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Thailand: “Stop prosecuting land reform activists”

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Last week, activists delivered a letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, urging her to “stop prosecuting Thai citizens who are engaged in public campaigns for agrarian reform, and to give urgent priority to redistributive land reforms and equitable resolution of the land conflicts”.

The letter was delivered shortly before a Supreme Court appeal that will take place on 6 June 2012. Three peasant leaders could be jailed for up to four years. Their “crime” was redistribution of land in Lamphun and Chiang Mai provinces in Northern Thailand between 1997 and 2003. The aim was to make sure that the land remained in the hands of smallholders and local communities, rather than absentee landlords who had left the land idle.

Without addressing land rights REDD is not going to work. Germany is financing a US$2.3 million “forest carbon baseline development, monitoring and REDD capacity building” in Thailand. But focussing on forest carbon will not make the underlying and deeply entrenched problems of land rights go away.

On its website, Focus on the Global South provides a brief timeline of the struggle for land in Lamphun and Chiang Mai. The start of the timeline is a reminder that quick fixes and large amounts of World Bank cash cannot solve the underlying issues of land rights:

  • In 1984, the Royal Thai government borrowed around $200 million from the World Bank to accelerate land titling in Thailand.
  • Around 1987, lands in many districts of the North were titled without the knowledge of local people. Many of the public lands and village commons which were important to the local people, were issued with titles to outsiders. Land titles were also obtained by wealthy investors in state forest reserves and watershed areas, where private landholding is prohibited by law, and in Agricultural Land Reform areas which are supposed to be earmarked for redistribution to poor and landless farmers. Illegalities in the issuing of title have been confirmed by several independent committees.
  • With a peak during the early 1990s, there was a boom in large-scale speculative purchase of land in the North. A large number of these titled plots were left idle. Speculators defaulted on their loans in the financial crash, and many of these lands remained in the possession of banks – parcels too large to be affordable to small-scale and poor farmers.

UPDATE – 11 June 2012: (From the Focus website.)

Many thanks to all who joined in the campaign letter to the Thai Prime Minister in support of the Thai land reform movements.

We can update you with the welcome and unexpected news that the Supreme Court decided to drop the charges against two members of the community land reform movement, Mr Rangsan Saensongkhaew and Mr Seubsakun Kijnukorn. This decision overturns the decision of the Court of Appeal which had upheld the original conviction of inciting others to break the law and sentenced the accused to 4 years in prison.

However, the conviction of Mr Praweis Panpa, from the village of Prabaht, Pasang District, Lamphun province on charges of encroachment, was upheld by the Supreme Court. His sentence was reduced from 6 years to 1 year in prison.

Their case achieved a high profile and the action helped to draw additional attention to the issues behind the case.

As indicated earlier, this court case is just one amongst many in Thailand, and the struggles of the Thai farmers, indigenous peoples, slum dwellers and fisherfolk trying to assert, recover and reclaim their rights to land and natural resources continue.

The letter that was delivered to the Prime Minister’s office and to the Office for the Institution of Community Title office on 31st (attached)has been posted on several websites. In the end has attracted the support of 135 organisations and individuals (listed above). You are encouraged to link to this page or to post the pdf version of the letter on your website. Photos are available, please contact Focus for these.

We will let you know if there may be any other urgent appeals to extend support and solidarity to the Thai and other land reform movements.

Land Research Action Network/Focus on the Global South


Open Letter (Delivered by hand)
HE Ms Yingluck Shinawatra
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
Government House, Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District, Bangkok 10300, Thailand

31 May 2012

Prominent activists and farmer leaders facing imprisonment for their role in leading Thailand towards important land policy reforms.

Your Excellency,

We are extremely troubled by the intensification of prosecutions by the Thai State of Thai nationals who have conducted long-term, open and public-minded campaigns to secure land rights for the poor and to bring about national land policy reform.

Around the world, Thailand’s reputation and image are being eroded under the international spotlight that is drawn on these injustices. The decisions in the appeal cases of three prominent members of the Community Land Reform Movement in Lamphun province on 6th June 2012 will be an important signal of the Thai State’s approach towards civilians who have drawn national attention to critical reforms needed to resolve long standing land conflicts in Thailand. Their actions do not warrant public prosecution or other forms of State persecution.

