On 30 September the Southern Peasant Federation Cooperative held a vigil in Surat Thani commemoration of the peasants who died to defend their right to land and deliberated to built a monument in remembrance of the four Human Rights Defenders who died protecting the right to community land.
According to a former National Human Rights Commissioner, land distribution and reform by the state has failed in the region, since it provides only for the rich.
Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand ( SPFT ) organized a public forum to explore solutions for fair land redistribution while local population remain at risk of eviction.
Read here the media statement by The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT).
FORWARD statement “The Opening Ceremony of Memorial for Defenders of the Rights of Peasants and Thai PBS public Forum “by The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT)
The landholding infor in Surat Thani reveals how ten rich persons/clans owning a lot of agricultural reform land, while the Southern Peasant Federation Cooperative built a monument in remembrance of the four Human Rights Defenders who died protecting the right to community land and organized a public forum to explore solutions to ensure fair land redistribution, while villagers revealing that the Agricultural Land Reform Office( ALRO) is about to push people out from the land, and according to a former National Human Rights Commissioner, land distribution and reform by the state has failed, since it provides for only rich people
At Klong Sai Pattana Community, Tambon Sai Thong, Chaiyaburi District, Surat Thani, the Southern Peasant Federation Cooperative Co. Ltd.1 held a vigil in commemoration of the fighters who have defended human rights and the deaths of peasants who have fought for the right to land. A public discussion was also help to explore solutions toward the mobilization for community land title deed.
A Steering committee of the Southern Peasant Federation Cooperative Co. Ltd., Mr. Suraphol Songrak recalled the meaning of the monument to be built that it would be for commemorating four peasants who have died from assassinations including Mr. Somporn Pattanaphum who was gunned down in his home in 2010, Ms. Pranee Boonrat and Ms. Montha Chukaew who were gunned down in the oil palm plantation in dispute on 19 November 2012, and Mr. Chai Bunthonglek who was also gunned down in village in front of Klongsai Pattana community on 11 February 2015.
Apart from commemorating the four deceased, the model of the monument will also reflects the struggle of the other living peasants. The layers of spiral cords mean the elevation of the struggle by the peasants and the history of their fight as a network which has lasted for so long. During the time, they have been subjected to intimidation and several people have paid by their lives. The monument thus represents the spirit of the fighters which remains prevalent among those who continue to mobilize. On top of the spring cords is the three stars of which the red star symbolizes the blood and lives shed by people fighting for the right to land. The yellow star means the virtue which is the main driving force in every of their struggles while the green star signifies the agricultural sector and natural abundance.
After the ceremony to open the monument, a public discussion was held to discuss and explore future directors for their struggle for the right to land based on community land title deed with representatives from the Northeast Land Reform Network, the Northern Peasant Federation, the Assembly of the Poor, Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), the Pa Sang Agricultural Cooperative for Community Land Title Deed, the Network for Social and Political Reform, the Network for Natural Resource and the Environment Management in Andaman, the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jandai Conservation Group, Tambon Dong Mafai, representatives from the state and private sectors concerning the right to agricultural land. Mr. Pratheep Rakhangthong, a villager from Klong Sai Pattana Community and steering committee of SPFT , said that we have moved into this area since 2008, 69 families of us. The land was divided to ensure sustainability including organic farmland to grow food and rotational plants, public land, reforestation land, livestock land and residential land.
We were given permission from the Coordinating Committee for Solving Problems of the Land Reform Network to till the land, though at the same time, a private company was utilizing the land as well. They had encroached on hundreds of rais of land beyond what they had obtained according to the concessionaire rights. In 1994, the encroached land was declared the agricultural reform area and the Agricultural Land Reform Office took it to the Court to force the private company to leave the land. They have won the case which has reached its final verdict at supreme court.
