The demand of the indigenous peoples movement in Thailand over the past THAILAND

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1 280 IWGIA THE INDIGENOUS WORLD 2016 THAILAND The indigenous peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country: indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers in the south (Mani people); small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east and east; and the many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (the Chao-Khao). Nine so-called hill tribes are officially recognised: the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu. 1 According to the Department of Welfare & Social Development, there are 3,429 hill tribe villages with a total population of 923,257 people. 2 The indigenous peoples of the south and north-east are not included. A widespread misconception of indigenous peoples being drug producers and posing a threat to national security and the environment has historically shaped government policies towards them in the northern highlands. Despite positive developments in recent years, this continues to underlie the attitudes and actions of government officials. Thailand has ratified or is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It voted in support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) but does not officially recognise the existence of indigenous peoples in the country. Pushing the rights of indigenous peoples into the Constitution of Thailand The demand of the indigenous peoples movement in Thailand over the past several decades to obtain official recognition of the country s indigenous peo-

2 EAST and SOUTH EAST ASIA 281 ples from the state has finally borne some fruit. For the first time, the term indigenous peoples was written into the recent draft constitution. The issue of indigenous peoples was covered in Chapter II: Directive principles of fundamental state policies, section 82, which states that the state shall provide support to strengthen local communities in all aspects, in particular the following areas (5) to protect indigenous peoples and ethnic groups. 3 The draft was rejected by the

3 282 IWGIA THE INDIGENOUS WORLD 2016 National Reform Council (NRC) on 6 September 2015 by 135 votes to 105, with seven abstentions. The crucial question is therefore: what caused the NRC to reject the first draft of the constitution? There were several factors. Some NRC members said they wanted to give the current government more time to improve the ailing economy and reduce internal conflict within Thai society. NRC members and political analysts commented that the content of the draft constitution itself was problematic, in particular the inclusion, at the last minute, of a provision that would allow the military to take over the control of the government in times of conflict. This even outraged some who might otherwise have supported the draft constitution, causing them to reject it. Others say this draft would probably not have passed a national referendum. It has simply been a waste of the budget and may have further ignited conflicts that could spiral out of control. Indigenous leaders concluded that the draft was rejected because there was simply a lack of good coordination between the drafting committee and the NRC in terms of thoroughly discussing and agreeing the content of the draft constitution before finalising it. The reference to indigenous peoples in the draft constitution is not considered to have been one of the reasons for its rejection since the rights of indigenous peoples have been maintained in the new draft, under the responsibility of a newly-established constitutional drafting committee. The new draft is expected to be completed by 29 January 2016 and then opened up for comments before being finalised and submitted to a national referendum in July The drafting process is ongoing, and nobody knows what direction it will take. It is therefore a very challenging issue for indigenous peoples in Thailand. The National Council of Indigenous Peoples is fully functioning The first assembly of the National Council of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) was successfully convened in November 2014, in Mae Sot, Tak province. One of the decisions taken at the assembly was to establish an ad-hoc working group comprising 13 members drawn from five sub-regions to administer the work of the Council. Its mandates are: 1) to establish the NCIP secretariat; 2) to facilitate the selection of council members at different levels, and 3) to organise the 2 nd Council Assembly.

