The indigenous people’s fighting for sustainable justice
Department of Special Investigation

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
“A piece of paper ruins life of over 2,000 indigenous people” Rawai indigenous fishermen discovering and dwelling in Rawai beach, Phuket Province, Thailand, for over seven generations, have inherited their own unique customs and cultures for ages. They have been living hand to mouth in tightly thronged areas lacking public health and utility services; they have greatly suffered from poverty and low life quality. They are becoming homeless and regarded as trespassers by society’s accusation and stigmatization resulting from the acts of astute capitalists and corrupted government officials issuing title documents over the land settled by their ancestors and presenting the documents to the Phuket Provincial Court for eviction. They lost cases due to their inability to seek evidence for defending themselves. The Court’s orders to demolish buildings caused Rawai fishermen to leave their places. Cases against them are on the increase and there is a trend that the community of 247 households, 2,067 Rawai fishermen, living in the disputed areas will be prosecuted. Their ancient traditions and cultures are being vanished from Thailand. The social troubles that follow include family, poverty, quality of life, occupation, and crime problems. The peaceful Rawai fishermen disliking turbulence have stayed in the disputed area for centuries without their interest in and comprehension of possession of the land deed. Possessing land for living from generation to generation is their living attitudes. Their lack of legal knowledge and disadvantage in education resulted in their ignorance of the deed for lawful land possession. Having no rights over Rawai fishermen’s land, law-knowledgeable persons and members of the ruling class claimed their rights over the land causing the issuances of deeds by corrupted state officials, revelations of deeds for eviction lawsuits, and the Court’s orders to demolish buildings of needy Rawai fishermen who finally have to leave their place. Rawai fishermen’s negative attitude towards all government officials and refusal to accept any offered help steamed from being stigmatized by society as criminals, prejudiced by outsiders, taken advantage by local capitalists, and discriminated by local government officials who previously acted as their supporters, but they neither provided them assistance nor protected their information from outsiders leading to lawsuits brought by the capitalists profiting from such information. Over two thousand Rawai fishermen are deeply downcast and disconsolate in the vain hope of their future living. Facing insoluble problems alone and being the losing party, they have endured tribulations with anguish. Repeatedly confronting series of devastating misfortunes, they regarded themselves as the country’s lower class people. Many losers became ill, suffering in excruciating agony as their living cultural land inherited from progenitors would be occupied and taken away by others. The court’s aforesaid judgment was their nightmare. Their life destroyed by the land deed consists of nothing but disaster. They can neither tolerate nor endure it. Darkness crept into their life. The feelings of dread, resentment, indignation, grief, desolation, misery, and loss overwhelmed them. They kept asking themselves whether they could overcome these difficulties, and still had doubts about the answer.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The solutions to problems are three-fold: first, to destroy a wall of distrust between Rawai fishermen and state officials by providing them with sincere help to make them open their mind for assistance of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), second, to integrate work of related agencies and cooperation of non-government and people organizations in gathering evidence by means of scientific methods in order to obtain historical evidence that is related to the Rawai community’s ways of life for their defense in the justice process, and third, to reinstate the Rawai fishermen’s rights to the land so that Rawai fishermen, an underprivileged ethnic group, can enjoy the security of their life.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The public, private, and educational organizations’ previous efforts to solve the aforementioned problems of Rawai fishermen were impeded by the court’s judgment entitling the capitalists’ rights to land and ordering Rawai fishermen to vacate from the disputed areas. The aforementioned judgment caused them to become increasingly tormented by poverty, homelessness, and loss of their source of income, as they earned a living through catching fishes in the Andaman Sea from generation to generation. The DSI’s questions before implementing the initiative were where over 2,000 Rawai fishermen can live, if they are evicted from their homes, and how this gross problem can be solved for protecting their living condition, career, life, and education. In other words, their security in life and home, one of human basic needs, is the first matter to be addressed. Having scrutinized the problems meticulously, the DSI recognized the fact that the root of Rawai fishermen’s problems is the justice process. Their current troubles cannot be solved by the methods previously used by the aforesaid organizations. The only solution to problem is to employ a justice procedure for asserting that the state’s title certificates were issued by corrupt officials and that Rawai fishermen are not the trespassers. In fact, they are actually entitled to the disputed land. The DSI’s strategies employed for helping Rawai fishermen are as follows. Firstly, changing Rawai fishermen’s profound distrust of officials and helping to have faith in the public sector, the DSI’s officials demonstrated their genuine intent to help them overcome their difficulties. With