I swear on all sacred spirits that I have lived on that land all my life. When I first remembered the taste of my mother's milk, I was there. That is my ancestors' land.
Thailand's Administrative Court has ruled that National Park officers did not break the law when they burned the homes of Karen indigenous people in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
In May 2011, National Park officers forcibly evicted the Karen and burned about 100 houses and rice barns in Bang Kloy village.
In 2014, six of the Karen filed a case against the Department of National Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The Administrative Court dismissed all their demands, except for compensation of Bt10,000 (about US$287) to the six plaintiffs. The Karen had asked for Bt100,000.
The Department of National Parks refused to pay the compensation and will appeal the decision, issued on 7th September. Former Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn was responsible for the evictions in 2011. After the Court's ruling, he told The Nation:
"Even though the verdict was in favour of the department, we are not satisfied because the court's decision to have us pay compensation to the plaintiffs was based on the wrong information. We will appeal."
The Karen will also appeal the decision. Du-u Cheebong, one of the Karen plaintiffs told Forest Peoples Programme: "We also cannot accept simple financial compensation, as money alone will not suffice to compensate for the loss of our ancestral lands, our homes and our way of life. We will appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court."
Blind, 105, and ordered to leave his home immediately
Ko-i Meemi, one of the Karen plaintiffs, is 105 years old. He told Prachatai that in 2011 armed park officers came to his village to evict Karen villagers from the park area. Then they set their houses on fire.
Park officers ordered him to leave his house immediately. He replied that he could not do so because he is blind and has nowhere to go. The armed park officers forcibly detained him and put him in a helicopter.
Video: There's more about Ko-i Meemi and the evictions in this 2013 video produced by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.
The Administrative Court argued that the Karen had "encroached" on the forest to expand their village and farms. Therefore, the Department's decision to burn down homes was permissible under the 1961 National Park Act. The court ruled that the Karen cannot return to the land of their ancestors.
The court dismissed the Karen's claim that they had been living on the land for generations because the disputed area was inside a national park area.
But Ko-i Meemi lived in the forest all his life until he was evicted. He is quoted by The Nation as saying: "I swear on all sacred spirits that I have lived on that land all my life. When I first remembered the taste of my mother's milk, I was there. That is my ancestors' land."
Kaeng Krachan National Park was established in 1981.
The Court's ruling sets a terrifying precedent for Thailand's indigenous peoples and local communities whose homes are inside the boundaries of National Parks. The Nation reports Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn, the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, as saying that,
"The case would be used as a model for similar cases and could be considered a signal for forestry officers to carry on with their mission to protect natural resources and forests without fear of legal action."
Kaeng Krachan a World Heritage Site?
In October 2016, UNESCO will consider Thailand's proposal that the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex be nominated for World Heritage listing. In its 2015 meeting, the World Heritage Committee asked Thailand's military junta 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."
In a statement, Helen Tugendhat of Forest Peoples Programme said:
"We remind the UNESCO to fully consider and address the problems of forced evictions and other rights violations in the Kaeng Krachan National Park when considering the proposal for listing it as a World Heritage site."
This article was originally published on Conservation Watch.