• Indigenous peoples in Thailand

    Indigenous peoples in Thailand

    The Hmong, the Karen, the Lisu, the Mien, the Akha, the Lahu, the Lua, the Thin, and the Khamu are the recognised indigenous peoples of Thailand. Most of them live as fishers or as hunter-gatherers.

Thailand

Although Thailand adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it does not officially recognize the existence of Indigenous Peoples in the country. There were some developments for the Indigenous Peoples of the country, but they continue to be stigmatized and challenged especially by land grabbing by the government.

Thailand has ratified or is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Indigenous Peoples in Thailand

The Indigenous Peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country: Indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers in the south (Mani people); small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east and east; and the many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (known by the derogatory term Chao-Khao). Nine so-called “hill tribes” are officially recognised: the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu. 

The estimated Indigenous population in Thailand is around five million people, which accounts for 7.2% of the total population.2 According to the Department of Social Development and Welfare (2002), the total officially recognised “hill-tribe” population numbers 925,825 and they are distributed across 20 provinces in the north and west of the country. There are still no figures available for the indigenous groups in the south and north-east.

When national boundaries in South-East Asia were drawn during the colonial era, and as a result in the wake of decolonisation, many Indigenous Peoples living in remote highlands and forests were divided. For example, you can find Lua and Karen people in both Thailand and Myanmar, and Akha people in Laos, Myanmar, south-west China and Thailand.

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Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Thailand

A major struggle for the Indigenous Peoples of Thailand is land grabbing by the government, such as Rawai, located in the province of Phuket. Rawai is a popular tourist spot in southern Thailand and also home to Chao Ley, a collective term for three indigenous groups: the Mogan, Moglen and Urak Lawoi.

Its population is approximately 13,000 living in the five provinces of Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Satun and Ranong along the Andaman coastal area and the sea. Baron World Trade Co. Ltd claims ownership of more than 5 hectares of land, including the public beach in the subdistrict of Rawai in the Muang Phuket district, which overlaps with the ancestral lands of Chao Law, which have been used to celebrate sacred ceremonies for generations.

The situation degenerated into violence in 2016 when the company hired a group of young men to prevent the villagers from entering the area. The youths destroyed the huts and fishing equipment of Chao Ley, and around 30 Chao Ley were injured in the violent encounter and 10 seriously injured.

The government approved a master plan to solve the problems of deforestation, and that includes the suppression and arrest of people who are invading or destroying forest lands. These operations raise serious concerns for Indigenous Peoples, as they have not made an explicit distinction between illegal intruders and indigenous communities that have lived in those areas for a long time.

The Indigenous World 2023: Thailand

The Indigenous Peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country: Indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers in the south (Mani people); small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east and east; and the many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (previously known by the derogatory term “Chao-Khao,” or “hill tribes”). Nine so-called “hill tribes” are officially recognized: the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu.[1]

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UNESCO World Heritage Committee tramples on human rights

On 26 July 2021, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee passed a decision inscribing the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (KKFC) in Thailand on the World Heritage List, ignoring repeated pleas of Indigenous peoples, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the UN human rights system to defer listing. IWGIA strongly objects both to the decision to inscribe the KKFC and the way this decision has come about.

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The Indigenous World 2021: Thailand

The Indigenous Peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country: Indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers in the south (Mani people); small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east and east; and the many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (known by the derogatory term Chao-Khao). Nine so-called “hill tribes” are officially recognised: the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu.[1]

The estimated Indigenous population in Thailand is around five million people, which accounts for 7.2% of the total population.[2] According to the Department of Social Development and Welfare (2002), the total officially recognised “hill-tribe” population numbers 925,825 and they are distributed across 20 provinces in the north and west of the country. There are still no figures available for the Indigenous groups in the south and north-east. When national boundaries in South-East Asia were drawn during the colonial era, and as a result in the wake of decolonization, many Indigenous Peoples living in remote highlands and forests were divided. For example, you can find Lua and Karen people in both Thailand and Myanmar, and Akha people in Laos, Myanmar, south-west China and Thailand.

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The Indigenous World 2022: Thailand

The Indigenous Peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country: Indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers in the south (Mani people); small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east and east; and the many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (previously known by the derogatory term “Chao-Khao,” or “hill tribes”). Nine so-called “hill tribes” are officially recognized: the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu.[1]

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Joint Statement: Human rights abuses occurring in the context of the World Heritage nomination of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (Thailand)

H.E. Mr. Tian Xuejun, Vice Minister of Education and Chairperson of the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO Chairperson of the extended 44th session of World Heritage Committee Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ms. Mechtild Rössler, Director World Heritage Centre Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Re:   Human rights abuses occurring in the context of the World Heritage nomination of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (Thailand)

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Indigenous World

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