Updated urgent action alert for climate justice activist under death threat in Thailand
Save the life of Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, environmental and human rights activist!
Defend the Kahao Yai Pha Dai Community Forest Conservation Group!(in Dong Mafai Sub District, Nongbua Lamphu Province, North East Thailand).
Email now (see below) to show how much international support there is for their safety and livelihoods.
Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak continues to face repeated verifiable death threats for organising with the women-led Kahao Yai Pha Dai Community Forest Conservation Group. The Group has been fighting to close down a limestone quarry mine which has harmed the Dong Mafai community’s health and wellbeing for over 26 years. They are determined to return the land to lush mountain forests which served as the community’s source of food and livelihoods. They recently had an important victory, occupying the mine site and reclaiming the land following the expiry of the mining permits – photos below and here.
Mr Kumkongsak is a key adviser to the Forest Conservation Group and co-ordinates the “People’s anti-mining network of Thailand” (and other environmental groups). He has been central to anti-mining struggles for more than 20 years, and a great support to women’s organising. The mine owner is believed to be behind the escalating threats, with the security forces allegedly involved. There have been an alarming number of documented reprisals including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, detention without trial and torture of women and men Human Rights Defenders (HDRs) challenging corporate interests and exposing official corruption. Four members of the Dong Mafai community have already been murdered since 1995 because they expressed the opposition of the community to the mine. No-one has been held criminally responsible.
Most members of the Forest Conservation Group are women – mothers and grandmothers – who have led the struggle from the start, as is the case in most struggles against destructive mining and other polluting industries, corporate plantations and land grabs, for community land rights and for justice when HRDs are persecuted, assassinated and disappeared. It is often invisible and unrecognised that it is women who take the lead in environmental and justice work. Women do the unwaged caring work of protecting the land in the same way as we do our families and communities.
This caring work is the foundation of survival and wellbeing for people and the planet, and those who do it must be protected. This has never been more critical given the climate emergency and militarism, and the devastation, forced migration and impoverishment they cause.
The Dong Mafai community had another major victory last week. Having taken over the mine entrance and half the mine area since 4 September, on 25 September, over 150 people, mostly women including supporters from the Women Human Rights Defenders Collective, marched peacefully to reclaim a further part of the mine, the stone mill. They performed traditional ceremonies, planted seedlings to start restoring the flowers and trees, declared the mine area a ‘Community Forest Zone’, called for justice for their murdered co-fighters, and vowed to continue until they had reclaimed and permanently closed down the whole mine.
This victory is precarious. Women demonstrated the importance of Lertsak Kumkongsak to their struggle by wearing masks with his face and holding a sign: ‘If you kill Lertsak, there will be hundreds and thousands more’. Over fifty women later accompanied Mr Kumkongsak to the police station to report the threats to his life. He has protected the women and their communities for decades and they showed their appreciation by protecting him in return.
The lives of villagers fighting the mine are also at risk, but the threat to Mr Khamongsak is the most immediate. The Forest Conservation Group and Protection International Thailand initiated the campaign to save his life. They call on individuals and organisations internationally to act urgently. Your support for him will also give credibility and visibility to the women’s struggle, and the whole community’s right to the forest and the defence of the natural world.
- Write to the Thai Ambassador in London/or the country where you live using the model letter below. London email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Find your Thai embassies around the world: https://www.thaiembassy.org/)
- Cc your letter to: UK Embassy in Bangkok Info.Bangkok@fcdo.gov.uk, addressed to UK Ambassador, Brian Davidson.
- Please cc Global Women’s Strike: email@example.com.
- Circulate this mailing among your networks.
See more information here.
Ambassador Extraordinaire and Plenipotentiary
Mr. Pisanu Suvanajata
Royal Thai Embassy
29-30 Queen’s Gate
London SW7 5JB
Address of sender
Re: Threats to the life of Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak and the human rights of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Foreset Conservation Group, Dong Mafai Sub District, Suwannakuha District, Nongbua Lamphu Province
We write out of concern for the safety of Mr. Kumkongsak, a human rights defender whose life is at grave risk. He has received repeated death threats over the last two weeks. Mr Kumkongsak is an advisor to the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources (PPM) and coordinator of the Ecological and Cultural Study Group and the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources.
He is being targeted for his support of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation Group, whose members are mostly mothers and grandmothers. Your Excellency will want to know that when Mr. Kumkongsak went to the police station to report the threats to his life, he was accompanied by dozens of women. They were there to show their appreciation for the protection Mr. Kumkongsak has always afforded the families in their communities.
They and their families have been opposing the environmentally destructive limestone quarry for over two decades and campaigning for the restoration of the forest that once grew there, and on which the community depended for food and livelihoods. Following the expiry of the mining permit in September, the Group have been successfully exercising their right to take back the mine and stone mill area to start replanting the forest, reclaiming the area as a ‘Community Forest Zone’. The community has a constitutional, legal and human right to determine how their land and natural resources are used for their survival.
The community at Dong Mafai and PPM staff also face security threats, and have previously suffered the assassination of four community leaders, for which no one was found criminally responsible. Given this history, we are alarmed at the threats to the life of Mr. Kumkongsak. Concrete threats with dates have been made against him, including credible information that a gunman has been hired and is in the area. Those commissioning the murder are believed to be the owners of the mining company; it is also alleged that the Internal Security Operations Command may be involved.
We respectfully ask you as a matter of urgency to contact the Thai military Prime Minister and Chief of the Royal Thai Army and request they ensure that Mr. Kumkongsak and the Don Mafai community are safe and allowed to continue their legitimate work for the community and environment without threats of violence.
Please also remind them of Thailand’s international commitments at the UN Human Rights Council Periodic Review in 2016 when the Thailand Minister of Justice acknowledged that it is the government’s ‘duty that human rights defenders and lawyers can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment” and of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s Recommendation that the Thai government “Adopt and implement, without delay, effective measures for the protection of women human rights defenders to enable them to freely undertake their important work without fear or threat of lawsuits, harassment, violence or intimidation.’
Please make them aware that women and men human rights defenders in the [add country] are extremely concerned about the safety of Mr. Kumkongsak and of the Conservation Group, and are watching the situation daily.
We are most anxious to hear from your Excellency at your earliest convenience.
Organisation/occupation as applicable
The future of humanity lies in justice, and women have to be granted the right to care for themselves and their community. Greed does not justify eradication of caring, nurturing, respectful, intelligent environmental champions. The model people fight for whereby nature and people enter a caring relationship could just save the earth. The mine must close.
It is a basic human right to be able to protest safely.There are many of us who care about the welfare of Mr Lertsak Kumkongsak and the Forest Conservation Group he works with.