UPDATE 4 September 2014: NGOs call upon UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the EU for more active role
Bangkok, Thailand- 10 Human rights organisations have signed a joint statement calling for action of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Union and the National Human Rights Organisation. They call upon the different organisations to adopt a more active role in the community-based dispute between the Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) community and the gold-mining company Tung Kha Limited Company (TKL). The KRBK group consists of villagers from 6 villages affected by the gold mining operations. The KRBK group strives to protect the environment and to defend natural resources against exploitation by unethical investors who have no respect for the wellbeing of the local people and community, environment, public health and human rights.
Read the statement and take action at Protection International.
The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition condemn the threats and violent attacks on the Khon Rak Ban Koed Group, a women-led group of human rights defenders protecting their community and environment from the negative effects of mining in Loei province in Northeast Thailand.
Late in the night of 15 May 2014, after years of threats, harassment and violence, up to 400 men in black and white ski masks, armed with guns, knives and clubs attacked villagers at a barricade which is blocking the road to the mine in Loei. Many villagers were injured from the attack while 40 were detained and beaten by the unidentified assailants. Half of these are women. They reportedly covered the villagers’ eyes, bound their ankles and wrists and beat them for hours before releasing them the next morning. Two police officers were reportedly present at the scene but could not do anything to rescue the villagers as they were greatly outnumbered by the armed men, who fired threatening shots in the sky.
The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition condemns the threat and violent attack against the Kon Rak Ban Koed Group and the villagers who have worked to defend their rights, community and the environment. WHRDIC is particularly concerned by that fact that there are close links among the military, local authorities and the corporation. We call on concerned parties to take action on behalf of the women human rights defenders fighting against the negative effects of mining in Loei province as well as to continue monitoring this case closely.
In 1996 the Thai Department of Mineral Resources granted a concession for gold exploration and mining in Wang Saphung district in Leoi province to Tungkam Limited’s (TKL). Tungkam Ltd (TKL) is a subsidiary of the Tongkah Harbor Public Company Limited, Thailand largest gold-mining company which has Australian and German financial support.
According to Protection International, not long after KTL began their operation, the villagers noticed detrimental effects of the mine on their health, environment, agriculture and the livelihood of the surrounding villages. The residents the communities surrounding the mine witnessed the rise of health issues, including chronic headaches, eye pain, blackouts, vertigo and abnormal rashes all over their bodies. Their livelihoods, were also affected, as the contaminated water from the mineled to a drastic decrease of rice yield (up to two thirds) and fish in the local waterways died from poisoned water. Unable to rely on their traditional livelihoods, villagers were forced to migrate for work. While many of the villagers suffered from health and environmental impact of the mine, very few are employed by the mine and none have received financial compensation for the negative effects that they have suffered. In 2007 the community members organized into an advocacy group called Kon Rak Ban Koed (People Who Conserve Their Hometown), with 15 out of 20 leaders women.. In 2009, after a petition sent by Kon Rak Ban Koed, the Ministry of Health (MoH) conducted water tests and health evaluation in the community. They later released the report that warned the residents to refrain from drinking, bathing and otherwise using local water due to high level of cyanide, mercury, and arsenic as well as heavy metals including manganese, cadmium and lead. The health evaluation and blood test of local villagers also showed high level of toxic heavy metals far exceeding safety standards, while water, soil and farmland were also found to have been contaminated with heavy metals. There has been clear evidence of negative impact of the mine despite KTL’s promise that mining would have minimal impact on local communities and would boost local economy.
In 2009, KTL began the process to obtain the second mining permit and expansion of mining area in Wang Saphung district, but under a 2010 cabinet resolution the company was required to hold public hearings before granting concession. In 2011, the cabinet ordered KTL to halt their gold mining operation in the area pending the proper study on the impact of local community’s health and environment, but the mining operations resumes in the following year. In September 2013, a public hearing on the planned gold mine expansion in Wang Saphung district was held in but the local villagers were blocked from entering the hearing venue by approximately 700 police officers.
In October 2013, after years of suffering from detrimental impacts on their health, environment and livelihoods and the lack of adequate action or enforcement of environmental protections by authorities , the Kon Rak Ban Koed group, together with the villagers, began blocking the road that the mine operator used to deliver minerals, preventing large trucks from leaving or entering the mine. In response, KTL filed criminal charges alleging the villagers for trespassing and damaging company property. They also took civil action against 20 villagers, demanding compensation of 50-70 million Thai Baht (approximately 1.5-2.2 million USD) from each villager for their lost profit. The total amount of monetary compensation sought by KTL is 270 million Thai Baht (approximately 8.3 million USD).
In addition to the judicial harassment and criminalization, the villagers and Kon Rak Ban Koed Group have also been faced with intimidation, threats and violence as a result of their act in defending their rights and community. The barricade on the road to the mine has been removed twice and fake bombs were planted in front of community leaders’ houses. General Somyot Phumpanmuang who was the deputy Commissioner of the Police at the time also held a position as a director of KTL. As a result, the police were never able to ensure the security of the community members. No progress or follow up action was taken by the police in relation to the bomb threats.
On 20 April 2014, KTL sent a middleman to negotiate with the village leaders by offering to withdraw three of KTL’s lawsuits against the villagers in exchange for lifting the barricadeThe offer was declined by the village leaders. On the following day, Lieutenant General Poramet Promnak, who was accompanied by 15 men wearing black, went to see Mr. Surapan Rujchiawat, the leader of Kon Rak Ban Koed Group to demand for removal of the barricade to allow through trucks transporting copper ore from the mine. The villagers set up a team to check that the trucks did not contain amount in excess of that allowed by the law and also prevent people from coming to threaten their leaders.
Mediation between the company and the community members has been planned for 3 June 2014 and will take place at the Loei Court. A judge from the Loei Court and the National Human Rights Commissioner, Niran Pitakwatchara will act as mediators to bring the parties together and create a dialogue in an attempt to work out a solution to the dispute that both parties can agree upon.
The WHRDIC urges that:
 Protection International