‘Legal harassment and intimidation’ faced by Women Human Rights Defenders Women 

23 November 2018

29 November marks the United Nations’ International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. It means to raise the awareness of the importance of WHRDs who put their lives and dignities at risk, more than their male counterparts, or more than those campaigning on issues not related to gender or reproductive rights. Such WHRDs have been targeted for rights violation by both state and private agencies. They have to endure physical harassment and dehumanization. 


According to Protection International, from 2014-2017, physical violence asides, more than 170 community-based WHRDs in Thailand have been taken to court by both private and state agencies as a result of their struggles to protect their right to land, housing, the environment and the right to preserve their local natural resources. 


On 23 November at the Century Park Hotel in Bangkok, Amnesty International Thailand organized a public discussion on ‘Paths to Protect Human Rights Defenders in Thailand: From UN Annual Report and Beyond’, a part of which was a discussion on ‘Her Stories: Challenges Facing Women Human Rights Defenders’


Anchana Heemmina, a WHRD, said that during the course of her work to protect human rights in Thailand’s Deep South, she has received complaints about security officers being accused of committing rights and freedoms violation, torture, and extrajudicial killing. And she was sued for defamation and violating the Computer Crime Act for coming out to speak about these problems. The officers have visited her at her home, have waged smear campaign against her and to discredit her work. For nearly a year, she was too busy fighting the charges and was unable to work in the local area. Her clients are also concerned about the fallouts on them. 


“We have received complaints that people have been forced to stay naked while being interrogated by women military rangers. Or they have been approached intimately while being naked. They intimidated us for failing to protect the women military rangers, or for dehumanizing women when we have released photos that demonstrate some sexual abuse. They also named us. This has made us feel concerned and has demoralized the villagers. They treat us like we are the mouthpieces of the abused people. When I was unable to do my work, the problems have expanded like an iceberg with so vast foundation underneath. They are unsolvable. Most of the problems in the South are related to rights abuse committed by government officials. I want to see a change of perspective and for people to embrace and respect each other rather than the top-down approach.  We want equality and mutual respect” said Anchana. 


A niece who has tirelessly campaigned to demand justice for her uncle, a military conscript, who died while being tortured by his trainer in a military camp, Narissalawan Kaewnopparat said that in the case of her uncle, Private Wichien Phueksom, she has been struggling by herself all along as she believes there are more culprits than those whose names have already been announced. As a result, she receives an intimidation from a military general who wants her to put the story to rest and stop incriminating superior officers beyond those non-commissioned officers. She has been sued for violating the Computer Crime Act and libel. She has become an alleged offender simply because she has come out to demand her rights and has discovered many irregularities in the justice process. 


“From the outset, I was told I would fight in vain. But I determine to fight until my last breath and believe I am able to fight based on proper information and evidence. I was not there when the crime took place and am ready to hear any information. One of the ten suspects in this case has approached me with explanation and evidence to prove he was not complicit in the crime and was simply a scapegoat. I want to see justice done as much as possible and they should be treated justly. I understand the state has many things to do, but they should also perform their relevant duties to the best. Even though the Royal Thai Army or the Royal Thai Police do not agree to let their officers abuse power or to benefit from such patron-client system, but somehow, one influential officer may exercise his power to force another official to abuse his power and derail justice process” said Narissalawan. 


Rojana Kongsaen, a WHRD from the Loey anti-mining network, said that as a result of the struggle to demand the right to manage their own resources, members of her community have been taken to court for violating the Public Assembly Act and the Computer Crime Act in more a dozen cases. They also face intimidation and are threatened with fake bomb. Their dogs have been poisoned to death and they have been under constant surveillance. 


“They use the law to silence us.  They intend to report the case against us in faraway provinces forcing us to travel long distance to defend ourselves. Those who still have young babies have to bring them along to nurse them. In our community, many women are working on the frontline, though we have got our men as good backup. Women who face charges cannot cook and raise their children and could be viewed as neglecting their duties. But they have more challenging work to do. If their families have good understanding, it is fine. If not, it can be a problem. It is quite a stigma for women in rural area if they fail to do their family chores. It can be demoralizing for the families. When I got invited to speak outside, some people who do not understand may look at me negatively for getting dressed to go out too often. But men can go anywhere they want. 


“We did not kill anyone. We simply work to protect our natural resources. We want the authorities to drop all charges against us. They are obliged to ensure our safety, not to force us to undergo attitude adjustment. The state should protect natural resources and monitor how the laws have been used to violate our rights. We demand justice for our lives and community. We do not demonstrate just to cause division. Now that the mine has been closed, we want the state to come up with a serious plan to restore the environment with participation from the villagers” said Rojana.