UN human rights experts have urged UNESCO not to grant World Heritage status to a national park in Thailand, where they said indigenous peoples are being arrested and evicted from their traditional lands.
UN experts said in a statement: “This is an important case that sets a precedent and can influence policy on how the rights of indigenous peoples are respected in protected areas in Asia.
“The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burned,” they said.
The independent experts’ call came ahead of Monday’s review by a Unesco committee, where the Thai government seeks heritage status for Kaeng Krachan national park for the third time since 2016.
China and Russia are among the countries backing the Thai bid, according to their joint proposal, which does not refer to the Karen ethnic community living in the vast park near the Myanmar border.
More than 80 Karen people have been arrested this year, 28 of whom were criminally charged with “encroachment” on their land in the park, including a child, according to the statement from UN experts.
He added that there were no “good faith” consultations allowing the Karens to participate in the Unesco nomination process.
Thai officials were not immediately available to comment on experts’ concerns that heritage status would deny the Karen their right to remain on traditional lands where their agricultural techniques help preserve biodiversity.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature said UNESCO should stop naming the park as a world heritage site. The Swiss-based group said the Thai government should have to demonstrate that all affected indigenous peoples supported the plan by providing security of land tenure and livelihoods.