Thailand: The Khon Rak Ban Koed group
October 10, 2014, 8:49 am
The Khon Rak Ban Koed (KRBK) Group is made up of villagers from 6 villages in Loei province, in North Eastern Thailand. The meaning of Khon Rak Ban Koed is “People Who Love Their Home” and they have been working against gold mining operations. The KRBK group was established in 2008 and all villagers from Nanongbong and five other villagers are members of this group. They have been striving to protect the environment and their traditional way of agricultural practice and to defend natural resources against exploitation by a mining company that does not respect human rights and the well-being of local people.
It all started when villagers began to suffer from rashes, eye irritation and chest tightness in 2007. Then they discovered that local rivers are polluted and contaminated from cyanide waste and heavy metals. According to the group, around 3,700 villagers from 1,000 families have suffered from polluted drinking water. Unfortunately, there has not been much efforts from the Thai government to stop this problem. Also throughout eight years of gold mine operation in Loei, people have been losing their traditional ways of life. People used to grow rice and eat local fish and drink creek water around them. Such a life style, however, could not last after the mining operation.
Demands from the KRBK Group (as of 17 July 2014)
- Revoke the mining concession of the company in 6 areas of Phu Thap Fa, and Phu Sam Pa Bon in tambon Khao Luang, Wang Saphung district of Loei province.
- Revoke the mining concession permit of the company for mineral processing, which consists of initially breaking down the ore, by crushing, grinding, sieving as well as metallurgical process.
- Order the company to remove heavy machinery and all equipment from the mines.
- Transport all the mined ore from the mines.
- Close the mines and rehabilitate the environment, health, diversity, and well-being of the people
- Provide adequate remedy for all villagers in the 6 areas affected by the mining activities
The provincial health office on residents near the mine found that villagers’ blood contained cyanide, well beyond a safe level of 0.2 microgram. Also in 2009, Loei provincial health office issued a warning to villagers not to use water from Huai Phuk, Huai Lhek or underground water due to heavy metal contamination.
Struggles from people continue and this led to dispute and even violence. Due to their opposition against the mining operation, 33 villagers including key community leaders of the KRBK Group have been charged with seven criminal cases filed by the company operating the gold mine, for trespassing and loss of property as well as defamation. The mining company also filed civil cases against 20 villagers for obstruction of business. The company demands compensation amounting to 50-70 million Thai Baht (approximately US$1.5 to 2.2 million) from each villager.
Further escalation of violence broke out on 15 May 2014, around 10 p.m. A group of approximately 300 unidentified men, armed with metal sticks, knives and guns, entered Nanongbong village. The armed men attacked and beat villagers at the road blockade checkpoint. Around 40 villagers including two key community leaders were held captive for about 6.5 hours and released at 4.30 a.m. They were assaulted and threatened with guns. Over 40 villagers were reportedly injured in the assault, and they were only transported to hospital after the perpetrators left the scene. Again there is no sign of attackers being brought to justice since police investigation is not in progress.
Groups collectively working together against human rights violations are often harassed, placed under surveillance, even physically attacked like the KRBK Group were on the night of 15 May 2014. This is the reason why human rights defenders like the KRBK Group need support and protection.
For more information about human rights defenders, please see this document, known as the UN Declaration on human rights defenders.