In commemoration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples last August 9, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) observed the day in collaboration with the Network of Indigenous Peoples of Thailand (NIPT) at the Chulalongkorn University campus, Bangkok, Thailand. This year, the event marked nine years of the signing of United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The highlight of the celebration in Thailand was the selection of the National Assembly of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Thailand which has 190 members with five representatives from each of the 37 indigenous groups across Thailand. The Council has 15 executive members for the period of four years, August 2015 – August 2019. The President is Mr. Sanon Phunaumong from the Yah indigenous group in the lowlands and the Vice President is Mr. Kittisak Kittisak from the Mien group from the highlands.
The NIPT organized the 3-day program from 8–10 August, 2015 with more than 300 indigenous peoples in attendance representing at least 37 different indigenous groups in Thailand.
The first day of celebration began with cultural performances of the participating indigenous groups, followed by the presentations and discussions of regional situation and issues raised by the regional representatives. There were also a discussion on the processes to push forward the draft law on the establishment of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Thailand. The draft law was developed during the first National Assembly of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Thailand, held in November 2014.
On the second day, 9th of August 2015, the Indigenous Media Network (IMN) spearheaded the media award ceremony to dedicated media practitioners in promoting indigenous peoples’ issues. The categories of the award include: (1) Discrimination of human rights of the indigenous peoples, (2) Promotion of indigenous peoples’ issues, (3) Supporting the capacity development of the indigenous peoples in media, and (4) Indigenous journalists. All the awardees expressed their deep appreciation and gratitude for the recognition of their contributions and vowed to continue their coverage of indigenous issues. This event was fully sponsored by the Indigenous Voices in Asia (IVA) project of AIPP with financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Stockholm.
On the same day, the newly formed Council held a public consultation with a live TV webcast and moderated by the media for more than two hours. Each of the Council representatives put forward their suggestions, reflections and and aspirations on the Indigenous Peoples Council in Thailand for their active engagement with the government towards improving the conditions of indigenous peoples in Thailand by addressing discriminatory policies and adopting a law on respecting cultural diversity and the rights of indigenous peoples.
A four-member panel discussion on “Indigenous Peoples in Thailand and beyond: Policy-Action Nexus” took place in the afternoon. The speakers were Ms. Sunee Chaiyaros, former Thailand National Human Rights Committee and former Vice Chair of the Committee on Legal Reform; Ms. Savitri Suwansathit, Consultant to the Ministry of Culture and former Deputy Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Education; Ms. Susan Vize, Regional Advisor for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO; and Ms. Joan Carling, Secretary General of AIPP and expert member of UN Permanent Forum Member on Indigenous Issues.
Ms. Carling highlighted the global processes that have serious implications on indigenous peoples especially at the local and national levels such as the intergovernmental negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) and climate change measures. She stressed that to prevent their further marginalization, indigenous peoples need to continue to build their capacities, strengthen their ranks and engage in these processes for the protection of their rights and for the recognition of their invaluable contributions to sustainable resource management and conservation. Ms. Savetri expressed her interest to work on indigenous peoples’ issues, particularly on the preservation of intellectual property.
Ms. Vize shared about the focus areas of UNESCO which include Policy work, Capacity building, Research and Education. She emphasized the importance of research for documentation and policy formulation. According to her, UNESCO works at the national level rather than at the global level. Preservation of cultural heritage and mother tongue, including the integration of traditional knowledge with the mainstream practices are their contributing areas.
The moderator of the panel, Dr. Narumon Arunothai of Chulalongkorn University and AIPP Advisory Board member, advised the working group of the Indigenous Peoples’ Council of Thailand to work in partnership with the government and grassroots people “without whose engagement, the Council will not be strengthened,” she stressed. She added that the group should work for greater public awareness of their concerns to generate support in pushing forward the goal and objectives of the Council.
On August 10, 2015 in the morning, the representatives of the indigenous peoples held a peaceful gathering in front of the United Nations – Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) with placards highlighting their demands for the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Council for the respect of indigenous peoples ‘ diverse cultures and rights. Some of the representatives proceeded to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and had a meeting with the staff while the main group marched towards the Parliament and submitted to government officials their proposed law on the recognition of indigenous peoples’ distinct identities and rights.
The 3-day event had exhibit stalls for indigenous handicrafts such as clothes, ornaments, plant seeds, and free food tasting. Visitors to the AIPP booth took their copies of AIPP publications on the issues related to indigenous peoples in Asia.
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