THAILAND: MILITARY FORCES INTIMIDATE COMMUNITY-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND VILLAGERS IN UDON THANI
23 SEPTEMBER 2015
According to a report by the Community Media Center for Social Justice, Thai military forces are performing acts of surveillance and intimidation of community based Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and villagers opposing the implementation of the Asia Pacific Potash Corporation’s (APPC) Potash mining project in Udonthani.
On September 15th, the military harassed members of the Udon Thani Environmental Conservation Group (Anurak Udontnai), who travelled from their villages to the Phrayasunthonthammathada Military Barrack in Tambon Non Soong, Udon Thani, to submit their letter of petition during a public hearing on the project.
A day after, a group of researchers and students from Udon Thani Rajabhat University and Chulalongkorn University collecting data in the mining project area for their research project, “Social Justice Regarding Health in 2014-2015 in Udon Thani”, where followed and threatened by three military officials who claimed to have come from the 24th Military Circle.
Protection International expresses its concern for these developments and will continue to closely monitor the situation of community based HRDs in Udonthani.
For more information about the incidents, please read the following report by the Community Media Center for Social Justice.
Closely monitored by military! Potash mine hearing in Udon Thani, villagers whining about being treated as terrorists
15 September 2015, 9.00am, about 200 members of the UdonThani Environmental Conservation Group travelled from their villages in Tambon Huay Sam Phad and Na Muang, Prachak-sinlapakhom District, toward the Phrayasunthonthammathada Military Barrack, Tambon Non Soong, UdonThani, to submit their letter of petition during a public hearing on the implementation of the Potash mining project in UdonThani of Asia Pacific Potash Corporation or APPC, the project developer. The hearing was held in a military barrack.
It was reported that the access toward the military barrack was flanked by armed troops and Humvees and a binocular was set up on the flyover to monitor the movement of the villagers. In front of the military barrack, tents were set up to receive complaints at the entrance and every vehicle getting inside had to pass through strict security search with under vehicle inspection mirror being used for scanning every vehicle. Traffic cones were put down to make a special lane 500 meters before the entrance.
The conservation group and villagers were there to submit their letter to protest the public hearing and it was received by the Director the Damrongtham Centre, UdonThani. Then, the villagers read out the statement “Why we are on the occasion of a public hearing about the project” and sang songs to cheer themselves up in their struggle against the Potash mining project, before returning home.
Part of the statement explains their reasons to oppose the holding of the meeting since the public consultation to explain detail of the project’s implementation and to solicit opinions of the people which was being held in a military barrack was in fact not compatible with the objectives as explained in the standard of procedure for local administration regarding the review of mining concessionaire rights issued since 2002. In the process, people were also deprived of their participation and stakeholders in the area had no chance to express their opinions and participate in the decision making process since the venue of the public consultation was located in a military barrack, not in Tambon Huay Sam Phad and Na Muang where the project is to be implemented. In addition, during the meeting, a large number of security officers including the military, police and civil defense volunteers were deployed to ensure the hearing could sail through smoothly. Thus, the climate of the meeting is far from conducive to hearing the explanation and opinions from public. It was not really a chance for people could genuinely participate.
Ms. Phikunthong Thothuyo, representative from the UdonThani Environmental Conservation Group, said she felt upset with the event today as the military did anything just to ensure the meeting could go through. The event was subjected to tight control and various checkpoints were set up. She felt it was a deliberate attempt to prevent the movement of the villagers. And if the villagers decided to resist the control, the security forces would be more than ready to charge them and make the arrests. In addition, just one day before the hearing, some military officials had visited core members of the group at their homes and the police constantly called to check the movement of the villagers. She said she wanted to ask if the military got hired by anyone to do the job and why they had to do anything simply to serve the interest of the company.
“It was clear today that the military did not have good attitude toward the villagers. They treated us as if we were a terrorist group, even though we have simply struggled to protect our lives and livelihood as well as natural resources” said Ms. Phikunthong.
