
Bangkok 10300
THAILAND
Fax: +662 282 8631
Email: thaksin@thaigov.go.th, govspkman@mozart.inet.co.th

2. Dr Bhokin Bhalakula
Minister of Interior
Office of the Ministry of Interior
Atsadang Road
Bangkok 10200
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 226 4371
E-mail: webteam@moi.go.th

3. Mr Suwit Khunakitti
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
Pollution Control Department Building 92
Phahonyothin Soi 7,
Phahonyothin Road
Phayathai, Bangkok 10400
THAILAND
Tel: +66 2 298 2114-5
Fax: + 66 2 298 2113

4. Mr.Sora-at Klinpratoom
Minister of Social Development and Human Security
Suntower 123 Vibhavadi Rangsit Road
Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 2612 8753
E-mail: bca@m-society.go.th

5. Prof. Saneh Chamarik
Chairperson
The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
422 Phya Thai Road
Pathum Wan District
Bangkok 10300
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 219 2940
E-mail: commission@nhrc.or.th

6. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UNCHR Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Switzerland
Fax: 41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

7. Mr Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan,
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Tel: +66-2-6554115
Fax: +66-2-6554413
Email: Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or Bkk.unescap@un.org

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme--Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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