Two articles that appeared recently in the Bangkok Post highlight the inadequacies of Thailand’s Community Forest Bill (CFB), which passed the National Legislative Assembly in November 2007. At least two provisions of the CFB—articles 25 and 35—threaten to deprive indigenous peoples of their rights to manage the forestland and access the resources they have been protecting since long before passage of the bill.
Article 25 limits eligibility to establish community forest to groups that can prove to have lived in and managed a protected area for at least 10 years prior to promulgation of the CFB. This stipulation in effect denies the community forest rights of 20,000 communities living around the peripheries of protected areas. Article 35, meanwhile, prohibits logging within the protected community forests. Together, these provisions jeopardize indigenous peoples’ rights to access forestland, and hinder the use of forest resources in instances where local communities do have access.
Critics of the CFB argue that the bill impedes indigenous peoples’ participation in community forest management, and thus may violate the 2007 Thai Constitution. According to Dr. Anand Kanchanaphan of Chiangmai University,
"Instead of writing the law to provide for community participation in forest management, such rights have been prevented. Traditionally, people have had rights and have benefited from the forests, and these rights are upheld by the Constitution. The law now puts constraints on these rights and reduces the communities' potential role in forest management. It simply violates their constitutional rights."
Although the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department has already submitted a brief to the Constitutional Court arguing in favor of the CFB’s constitutionality, local community leaders plan to present opinions to the contrary.
The effects of the CFB on livelihoods are potentially profound. Janchitfah’s article "Tragedy in the Forest" depicts how Thai officials’ misunderstanding of indigenous peoples’ approaches to forest management can have devastating consequences on individual and community wellbeing. The forest management schemes provided for by the CFB wage a kind of “structural violence” against indigenous peoples, often exacerbating poverty and resource scarcity for these people, and sometimes leading to a tragic loss of life.
Read Supara Janchitfah's "Tragedy in the Forest" here, and her "Flaws in the Forestry Bill" here. Both articles were originally published in the Bangkok Post.
More information on the Thailand Community Forest Bill from RRI Partner RECOFTC is available here