4 EAST and SOUTH EAST ASIA 283 The working group was able to facilitate the selection of council members from 38 ethnic groups in July 2015, with the full consultation of each indigenous group. Their term of office will be four years. The total number of NCIP members is now 190. The 2 nd NCIP Assembly was convened on 8-10 August 2015 at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. This was the first assembly in which all selected indigenous representatives from different parts of Thailand fully participated and actively engaged in the discussion. With this mechanism in place, the NCIP is now ready to work and find ways of collectively solving their problems. Some of the key issues the NCIP wants to pursue are: 1) urging the government to respect and recognise the existence of indigenous peoples and speed up the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); and 2) calling on the government to approve the draft law on the establishment of a national indigenous peoples council, as adopted by the Law Reform Commission on 7 August 2015 and submitted to the Prime Minister, the National Legislative Assembly and National Reform Council for consideration. 4 This latter activity is ongoing. A small working group has been established comprising members of NCIP and the National Legislative Assembly to work specifically on this issue. World Heritage Committee postpones nomination of natural heritage site As mentioned in last year s report on Thailand in The Indigenous World, 5 most of the Karen living in Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (KKFC) have expressed concerns at the proposed inscription by UNESCO of the KKFC as a natural world heritage site. These concerns include a lack of information and participation of indigenous peoples in all processes, and that a number of critical issues have still not been resolved, such as compensation and allocation of farming land and settlement areas for the evicted families, the forced disappearance of a Karen activist in April 2014, and securing land and resource management rights for indigenous peoples. These concerns were submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee through IUCN and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. At its 39 th session in Bonn, Germany from 28 June to 8 July 2015, the World Heritage Committee decided to refer the nomination of the

5 284 IWGIA THE INDIGENOUS WORLD 2016 Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, and urged the Thai government to: Address in full the concerns that have been raised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning Karen communities within the Kaeng Krachan National Park including the implementation of a participatory process to resolve rights and livelihoods concerns and to reach the widest possible support of local communities, governmental, non-governmental and private organizations and other stakeholders for the nomination. 6 To address these issues, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) prepared a roadmap and convened further consultations with communities living in KKFC, both Karen and lowland Thai. A number of issues were discussed and raised at these consultations but no clear solution has thus far been identified on lands and natural resource rights, which is the most crucial issue for the Karen people living there. 7 The DNP is about to conclude these consultations and to re-submit the proposal to the World Heritage Committee for consideration in the upcoming session. Progress in implementation of cabinet resolutions to restore livelihoods of Chao Ley and Karen The cabinet passed two resolutions in 2010 to restore the traditional livelihoods of Chao Ley and Karen, on 2 June and 3 August 2010 respectively (see The Indigenous World 2011). Five years have since passed but the problems faced by the Chao Ley and Karen remain the same. Some have even become worse, particularly those related to land and livelihood practice issues. This can be seen from the number of conflicts that have been occurring in Chao Ley and Karen communities. These relate, for example, to the land grabbing of U-Rak-La-woy ancestral lands in Rawai beach and Sirae Island by businessmen from Phuket province, the arrest of Chao Ley fisher people in marine national parks, encroachment of burial sites of Moklen in Phang-Nga province by businessmen and local communities, and the arrest of 39 Karen villagers at Thung Pakha, Mae La Luang Subdistrict, Mae La Noi district, Mae Hong Son province in 2014 (see The Indigenous World 2015). There are a couple of reasons why progress in implementing these resolutions has been very slow and ineffective. Firstly, most of the government agencies

6 EAST and SOUTH EAST ASIA 285 involved are not aware of (or lack a proper understanding of) these cabinet resolutions and they lack the necessary coordination to be able to implement activities with which to enforce these resolutions. Secondly, the Ministry of Culture, the lead agency in terms of getting these resolutions passed, does not have a mandate to force other government agencies to implement their assigned tasks/activities. Thirdly, there is not enough budget to implement the activities. Notes and references 1 Ten groups are sometimes mentioned, i.e., the Palaung are also included in some official documents. The directory of ethnic communities of 20 northern and western provinces of the Department of Social Development and Welfare of 2002 also includes the Mlabri and Padong. 2 The figure given is sometimes 1,203,149 people, which includes immigrant Chinese in the north. They are from No updated figures are available. 3 Draft constitution submitted to the National Reform Council for adoption on 6 September Statements of the National Council of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) on 10 August The Indigenous World 2015, pp Decision: 39 COM 8B.5, Decisions adopted by the World Heritage Committee meeting at its 39 th session held in Bonn, Germany from 28 June 8 July 2015, document WHC-15/39.COM/19 page Observation made by Karen leaders who participated in these consultations. Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri is a Mien from the north of Thailand. He has worked with indigenous communities and organisations since He is currently Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Foundation for Education and Environment (IPF) based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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