full support of the DSI’s network of people organizations, this strategy brought participation of Rawai fishermen in working with public agencies, providing information and gathering evidence to their benefit. Dissension among Rawai fishermen, especially the ones who sided with the capitalists, ended and its community’s unity restarted. The actions undertaken under this strategy provoked all its members to jointly think, work, cooperate, and provide information to public agencies within the assembling evidence process. Secondly, mobilizing support of all sectors in collecting rebuttal and conclusive evidence for Rawai fishermen’s use in the court, experts and scientific evidence were employed. In the court’s accusatorial system of Thailand, the two adversarial parties are responsible for gathering and presenting evidence to support their defense. Evidence shall be admissible evidence obtained without fabricating, adding, or altering. The party that provides clear, proper, conclusive evidence is the winning party. The disadvantaged Rawai fishermen will win the case only if their rebuttal evidence for nullifying land certificates issued by the authorized, specialized land officials and presented to the court by the capitalists are the preponderances of evidence. Legally gathering evidence by integrating work of public, private and people sectors was aimed at protecting Rawai fishermen from being accused of fabricating evidence, and providing them with equal opportunities to fight in the justice system. This strategy contributed to success in obtaining correct, admissible evidence accepted by society and courts as appeared in the Phuket Provincial Court’s judgment declaring Rawai fishermen as the winning party. From the judgment, they have instantly recovered from despondency and regained their willpower to fight for justice again. What they learned from this valued lesson gave them both a solid foundation of knowledge about the justice system and the strength to overcome their difficulties. The dramatic improvement in quality of life of 2,067 Rawai fishermen restarted. The inequities they experienced for years faded and they started to savor and enjoy their dignity of human beings, an indigenous group in the world. Their story was publicized. It breeds and encourages other indigenous groups’ hopes of justice in Thailand.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The upsurge in violating the rights of ethnic groups living elsewhere, not only in Thailand, is the world’s problem as detailed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The DSI’s way to prove and return Rawai fishermen’s rights to land by creating their trust in government officials, encouraging them to team up with officials and participate in each justice process for the fight in the court of law, and mobilizing resources and cooperation from all agencies, is accepted by the public as a new constructive approach. The initiative replaced the ineffective methods employed by many committees to help Rawai fishermen. From the initiative, Rawai fishermen learned to protect their rights, work and inspect government officials’ actions, and overcome their difficulties by themselves while they can maintain good relationships and support from public, private, and people organizations. Also, they can make their own plans for sustainably improving their life, spirit, and community as needed. The initiative can be tailored to the specific needs of 44 indigenous communities, 3,450 households, 12,309 fishermen living in 6 provinces, along the Andaman Sea, of Thailand. In sum, the initiative restarted and furthered help for sustainable development of indigenous communities in Thailand.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The initiative for providing justice and reinstating the land rights to 247 households of 2,067 Rawai fishermen in the disputed area of Phuket province at first was pioneered by the DSI who normally will start its investigations as requested by complainants or injured persons, except the Rawai fishermen’s case. Before the initiative, violating the Rawai fishermen’s rights to land by capitalists owning the deeds went from bad to worse. Many Rawai fishermen charged with trespass stood to lose their living place with no hope for any remedy. Thus, the questions needed to be considered on the spot were whether they lived in such areas before the deeds’ issuances and whether the litigants obtained the deeds lawfully. Impelled by their public consciousness, after exhaustive investigations, the DSI’s officials formed and implemented effective, practical, inseparable strategies with their aims to provide justice to both parties. They collected and analyzed evidence legally and transparently obtained from agencies for submitting to the Court. With full participation from Rawai fishermen who previously distrusted the state officials, support of experts in public agencies, and the DSI’s network of people organizations, the DSI team gained newly-discovered, corroborating, admissible evidence proving the rights to land of Rawai fishermen, who then used such rebuttal evidence to defend themselves and won the cases. The initiative’s proactive methods practicable for participative implementation by all related agencies employed could restore the Rawai fishermen’s rights to land and bring the public sector’s lasting development projects to their communities for promoting their ways of life and cultures and supplying them with public health and utility services. Finally, the initiative will extend its reach to help 12,309 fishermen in 6 provinces along the Andaman Sea, and the communities of 56 ethnic groups, over 6 million indigenous people living in 67 provinces of Thailand.