Advocate, journalist, human trafficking survivors, and community activists receive prestigious award 

(Bangkok, March 7, 2016)— Two women and two women-led organizations received a prestigious women’s human rights award today from the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT). Human rights defenders in Thailand remain at risk of abuse and reprisals, and the government should redouble protections, Fortify Rights said today.

The NHRCT awarded the 2016 Women’s Human Rights Defenders Honorary Certificate to Ms. Phinnapha Phrueksaphan, who has sought justice in the case of her disappeared husband, ethnic-Karen environmental activist Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen—last seen in April 2014 with officials of Kaeng Krachan National Park; Ms. Achara Ashayagachat, who has more than 20 years’ experience at the Bangkok Post, covering and exposing human rights abuses in Southeast Asia; the Ying Soo Cheewit (“Live Our Lives”) Group, a collective of Thai women who are survivors of human trafficking; and the women from Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG) in Loei Province, who have peacefully protested harmful mining practices in Thailand.

“These courageous women have stood up for human rights in the face of harassment, indifference, and at times life-threatening danger,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Women are at the heart of the promotion and protection of human rights in Thailand, and it’s significant the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand is behind them.”

Today’s award comes a day before International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016.

Fortify Rights has been monitoring and documenting the situation of human rights in connection with the Tungkum Ltd. gold and copper mine in Loei Province, northeastern Thailand. The KRBKG is demanding that the authorities and company permanently close down the gold mining operation and address environmental contamination and health impacts that may be linked to the mining operation.

KRBKG is a grassroots movement established in 2007, comprised of mostly women from six communities surrounding the gold mine in Wangsapung District, Loei Province. The Tungkum Ltd. mining company and Thai authorities have reportedly used violence, threats, and judicial actions against members of the KRBKG.

Tungkum Ltd. has brought civil and criminal charges against 33 members of the KRBKG and other villagers engaged in protests against the mine, including most recently a criminal defamation complaint against a 15-year old schoolgirl. The company is seeking millions of dollars from villagers for allegedly damaging the company’s business and reputation.

“We are very pleased and proud that there is an institution [NHRCT] that recognizes the struggle of villagers and our community,” said 53-year-old Ranong Kongsaen of KRBKG. “We have made sacrifices to protect the natural resources of our homeland for our children and grandchildren.”

The women of KRBKG are integral to the fight for environmental protections in Loei and throughout Thailand, Fortify Rights said. 

The United Nations recognizes “human rights defenders” as “individuals, groups and associations…contributing to…the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals.” The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides specific protections for human rights defenders in the context of their work, including the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and the right to seek, obtain, receive, and hold information relating to human rights. On December 17, 2015, Thailand adopted the latest UN resolution on human rights defenders, affirming its commitment to respect the rights of human rights defenders and address adverse human rights impacts related to their activities.

Today’s award spotlights the important and challenging role human rights defenders play in bringing much-needed attention to critical human rights problems in Thailand, said Fortify Rights. 

“Too often human rights defenders are punished and not rewarded for their activities,” said Amy Smith. “Thailand would benefit from ensuring all human rights defenders enjoy protections and are celebrated for their contributions to the country.”

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