Community rights must be in the final charter draft

Prepared by the Meechai Ruchuphan-headed Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), this draft does not provide for the rights of people to assemble for the protection of their community and their environment at all.

This is despite the fact that such rights had been enshrined in Thailand's constitutions since 1997.

Both the 1997 and 2007 constitutions allowed communities a direct constitutional channel to stand up and defend themselves.

Thanks to such constitutional stipulations, Thai communities have in many ways become stronger during the past two decades. Some communities had successfully protected their hometowns from questionable industrial or development projects.

With communities getting stronger, Thailand benefited from more efficient check-and-balance mechanisms.

The powers-that-be, politically or economically, consequently had less chance of abusing communities for their own vested interests.

Yet, the CDC has now decided against including community-rights clauses in its current charter draft.

The CDC has instead passed on the protection of such rights to local administrative organisations. In the eyes of critics, communities will in effect fall at the mercy of state or political-office holders again as soon as this charter draft becomes the country's highest law.

It is sad that the CDC has disappointed people who want to protect their own rights and defend themselves, just like how the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has failed them with its environmental policies.

Let's look at what has happened in terms of community rights and environmental/community protection since the NCPO came to power in mid-2014.

The NCPO has issued an order with the declared objective of preventing forest encroachment and reclaiming forestland. But as a result, thousands of people have suffered. Many of these victims are facing legal threats and eviction even though they lived in the forest long before such zones were declared parts of national parks or forest reserves.

The NCPO orders on the acquisition of land for use in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) has also raised alarm. There are risks of land status being abruptly changed. The consequences could be dire for people who don't have a channel to defend themselves.

During the NCPO-installed government, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has also allowed garbage-fuelled power plants of all sizes to materialise without the need to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports. Critics are worried that without an EIA, even for big plants, by the time adverse impacts hit, no solutions will be able to undo the damage.

Kasetsart University economics lecturer Decharut Sukkumnoed has lamented that recent developments suggest that people will become unable to determine their own fate and future.

Decharut disagrees with the current charter draft's intention of entrusting state agencies or local administrative bodies with the mission of managing community's natural resources.

"If community rights are buried, locals won't be able to protect their rights. Things will be too complicated if people will have to sue state agencies for damages done to their communities instead of blocking questionable projects from the very beginning," he says.

If the current charter draft becomes the country's new constitution, local people will mainly have to rely on the Central Administrative Court in taking action against state agencies or local administrative bodies that fail to protect their communities.

In that case, the court looks set to be flooded with complaints.

Source URL: The Nation