The public hearing on Potash mining project which was held in a military barrack has also triggered debate among civil society organizations in UdonThani, most of which are opposed to the project.
Mr. Seksan Sirima, Dhamma Thippatai UdonThani Group, told the press that upon learning that the hearing would be held in a military barrack, the people’s sector in UdonThani felt it was not fair. It also shows how the state authorities, state agencies, military and police, are taking side to protect the interest of the Patash mining investors. Also, the information presented during the hearing was simply geared toward brainwashing the villagers to believe in what the company had to say.
“In particular, the military might have received an order from above to facilitate the holding of this hearing in the military barrack, the act of which has upset members of people’s sector as they felt it was unfair to do that” said Mr. Seksan.
Academics upset by intimidation from the military while conducting research in the Potash mining project area, UdonThani
UdonThani: 16 September 2015, around 9.00am at Ban Non Somboon, Tambon Huay Sam Phad, Prachak-sinlapakhomDistrict, UdonThani,researchers from the research “Social Justice Regarding Health for 2014-2015 in UdonThani”, a collaboration between the Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of Science, UdonThani Rajabhat University and the Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University with support from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, have made their trip to collect baseline data on community economy and community participation together with around 40 students from the UdonThani Rajabhat University.
It was reported that while conducting the field research covering two villagers including Ban Non Somboon, Moo 3 and Ban Non Somboon, Moo 12, three military officials who claimed to have come from the 24th Military Circle have followed the groups of students and lecturers and taken photo during the interview of villagers by the students. They even approached the students and asked to take photo of their student’s cards and lecturer’s cards.
It was further reported that after the data collection was completed in the morning, the three military officials have approached the lecturers asking about the data collected and the content of the questionnaires used for interviewing the villagers. The officials threatened that if the students and lecturers failed to provide information, they would report the case to the administration of the university.
Mr. Santiphab Siriwattanapaiboon, a lecturer from the Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of Science, UdonThani Rajabhat University, who led the team of students in this field visit told the press that it was none of business for the military officials to visit the village today. It had nothing to help return happiness to people, but an act of intimidation against the people who felt very bad about the treatment of the officials. They keep monitoring the villagers all the time, particularly the villagers living in area where the concessionaire right to mining has been applied for. The villagers have been fighting against the project for more than 15 years, and now they are told they cannot mobilize against it as the military claims the activity will likely damage national security.
“It had nothing to do with the military. It was simply an act of gross intimidation against the villagers. The military officialswho are state officials are acting as a force to protect vested interest of rich people and to rush through the Potash mining project. They treat the villagers, the students and the academics as if they were their enemies simply because they are opposed to the rich people. This was a gross violation against freedom” said Santiphab.
Mr. Santiphab further said that the constant escorting of the military was an intimidation against academic freedom. The topic for the study today was about the community economy and their livelihood as well as their participation in decision making concerning their community development. We simply want to echo the information from our academic point of view and to get the students exposed to the community and the problems faced by the villagers. It had nothing to do with national Security.
“The information acquired form the survey and interview shall be reported back to the community for cross-check and it could be useful for their improving the quality of life. It will not impact national security or the mining company. What’s wrong with that? Why did they have to harass even students who were studying outside their classroom in order to understand issues in the community” said Mr. Santiphab.
Meanwhile, Mr. Thakun Sorawongsiri, a researcher from the research “Social Justice Regarding Health for 2014-2015 in UdonThani” said that the research project has been launched countrywide in collaboration with the Social Research Institute, Chulalonkorn University. It covers a range of issues and areas and they have been working with marginalized people and disadvantageous people for over five years. Initially, information from the community will be used to improve their quality of life. During the next phase, it is hoped that a plan can be developed to improve the quality of the villagers. In order to make possible justice in the area of UdonThani Province, it is necessary to start from listening to them attentively and not treat them as enemies.
“ In order to grasp the issues of the villagers, one has to understand the issues and pay attention to historical aspects and the struggle of the villagers. It will help the military understand why the villagers folk have to get organized to protect their homeland better.” Said Mr. Thakun.