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The DSI’s strategies for providing justice to Rawai fishermen (the defendants) and the capitalists (the plaintiffs) comprise utilizing the DSI’s people network, proactively offering help and promoting its services to Rawai fishermen, employing all experts and resources from all related agencies to collect evidence, and encouraging Rawai fishermen to supply their own evidence for use in the court. The first strategy was employed based on the fact that Rawai fishermen had been unfairly treated and repeatedly exploited by the society and the public sector for ages. They distrust, fear, and never wish to contact government officials. Winning their hearts and minds is the first step of the DSI’s approach. Fortunately, the DSI’s officials have gained deep trust from members of the network of people organizations working with the DSI since its establishment in 2002. The DSI’s repute has risen immeasurably after reclaiming the state land in trespass cases under its responsibility and creating its People Network and Alliance Center to work closely with volunteers from the people networks, government agencies, non-government organizations, and academic institutions who can share information and join in performing activities for crime vigilance. Surprisingly, Rawai fishermen cordially welcomed help offered by officials of the DSI. Acknowledging the DSI’s service to vulnerable people and its officials working with strong intent to provide people with justice, Rawai fishermen partook in each step of all activities for gathering evidence to prove their innocence. The second strategy was aimed at mobilizing expertise from all related agencies for lawfully collecting and obtaining as much clear and relevant evidence as possible from authorized organizations in order to prove guilt and innocence of the plaintiff and the defendant. The officials from the 15th Regional Office of Fine Art Department and the Central Institute of Forensic Science worked closely with the DSI’s officials for digging Rawai fishermen’s ancestor skeletons in the disputed area claimed to be their old graveyard. Two human skeletons buried over 60 years were found beneath their house and path. After the DNA test, the result matched with the DNA of Rawai fishermen. The evidence manifestly proved that Rawai fishermen had lived here before the issuance of deeds. The analysis of yearly aerial photographs by experts of the Court of Justice clearly indicated that the disputed area belonged to Rawai fishermen for years. A school located nearby the dispute area also recorded 30 Rawai fishermen as its students. Most importantly, there are films and stills demonstrating the visit of HM the King and the Queen to Rawai fishermen community in the disputed area on March 10, 1959. Besides, coconut trees grown in the disputed area were over 30 years old. All these pieces of evidence attested Rawai fishermen had been residing in the disputed area before the capitalists got the deeds. The third strategy was employed for obtaining information from Rawai fishermen. Its success appeared in Rawai fishermen’s very positive contribution to the initiative. They fully cooperated in the DNA test, census, and GIS database. They willingly supplied the DSI’s officials with their pictures, stories, and historical, tangible evidence kept for ages by each household for corroborating their rights in the court. The resources mobilized in the initiative comprised knowledgeable personnel, budgets, equipment, and effective methods of agencies in collaboration with the DSI. In summary, ultimately, by mobilizing resources from all relevant agencies of the public, private and people sectors, the DSI’s officials were able to present demonstrative, substantial evidence to the court to establish the high standard of justice administration and the reduction in disparity between Rawai fishermen and the capitalists.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The initiative’s key stakeholders jointly designed and implemented activities comprised the injured party, the public agencies, and the agencies utilizing the initiative’s achievements. For the injured party, 2,067 Rawai fishermen of 247 households jointly plotted their courses of actions with the DSI’s officials for efficiently collecting their pre-existing concrete evidence. With their sound statements, the DSI obtained direct and circumstantial evidence retained by them as much as possible. The state officials teaming up with the DSI used their expertise in different sciences for uncovering, collecting, and supplying various types of forensic evidence to the DSI. They were officials from the Ministry of Justice (the Central Institute of Forensic Science, and the Rights and Liberties Protection Department), the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (the Office of the Permanent Secretary), the Ministry of Culture (the Fine Arts Department, and the Phuket Provincial Cultural Office), the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters (the Royal Thai Survey Department) and experts in aerial photographs from the Court of Justice including teachers from a school named Wat Savang-Arom. By planning and integrating work with them, the DSI fulfilled its tasks of gathering all evidence for verifying and restating the injured party’s rights to land. Besides, the agencies that joined in the initiative’s activities and can further their actions that will sustain indigenous fishermen communities included the Thai government, the National Human Rights Commission, the Social Research Institute, the Chumchonthai Foundation, and committees on the rights and quality of life of indigenous fishermen under the Ministry of Culture, and the Prime Minister’s Office. Such outcomes can also be applied to activities supported by the UNESCO, the UNDP, and the UN whose international policies to resolve problems of ethnic groups inspired the DSI to promptly aid Rawai fishermen.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
