Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Karen ethnic villagers in a demonstration marred by the downpour, was Pita Limjaroenrat, the erstwhile Commander of Thailand’s Move Forward Party. This public outcry isn’t a new sight in Omkoi district of the northern territory of Chiang Mai. However, the purpose behind it is indeed noteworthy – to rally against the mining of coal that could potentially despoil their tranquil village environment.
Pita Limjaroenrat’s decision to join the villagers was not a solitary endeavor. He was accompanied by prominent MPs and affiliates of the Move Forward Party. Amidst this, the group demonstrated their protest by marching from a local sports field to the district headquarters of Omkoi, submitting a letter that mirrored their collective qualms to the District Chief.
The march was preluded by a public forum, attendees of which encompassed a spectrum of human rights activists, legal practitioners, environmental stewards, and those who directly confront the negative impact of the mining project. The symposium hosts were also inclusive of representatives from the Kaboedin village community, a faction of people in staunch opposition to the mine, and others who would become its victims.
This tumult sparked when a private company filed a petition back in 1999, seeking a decade-long tenure to oversee a coal mining project spanning over 284-rai in the heart of Omkoi district. Unbeknownst to them until 2019, upon this revelation, the indigenous Karen residents of Kaboedin village launched a campaign resisting the project.
Since the proposed mining site lies in proximity to a stream navigated by villagers as their lifeline, they harbor fears that their primary water resource might be tainted by hazardous by-products of the mining activities. As a consequence, this could drastically impact their way of life.
In an attempt to validate their concerns, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted an investigation in July 2020. They discovered human rights infringements in an environmental impact assessment report outlining the project and advised an overhaul of the plan be considered.
The NHRC waged a direct critique concerning how the public hearing conducted in Kaboedin village was impaired. They flagged inconsistencies in the report which allegedly included a list of attendees — some claimed they were not present at the hearing. Their critique also outlined how the consultation was more focused on gathering information from the residents, rather than empowering them with the right knowledge and understanding regarding the impending mining project.