We note that Thailand has made international commitments in support of agrarian reform, including at the high-level International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in Brazil in 2006. The Final Declaration, adopted by 92 FAO member states including Thailand, reaffirmed the fundamental importance of agrarian reform for the eradication of hunger and poverty, and of promoting wider, secure and sustainable access to land, water and other natural resources.

Agrarian reform is recognized around the world as a critical imperative to ensure the right to food, and a more just and equitable basis for sustainable development. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has repeatedly emphasised that secure access to land for smallholder farmers, and agrarian reform in particular, are key elements in ensuring the right to food. Hundreds of international experts involved in the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) have highlighted the importance of a thriving small-scale production sector for society in reducing economic vulnerability, improving access to food, livelihoods and health, increasing equity, and have recognised smallholders’ contributions towards sustainable environmental management that is not only important for Thailand, but for the planet.

We have learned that land conflicts in Thailand stem partly from corruption and untransparent decisions in the past in the allocation and demarcation of state-owned as well as privately-held land. These long-term, unresolved conflicts must be resolved in a just and participatory manner without delay if Thailand is to fulfill its international commitments to human rights, sustainable development, and good governance.

The Thai Land Reform Network has put forward important proposals for reform including the redistribution of unused and idle lands, securing land titles for community groups, bringing in a fair and progressive land tax mechanism, and setting up a national land fund to facilitate the redistribution of land to the poor. We note that some of these proposals have been given recognition within government, but the pace of implementation of these reforms has been too slow.

Although Thailand has had a national land reform policy for over 30 years, the issue has been propelled as a national priority in the last ten years primarily through the campaigns and struggles of low-income and landless farmers. The Community Land Reform Movement took action since 1997 to occupy abandoned lands and make productive use of them for the benefit of poor communities in various parts of Northern Thailand. These reoccupied lands are now in full production, and providing incomes and food for small-scale farmers, their families and their communities.

The actions of the land reform movements were widely publicized in national and international media with the express intention to initiate public policy reform. Their innovative proposals for community tenure of land were the origin of the Community Land Title – which has been recognized in Thai society and in government as one of the most promising models for long-term security of land tenure. Without the actions of the Community Land Reform Movement, this important legal reform may never have surfaced.

It is thus shocking that members of this movement may now be facing long-term imprisonment for their role in the land redistribution. Such prosecutions do not serve any useful purpose for Thai society, and the repression of activists committed to progressive reforms that advance the public interest, paints a very negative picture of the Thai State in the eyes of the world.

We urge your government and the Thai State to stop prosecuting Thai citizens who are engaged in public campaigns for agrarian reform, and to give urgent priority to redistributive land reforms and equitable resolution of the land conflicts to ensure sustainable livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of smallholder communities throughout the country.

