The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) met on 11 September to hear a complaint against the Ben Chaung Coal Mine. The coalmine is located in the Thanintharyi Region of Burma and three Thai companies are involved.
The complaint, filed by representatives of indigenous Karen communities with the support of local and international NGOs, alleges the open-pit mine has resulted in human rights violations against residents in the Ban Chaung area. Villagers in the region have already experienced decades of conflict because of clashes between the Karen National Liberation Army and the Burma Army.
The community complaint calls on the NHRCT to investigate the operations of three Thai companies connected to the mine, claiming their activities have harmed the health and livelihoods of local communities. Among other violations, its states waste emitted from the mine has resulted in illness and polluted local water supplies, killing crops and fish.
Communities claim their livelihoods were further affected by the illegal seizure of agricultural land to support mining activities. The mine is expected to impact as many as 16,000 people living in 22 villages.
Naw Pee Th’Law, advisor of TaKaPaw youth organization spoke to Karen News about the initial hearing.
“The hearing involve presentation of villagers about their sufferings and losses and then follow by asking the companies questions on anything they want to know. After this initial hearing, field visits will be conducted by Thai human rights commission in cooperation with Burma human rights commission. They would them make a report that will be submitted to Thai government.”
Naw Pee Th’ Law said that she hopes upon having this initial hearing, the companies that are working on the project will take more responsibility for the suffering of the locals.
Representing the local villagers were the TaKaPaw youth organization, the Thai based Spiritual Education Movement (SEM) and the Inclusive Development International who requested that the Human Rights Commission of Thailand check the coal mine project that involves the three Thai companies – Energy Earth PCL, East Star Company and the Thai Asset Mining Company as well as the Burma based May Flower Company who have received mining permits for 2,100 acres.
David Pred, Managing Director of Inclusive Development International, one of the NGOs behind the community claim said in a media statement that villages have been complaining for years and have yet to see any action taken.
“Impacted communities have been pushing for years for the companies behind this project to remedy the harms they have suffered, but with no result. We hope now that the companies have heard the message of affected villagers and will [now] take all necessary actions to address them.”
Representatives of the affected communities say that after years of failed negotiations with the companies, if they cannot properly manage the impact of the project, it should be stopped. One representative claimed that they only knew of the plans for a mine when bulldozers arrived. “Since then, our lives have become unbearable,” he said. “We are happy that we finally have the opportunity to meet with all three companies, and tell them our stories. Now, we expect them to take action.”
A local opposed to the project said, “We have been suffering because the waste piles of coal burst into flames. We are told that the company could not do anything to solve this problem. We cannot be patient anymore. We are really concerned that those coal piles will burst into flames all the time. We hope that National human rights commission of Thailand will come and check and take effective actions on the company to stop abusing our rights.”
Because of the strong smells from the burning of abandoned wastes from the coal mine project, people in the area complain that they are suffering from dizziness, vomiting, and sickness. At the same time, because of the project, the water needed for washing and drinking are polluted during the rainy season, as a result of the polluted water flowing to the river and streams, aquatic animals are dead and the crops and fields of the locals are being destroyed. Locals have said that it is making their daily survival and life harder.
The three Thai companies named in the complaint were all present at the hearing in Bangkok, but the Myanmar-based Mayflower Mining Enterprise, which owns the 2,100 acre concession, was absent, claiming it is not involved in activities on the ground. Karen News unsuccessfully requested statements from the companies involved in the Ban Chaung coal mine project.