Still, the Agricultural Land Reform Office has failed to execute the court order and to expel the private company from the land. No land was redistributed among the peasants. Instead, they issued an order on 6 July 2015 to forcibly push the private company and their workers as well as villagers from the Klong Sai Pattana Community from the land claiming the villagers were dependents of the company. But according to the verdict of the Court, dependents do not include villagers in Klong Sai Pattana Community who had been living here as farmers and were in dire need of land. We had no intent to commercialize it. The land was redistributed based on collective land title deed regime, not based on conventional individual ownership. I believe this could set an example for land management in other areas.
I want to plead the Agricultural Land Reform Office to rescind the order to evict the villagers from the land and to make an effort to redistribute the land among the villagers to reduce inequality in land management and to ensure that justice be genuinely brought to the villagers.
Mr. Boon Jung, from the Land Reform Network in Banthad Mountain Range, Trang, said that I have been following news about the struggles of the villagers in Klong Sai Pattana Community. Upon hearing the court verdict, I was happy with the villagers since they were going to have their right to land recognized. It was clearly stipulated in the cabinet resolution that the villagers should be allowed to continue living there. But instead, the Agricultural Land Reform Office failed to provide for land redistribution and they had even issued an order to expel the villagers from the land. It showed how the Agricultural Land Reform Office had no sincerity to solve land issues faced by the villagers. In addition, during the field survey in Surat Thani, it was found that only ten families in ten Tambon had owned the land at the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of rais including the agricultural reform area. On the contrary, the villagers had to shed their blood in order to gain ownership to merely dozens of rais. The concerned agencies should review their roles and act according to the land redistribution rule to ensure that justice be done to the villagers.
Mr. Sathitpong Ruechukiat, Director of the Land Bank Administration Institute (Public Organization) and former secretary of ALRO said that the marching order by the Agricultural Land Reform Office to force people in Klong Sai Pattana Community out of their land has been issued based on a lack of understanding in land resource management system. Any state property should be distributed among the marginalized group and it should not be treated as a speculation chance since it would pave the way for rich people to exploit the benefits as it has been done so widely now. “ALRO must change its attitude. From making use of land to serve speculative purpose, it should be redistributed among the marginalized people. As far as I know, there have been good models of land management based on equality run by cooperatives. ALRO should take charge in monitoring or recruiting persons with proper eligibility as candidates to own the land. The law must be stringently enforced with no flexibility like what had been happening. It would block access to the land among the landless and become an obstacle to sustainable development” said Mr. Sathitpong.
Ms. Suni Chairot, a former National Human Rights Commissioner said that successive governments have failed to solve land management issues. The Provincial Subcommittee on Land Policy established to solve the issues faced by farmers has failed to genuinely resolve the problems. It has to be understood that the villagers had not trespassed on land belonging to either the state or private sector. The ALRO should have as its main aim to redistribute the land for the most destitute.
Therefore, ALRO should work to promote the right to land among the workers and to stop them from continuing to expel people from the forest land as it has been practiced by ALRO. As to the case of Klong Sai Pattana Community, the ALRO can invoke its power to resolve the issues. The community is ready in various aspects; they could get organized in the community, the use of land management in the community, the development of the Land Use Reform for Agricultural Purpose without having to transfer your right to others. Such interpretation shall not affect the work of ALRO and other state agencies. They often claim that there is not sufficient land for redistribution among people. But in fact, ALRO holds vast knowledge on land management, but land has not been effectively redistributed and continues to be put out to serve the interest of investors who want to rent the land. The villagers have to fight and shed their lives in order to obtain access to the land. Therefore, state agencies should adopt this land reform idea to serve the interest of local villagers, instead of the rich persons as it has been happening.
Mr. Apichai Chiangsirikul, Director of the Office of Natural Resources and the Environment of Surat Thani said that the model of community based land management by the villagers in Klong Sai Pattana Community is compatible with land distribution policy of the Surat Thani Land Policy Subcommittee.
Three criteria should be adopted including
(1) land distribution must be geared toward the landless and impoverished farmers, (2) the land must be managed based on collective ownership, and (3) public infrastructure should be developed on such land. Any community eligible to manage the land should be able to apply for the right to land with the Provincial Governor who may tender it forward to the Agricultural Land Reform Office subsequently in order to ensure the villagers have the right to land.
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