Yours faithfully and in solidarity with the Thai land reform movements,

Land Research Action Network, International
Focus on the Global South, Thailand, Philippines, India
Center for the Study of Rural Change in Mexico (CECCAM), Mexico
Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, Brazil
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Support, Pakistan
Mangrove Action Project, Asia
Equitable Cambodia, Cambodia
ActionAid International, Thailand
Community Resource Centre (CRC), Asia
Inclusive Development International, USA
National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA), Philippines
People’s Action for Change (PAC), Cambodia
Foundation for Women, Thailand
Network for Women’s Advancement, Thailand
All Nepal’s Peasants’ Federation, Nepal
Bangladesh Krishok Federation (BKF), Bangladesh
Bangladesh Kishani Sabha (BKS), Bangladesh
Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform, Sri Lanka
Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Karnataka, India
Bhartiya Kisan Union, India
Kerela Coconut Farmers Association, Kerela, India
South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, India
CRBM/Re:Common, Italy
Bangladesh Adivasi Samity, Bangladesh
Uganda Fisheries and Fish Conservation Association (UFFCA), Uganda
GRAIN, International
Mekong Watch, Japan
Pacific Environment, USA
Mangrove Action Project, International, USA
World Rainforest Movement (WRM), Uruguay
Sintesa, Indonesia
Daulat Institute, Indonesia
Yayasan Biduk Alam (YBA), Indonesia
Transnational Institute, International
Sustainable Agriculture Foundation, Thailand
Northern Peasants Federation, Thailand
Northern Development Foundation, Thailand
BioThai Foundation, Thailand
Thai Working Group on Climate Justice, Thailand
Land Reform Network of the Bantad Mountain Range, Thailand
Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand, Thailand
Cooperative of Khlong Yoeng, Thailand
Thailand Land Reform Network, Thailand
Local Action Links, Thailand
Center for Protection and Revival the Local Community Right, Thailand
Foundation of Reclaiming Rural Agric. & Food sovereignty Action, Thailand
Friends of the People, Thailand
Collaborative Management Learning Network, Thailand
Social Action for Change (SAC), Cambodia
Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), Cambodia
Social Agenda Working Group (Social Watch Thailand), Thailand
Worker Information Center, Cambodia
Church Land Programme, South Africa
Save Agrarian Reform Alliance, Philippines
Aniban ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Philippines
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP), Philippines
Ugnayan ng mga Magsasaka sa Gitnang Quezon (UGNAYAN), Philippines
Quezon Association for Rural Development & Democratization Services, Philippines
KATARUNGAN (Movement for Agrarian Reform and Justice), Philippines
Alliance of Progressive Labour, Philippines
Kilusang Mangingisda, Philippines
Freedom from Debt Coalition, Philippines
Serikat Petani Indonesia, Indonesia
Koalisi Anti Utang, Indonesia
NOUMINREN, Japan
MOKATIL, Timor Leste
Migrant Forum in Asia, Asia
Jubilee South–Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, Asia Pacific
La Via Campesina, International
FIAN International, Germany
Arbeitsgemeinschaft Regenwald und Artenschutz, Germany
ATTAC Japan, Japan
PARAGOS, Philippines
Samahan ng mga Magsasaka ng Barangay Macabud, Rodriguez, Rizal., Philippines
Negros Farmers’ Council, Philippines
Makabayan Pilipinas, Philippines

Individuals

Prof Sam Moyo, African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), Zimbabwe
Prof. Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor, University of Essex, UK
Dr Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA
Raj Patel, Visiting Scholar, Center for African Studies, University of California at Berkeley, USA
Prof. Philip McMichael, International Professor, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University, USA
Dr Eduardo C. Tadem, Professor of Asian Studies, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
Dr Teresa S. Encarnacion Tadem, Professor of Political Science, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
Jenny Birchall, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK
Dr. Carl Middleton, Lecturer, International Development Studies Program, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
Dr Jennifer Franco, Adjunct Professor, College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China
Wittaya Abhorn, School of Liberal Arts, Walailak University, Thailand
Walden Bello, Member, Philippine House of Representatives
Charles Santiago, Member of Pariament, Klang
Bishop. Broderick Pabillo, Catholics Bishop Conference of the Philippines
Sally Low, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne, Australia
Vanessa Lamb, York University, Canada
Richard L Hackman, Canada
Anne-Sophie Gindroz, Helvetas Laos
Randall Arnst, USA
John Dillon, Canada
Nick Hildyard, The Corner House, UK
Larry Lohmann, The Corner House, UK
Nusaji Tawiwongse, Thailand
Nitiratn Sapsombun,Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, Thailand
Jittima Pholsawek, Artist, Thailand
Jeremy Ironside, New Zealand
Wilson Tiu, Employer-Labor Social Partner Inc., Philippines
Susuma Susuma, Mtandao wa Vikundi vya Wakulima Tanzania (MVIWATA)
Kamuturaki Seremos Coordinator, Luwero Family Farmers and Food Distribution Association (LAFOOD)
Peter Chowla, UK
Paula Cardoso, Trust for Community Outreach and Education, South Africa
Chris Lang, Jakarta, Indonesia
Hanna Helena Saarinen, Finland
Nishan Disanayake, Sydney, Australia
Shannon L Alexander, USA

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