After jointly working and fighting together with Rawai fishermen for justice for 3 years, the DSI furnished all evidence obtained from its initiative to the Phuket Provincial Court. In the court’s judgments on 13 December 2016 and 31 January 2017, the Phuket Provincial Court dismissed 6 cases against Rawai fishermen and gave the legal rights to the disputed land to Rawai fishermen saying that the issuances of the capitalists’ deeds were illegal, and reinstating the right to 12 rais of land (or about 4.8 acres of land) to 1,500 Rawai fishermen living in the area. As a result of the court’s judgments, Rawai fishermen recaptured their land, recovered from their torment, regained their self-respect, valued their cohesion and strength, changed their negative attitudes towards government officials and society, trusted in a justice process, enjoyed their dignity, and aspired to better themselves in terms of personal development for competence in resolving their own problems. They also brainstormed and created their community development plan, a one-year plan, for the year 2017. The aforesaid court’s verdicts also facilitates many organizations in the public and private sectors to restart their activities based on the principles of fairness and equity for the quality of life of Rawai fishermen, while many ministries agreed to reactivate their committees for furthering help all groups of indigenous fishermen. The comprehensive strategies and action plans for support and improvement in education, public health, utilities, residence, and employment of Rawai fishermen were formed for implementing by all related public agencies. Educating Rawai fishermen about the primary rights and the civil right under the principles of human rights was also designed. From a 3-year fight for social justice and equity, Rawai fishermen comprehended the power of wholeness, cooperation, and strength, the factors that are essential to the survival, the safety and security, and the sustainability of their community. In addition, all lessons learned from the DSI’s initiative were reviewed by public and private agencies for improving the quality of life of Rawai fishermen, decreasing their poverty, increasing their opportunity in society, promoting and protecting their rights in all aspects as Thai people.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The DSI’s officials viewed the Rawai fishermen’s complicated problems, their community conflict, their distrust in and their acts against government officials, and the difficulty in seeking and collecting requisite evidence for trials as both the pressing problems and critical obstacles. The DSI’s investigations uncovered that the trespass lawsuits against Rawai fishermen brought to the court by the capitalist owning the state’s land deeds were caused by the fraudulent acts of some members in Rawai fishermen community who greedily conspired with the plaintiffs in fabricating and putting their signature on the leases on land in the disputed areas for gain. Such acts made Rawai fishermen living in such areas the trespassers by the court’s findings. Furthermore, the local corrupt officials’ traitorous actions disappointed Rawai fishermen and escalated their distrust in the public sector. Having thoroughly analyzed the court’s previous judgments in cases that Rawai fishermen were judged as the trespassers, the DSI’s officials learned that in the court’s accusatorial system of Thailand, without indispensable evidence and assistance from experts in the public sector, Rawai fishermen, the uneducated and deprived people, will always be the losing party in all their pending cases. The DSI addressed the said obstacles by employing the NGOs and people organizations in the disputed area to be the middleman between the DSI’s officials and Rawai fishermen at first, by working hard with integrity to gain Rawai fishermen’s trust and to fully prevail upon them to partake in all activities for transparency and reliability, by educating them about legal processes, by making them realize their capacity to testify in the courts and assuring them of justice and equity, by integrating work, seeking mutual support and cooperation, and by mobilizing experts of all related agencies to collect conclusive documentary, material, oral, and forensic evidence for using in the court.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The current crisis of inequity and injustice in cases of trespassing on privately-owned land experienced by 56 ethnic groups, including 44 communities of Rawai fishermen residing in 6 provinces along the Andaman Sea of Thailand, dramatically multiplies. Land-shark capitalists flooded into such provinces that offer them a great potential in tourism industry. The crux of troubles in such living places of indigenous groups sprang from the unfair actions of influential avaricious capitalists who deliberately plotted to possess those lands for gain. Generally, most of the capitalists’ accomplices in cases against ethnic groups are greedy locals and venal state officials, much like the case of Rawai fishermen whose land was willfully occupied by unkind capitalists colluded with their conspirators both predatory locals and unprincipled government officials. The DSI’s aforesaid well-timed initiative facilitated and forwarded the fight for sustainable justice of indigenous groups in the country. In other words, the initiative that succeeded with the aids of all stakeholders benefited not only Rawai fishermen but also other ethnic groups. In addition, all stakeholders have mutually benefited from the initiative as follows. Rawai fishermen, the injured party, learned the ways to success in fighting for justice through a justice process not by force. In the past, Rawai fishermen solved the conflict among themselves with violence. For example, they attacked their members who wanted to be friends with the capitalist. They always struck the capitalist’s henchmen who came to their communities. Rawai fishermen’s violent acts caused many of them to be charged with assault. Besides, Rawai fishermen gained knowledge of analyzing problems; making plans and managing