Unesco urged not to give heritage status to Thai park amid claims of Indigenous abuses

UN human rights experts have urged Unesco not to grant World Heritage Site status to a national park in Thailand, where they said Indigenous people are being arrested and evicted from their traditional lands.

The UN experts said in a statement: “This is an important precedent-setting case, and may influence policies on how Indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in protected areas across Asia.

“The Indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt,” they said.

The independent experts’ appeal came ahead of Monday’s review by a Unesco committee, where the Thai government is seeking heritage status for Kaeng Krachan national park for the third time since 2016.

China and Russia are among countries backing the Thai bid, according to their joint proposal, which does not refer to the ethnic Karen community living in the vast park near the Myanmar border.

More than 80 ethnic Karen have been arrested this year, 28 of whom were criminally charged for “encroachment” on their lands in the park, including a child, the UN experts’ statement said.

It added there had not been consultations in “good faith” allowing the Karen to take part in the Unesco nomination process.

Thai officials were not immediately available for comment on the experts’ concerns that heritage status would deny the Karen their right to remain on traditional lands where their farming techniques help preserve biodiversity.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature said Unesco should hold off naming the park as a world heritage site. The Swiss-based group said the Thai government should have to show there was support for the plan from all affected Indigenous peoples by providing security of land tenure and livelihoods.

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