Thailand's women land defenders face risk of rising violence, rights groups say

by Rina Chandran | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 18 July 2017 11:06 GMT

A farmer checks rice crops in her dry rice field in Suphan Buri province, west of Bangkok, Thailand July 10, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

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Rural women at the forefront of issues related to land, environment and natural resources are particularly at risk

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, July 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women human rights defenders in Thailand are increasingly at risk of violence, threats and harassment since a May 2014 coup, a report said, highlighting the growing concern that the military government is failing to uphold civil rights.

Rural women at the forefront of issues related to land, environment and natural resources are particularly at risk, excluded from public consultations and decision-making, and denied adequate protection, it said.

Women human rights defenders (WHRD) opposing land confiscation, forced evictions, unfair land distribution, the development of extractive industries and environmental damage "have been met with extreme, and sometimes, deadly violence".

"The government has failed to ensure that WHRDs are able to access justice and receive protection from harassment, threats, retaliation, and violence," said the report from advocacy groups the Observatory, Protection International and the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.

Government officials have said firm measures are necessary to ensure stability and order, and that they are only aimed at those who stir up violence.

Since Thailand's military seized power in the 2014 coup, rural women, in particular, have increasingly been targeted by local authorities while trying to protect their land.

Judicial harassment is being used against rural WHRDs, and authorities have also failed to conduct "prompt, impartial, and thorough investigations" into cases of extrajudicial killings of WHRDs, the report said.

A number of policies on forestry and environmental protection are in place, and "relevant laws and measures are implemented through a fair and transparent process", the government said in a statement in response to the rights groups.

But the report said the Thai government uses existing and newly introduced laws to restrict and criminalise the work of women activists, while a system of "institutionalised discrimination" makes women vulnerable.

Members of the ruling junta are all men, and they directly appoint members to the executive and legislative bodies. Women make up only a small percentage of these.

A new constitution, which came into effect in April, also fails to ensure equal rights for women in the political system, the report said.

The junta has long come under fire from the international community for rights restrictions and crackdowns on dissidents.

Earlier this year, rights groups said Thailand failed to address international concerns about the military government's obligation to uphold civil and political rights at a U.N. review in Geneva.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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