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1518 Soi Jaransaniwong 75 Junction 32, Bangphlad, Bangphlad,, Bangkok 10700, Thailand
The Community Resources Centre Foundation (CRC) is a non-governmental organisation which is committed to protect and promote the Human Rights, Community Right and the Environment. CRC is a watchdog on the implementation of ICCPR and ICESCR. มูลนิธิศูนย์ข้อมูลชุมชน (ศขช.) เป็นองค์กรพัฒนาเอกชนที่ไม่แสวงหากำไร ตั้งขึ้นมาเพื่อทำงานในการปกป้องและส่งเสริม สิทธิมนุษยชน สิทธิชุมชน และสิ่งแวดล้อม ศขช.เฝ้าระวังสถานการณ์ ตามกติกาสากลว่าด้วยสิทธิพลเมืองและสิทธิทางการเมือง และกติกาสากลว่าด้วยสิทธิทางเศรษฐกิจ สังคม และวัฒนธรรม

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stand together and fight against corporate injustice

My name is Maria Chickedantz, and I’m an American law school student interning at the ERI-Asia legal office this summer. As a first assignment, another intern named Doug MacLean and I were tasked with writing a legal memorandum about mine blasting and causation, and were told that it was for a Thai lawyer to use in a mine blasting suit somewhere in southern Thailand. But we soon realized that the real story went far beyond merely writing a legal memo in the Chiang Mai office when we were dispatched to a small village named Khu-ha in southern Thailand’s Songkhla province.

For the past several years, Khu-ha has been the scene of a struggle between a socially aware community group and a powerful Thai mining company. Khu-ha is situated at the base of a large lime-stone mountain called Khoa Khu-ha—a mountain that has been one of Khu-ha’s symbols for centuries, as well as the source of fresh stream water, lush greenery and home to a high number of bats that inhabit the many caves. Khoa Khu-ha also happens to be located on a large swathe of public land that the Thai government leased a few years ago to the mining company. Since that time, the village of Khu-ha has not been the same because, as soon as the mining company set up shop, it began blowing up Khao Khu-ha with large quantities of dynamite to extract the limestone. When Doug and I arrived in Khu-ha, we saw what looked like a mountain with the entire center blown away into a gaping crater.
However, the community of Khu-ha’s injuries aren't limited to the destruction of their precious Khao Khu-ha. Many people have suffered property damage from the close-range blasts; health problems due to the mine dust; loss of livelihoods from the mine activities; and loss of the general sense of security that they used to have before the massive explosions began launching dust, large stones, and loud booming blasts into the atmosphere on a daily basis. One family owns a duck farm, and as soon as the explosions began, their ducks stopped producing eggs—completely obliterating their family income. Another family's home is falling apart from a cracked foundation as a direct result of the constant explosions, and the family now lives in a home of cracked walls and floors, and bursting water pipes.

Thankfully, Thai lawyer Sor.Rattanamanee Polkla and activist Prashant Bhagat decided to take their case. Sor and Prashant founded the Community Resource Center (CRC) in 2010, and Sor is also a member of the Mekong Legal Network (MLN). ERI has supported CRC by helping with international legal research and sending ERI interns to participate in community meetings and trial observation. With CRC’s backing and Sor’s legal expertise, six villagers of Khu-ha brought two suits against the mining company—one in district court and one in provincial court—for property damage, loss of livelihood and a sense of security, and health related problems caused by the mine blasts. They sought money damages as well as an injunction on any future mining activities. Although there are only four plaintiffs in the first suit, there remain several villagers with standing to join. However, they were threatened by a local gangster who has interests in the mine, and were therefore too afraid to have anything to do with the case. Furthermore, according to Prashant, many people in Thailand think that courts are for trying criminals and not the place to solve the community’s problems.
The mining company reacted to the plaintiffs’ suit with a countersuit for 64 million baht against nine members of the community who have led the campaign against the mine for losses in business due to the halt of its production, because as soon as the suit began the court ordered a moratorium on all activities until a judgment was delivered. This countersuit has been deemed by Sor and Prashant as a tactic to scare the few people who had the courage to file a suit against the mining company in the first place into dropping out of the case. But, according to Sor, the mining company’s countersuit has done nothing but strengthen the entire community’s resolve to seek justice through the Thai legal system. And their resolve paid off—a few weeks ago, the judge ruled in their favor, requiring the mining company to pay damages to the plaintiffs and issuing an injunction against further mining activities.

The six plaintiffs of Khu-ha and those in the community who have protested against the mine have risked violence from a local gangster as well as the potential of losing the case after years of hard work and struggle. But they have held the line by never giving up and placing their trust in the Thai legal system to bring peace and dignity to their community. With this verdict, the community of Khu-ha cannot be made whole again, but what remains of Khao Khu-ha will be salvaged; their lost sense of security at home can be rebuilt; but most importantly, their faith in a unified community—as well as the faith of other communities around the world who read about their struggle—will be restored.

The case of Khu-ha will be a landmark decision in the judicial system of Thailand whose judgment will encourage other victims who suffer from mining to bring their cases to the court. The victory of common villagers against a powerful multinational mining corporation in Thai civil court is a huge victory, and although Sor is certain that the mining company will appeal the judge’s decision, this case will go down in history as an inspiration for all communities around Thailand to stand together and fight against corporate injustice.