resources for addressing difficulties; collecting evidence; giving statements to inquiry officials; appearing before and testifying in a court of law; working with public, private, and people organizations; and employing appropriate approaches for seeking assistance. More importantly, the initiative boosted their self-confidence and morale. After the Phuket Provincial Court ruled in Rawai fishermen’s favor, activities of other stakeholders, especially public agencies responsible for developing life of ethnic groups in Thailand, have been reborn. For example, the Land Department is working to revoke the capitalist’s aforesaid deeds. The Culture Ministry announced Rawai fishermen’s land in the dispute area as the state’s cultural area. The Public Health Ministry extended public health services to Rawai fishermen’s communities. The Prime Minister Office formed comprehensive help for Rawai fishermen. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand set up plans for protecting Rawai fishermen’s right. Academic institutes employed the case of Rawai fishermen as a case study. Because Rawai fishermen were the winning party in trespass charges for the first time in their life, their story has been publicized by the media and passed down by word of mouth. The public’s interest in the aforesaid activities has not only continued but increased. Therefore, it goes without saying that the initiative’s achievement will finally bring and provide lasting sustainable development, justice and equity to all indigenous people in Thailand.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The DSI’s officials always perform their duties in line with the DSI’s philosophy of work, namely dignity, specialty, and integrity. As a rule, the DSI’s investigations into cases come from the request of the complainant, injured person, witness or stakeholder, except the case of Rawai fishermen. The DSI’s offering help to Rawai fishermen was inspired by the UNESCO’s determination to encourage each country to preserve its cultural heritage, the UNDP’s human development approaches to expand the richness of human life by focusing on people and their opportunities and choices, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live, and the UNDRIP’s principles to protect the rights of indigenous people. The DSI’s responding to the problems of Rawai fishermen was also consistent with both the Thai government’s cabinet solution, on June 2010, approving the rehabilitation of indigenous fishermen and declaring the state’s duty to care for Rawai fishermen, indigenous people and other ethnic groups in Thailand, and the Ministry of Justice’s police to provide justice and reduce inequity. The DSI’s officials accept the fact that the level of human security reflects the level of state security. As said, public consciousness made the DSI assigned its officials to thoroughly study the trespassing charges against Rawai fishermen for finding befitting ways to help them. To defend themselves in the court, Rawai fishermen had the burden to prove their innocence by presenting clear and convincing evidence. With certainty that the deprived Rawai fishermen would become the losing party in all cases against them, the DSI’s officials devoted themselves entirely, competently to prove facts and provide justice to the innocents. The DSI’s officials assiduously, intensively planned and implemented every step of work with great support and exuberant participation of public, private and people organizations including the Rawai fishermen community. Undoubtedly, the DSI’s great success in its initiative resulted from all related public officials’ jointly working with their sense of duty, public mind, accountability, determination, sincerity, morality, and expertise. The DSI’s initiative exemplified the government organization’s ideal of justice for all people without prejudice and discrimination. Clearly, public organizations and officials learned a lot from the DSI’s initiative and their attitudes towards social problems changed. Public agencies’ sense of accountability and responsibility towards society has increased as evident in their proactive service plans. Officials also deemed necessary to side with and render help to the unfairly treated people of their own volition.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
In fact, the DSI’s initiative focused on investigating, collecting, and validating facts and evidence conscientiously for proving the rights of Rawai fishermen and providing them with justice. Traditionally, in Rawai families, men are leaders and breadwinners. Women are followers who stay at home to do housework and take care of their kids and elders. When their men charged with trespass became ill from anguish, women, girls and elders endured and shared perpetual torment deeply with them. A pang of distress, uncertainty and hopelessness plunged into their hearts like a gunshot and anchored there like a ton of bricks for 3 years. An air of melancholy filled their houses everywhere. Until the day that their men returned home with their beaming faces and kept telling them about their victory, women, girls, and elders felt a brilliant sunshine glared into their houses, while a shiver of delight filled their hearts. A-one year plan for 2017 initiated by Rawai fishermen for developing their community also guaranteed the future of their vulnerable members. In sum, despite no special measures for vulnerable people in the DSI’s initiative, women and girls definitely profited from the initiative as said.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Department of Special Investigation
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Miss Phenjuta Manmai
Title:   Special Case Officer  
Telephone/ Fax:   +(66) 814505044
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   128 Chaeng Watthana Alley, Thung Song Hong, Laksi
Postal Code:   10210
State/Province:   Bangkok

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