Wora Suk, member of Extraterritorial Obligations Watch Coalition
In June this year, representatives of Indigenous Karen communities in the Banchaung coal affected area filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) alleging human rights violations from the operation of Banchaung coal mining project by Thai investor in the Dawei, Tanintharyi region, Myanmar. Banchuang coal mine caused adverse environmental, health and social impacts and harmed livelihoods of the local communities. Contaminants released from coal stacks, fumes and toxins have polluted the river and agriculture lands, according to the Indigenous Karen communities.
Since then, the NHRCT has initiated the dialogue with the representatives of companies and the impacted communities. Companies have been directed to provide information and engage in dialogue. However, communities recently reported that the investors never show up in the community as promised, nor set up any channel to raise concerns and seek compensation. Compensation has not been sought until now.
Photo 1: Impacted communities from Heinda mine, Banchaung mine, and Dawei road link joined a public seminar on Transboundary Investments Accountability in Bangkok Thailand on 24 August at The Connecion Convention Center, Ladprao
The impacted communities joined the transboundary investment seminar in Bangkok on 24 August to share their concerns and raised issues of human rights impacts on large Thai public stakeholders. Nor Eh Poh, representative of Karen Indigenous Community from Banchaung stated:
“In July, the rain washed down a coal pile and polluted the river system. It happens regularly in rainy season. The river is our source of drinking water. So the situation is that we drink water directly from coal mining. The smell of coal burning disturbs us on daily basis. I don’t know who is responsible for this problem. I would like to request all of you to support us and ask the company to solve these problems”.
Nor Eh Poh and other community representatives demanded remedies to be sought immediately as the problem they are facing is intense especially impacts from the coal burning which has no end in sight. In addition, the issue of health impacts caused by pollutants and heavy metal contaminations in the river systems and surrounding agriculture. The impacted communities suggested that the larger Thai public should aware about the adverse impacts of Thai investments abroad and CSOs collaboration that has been put in place for policy changes to ensure that the Thai investors follow certain human rights regulations and standards while they are operating abroad.
Photo 2: Banchuang coal mine, an open pit mining, invested and operated by Thai investors (East Stars, Thai Asset Mining, and Energy Earth PCL)
Other communities who shared similar experiences with Banchaung communities are those impacted by Heinda mining in Dawei, the Dawei road link, and the Dawei Special Economic Zone. Issues raised by the impacted communities are those such as land grabbing and forced eviction. The investor seized lands from local people without notice, compensation is not provided. Keh Doh, an Indigenous Karen representative from Dawei road link expressed strong demand on greater responsibility from Thai investors in their businesses.
“The investor should share relevant information with the potentially impacted communities and talk to us directly regarding their plans to solve the environmental and social problems. Information disclosure and providing channels to access to information are two important duties of the investor”
Photo 3: Impacted communities from Heinda, Banchaung and Dawei road link joined a CSOs consultation meeting on Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights on 23 August at Mida hotel Bangkok, Donmueng
Communities impacted by Thai investments abroad have joined several meetings and press conferences in Thailand this year in order to raise concerns, share their stories of livelihood impacts and express their demands for compensation and remedies. As Thailand announced “human rights” as an important target driving the sustainable development of the Thailand 4.0 era, greater commitment to tackle human rights issues have been put in place, including a regulation to monitor Thai investments abroad in an ASEAN context. The development of the national action plan of Thailand on business and human rights have emphasized this movement towards human rights compliance.
As the draft of the Thailand National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights has been progressing, Thai outbound investments and multinational corporations have been identified as one of the four priorities together with labor’s rights, land & natural resources, human rights defenders. Communities affected by Thai investments have submitted complaints to the United Nations Working Groups on Business and Human Rights during their official visit to Thailand during March-April. The complaint expressed a strong need to set up a mechanism in Thailand to monitor and regulate Thai investors abroad, conduct human rights assessments in all project cycles and human rights due diligence.
On 23 August, Keh Doh, Nor Eh Poh and among others from impacted communities Myanmar shared their critical concerns at the CSO Consultation Meeting regarding the drafting of the National Action Plan of Thailand in Bangkok. An explicit recommendation from the impacted communities includes a better image of Thailand in the context of human rights commitments, especially a system that controls, regulate and monitors Thai businesses in the ASEAN regions. Keh Doh noted during the consultation meeting:
“The Thai government should push and enforce Thai companies to address problems. Thailand will take the position of ASEAN Chairperson next year, this is a great opportunity for Thailand to demonstrate to other ASEAN leaders the importance in demonstrating goodwill and commitments to responsible businesses by adhering to human rights standards. All investments should incorporate transparency and accountability. Local rights and community’s rights, as well as Indigenous people’s rights, should be respected in all investments”