Thai civil society discussed principles of natural resources and environmental laws
Bangkok, 22 February 2013 - Representatives from academia, non-governmental organisations, legal experts and members of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand (LRCT) met to develop a legal reform framework for the integration of laws relating to land, natural resources and the environment l. The meeting was organized by the LRCT, IUCN's Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD), the Asia Foundation and Assembly for the Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources as part of Development.
In Thailand there are more than 122 laws and 1,000 pieces of sub-ordinate legislation related to land, natural resources and environment. The current laws and subordinate legislation are not effective at stopping degradation of land, natural resources and the environment. The loss and degradation of the environment is becoming more serious and is now affecting resources-dependent communities
"Natural resources and environment including land, water, forest and sea have gradually degraded. This reflects the ineffectiveness of laws and their enforcement. Existing laws are in many cases unable to cope with fast changing society, “says Prateep Meekatotham, Senior Officer of LRCT and MWD national working group.
The Thai Constitution B.E. 2550 (2007) guarantees the right of the citizen (those who are eligible to vote) to propose draft Acts to the President of the National Assembly for consideration. To be eligible the proposed draft law needs to be supported by 10,000 Thai citizens. By guaranteeing this right the Thai Constitution has ensured that communities are able to be involved in reviewing and drafting of legislation.
The LRCT has a mandate to review, draft and recommend six proposed new pieces of legislation on water , environmental quality , coastal and marine management , land management , mining and on the establishment of an Independent Commission on Environment and Health. However, due to the floods in 2011 and the current government focus on water and natural resource management the LRCT has decided to focus on water resources legislation and natural resources and environment legislation.
The rationale behind the LRCT’s mandate for reforming the natural resources and environmental laws is based on a number of issues with the current environmental legislation. The main issues are problems with basic principles and foundations of thinking behind the current laws, relating to
- the development process for new laws;
- content of proposed laws; and
- law enforcement.
"To cope with changes in society, it's important to consider and come up with basic principles for development of laws on natural resources and management of the environment. From the meeting today, there are many interesting principles that the group came up with, such as public participation, and common property or common assets. This meeting sees that the issue of common property, in a customary aspect, means natural resources are owned by everyone, not just the state," explains Tawatchai Rattanasorn, Senior Programme Officer of IUCN Thailand.
He also adds that "Thailand should recognize the importance of commitment to international conventions and agreements ratified by the State, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples".
Throughout the workshop some key principles were discussed that need to be referred to when developing the legislation and inserted into the legislation to ensure that any future amendments do not contradict the initial principles and objectives.
"Natural resources laws are not the same as other laws. Sustainable development principles need to be considered. However, those principles are rather broad. Therefore, it is important to emphasize decentralization and include stakeholders at all levels. We need to allow those marginalized groups to have better access to the law. Besides, if we can integrate area-based and holistic development, we don't have to worry about using tools like Polluters Pays Principle", suggests Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, a Committee member of the Independent Commission on Environment and Health.
The workshop was productive and by the end of the day all participants agreed that natural resources and environment law reform will be need to aligned with the Thai Constitution, as well as international conventions and agreements, and there will be an emphasis on public participation through the drafting process and when the law is proposed to cabinet and parliament. It was also agreed that workshop participants’ recommendations will be used to guide the development of new laws and for reviewing e mind-set of people in society to be able to cope with the changes we are experiencing. If we don't change, we can't live together with nature and the environment. We have to do it now. Otherwise, we cannot protect nature and the environment. This means we won't be able to protect the lives of ourselves and others," ends Pairote Polphet, a Committee member of the LRCT.
The Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD) is coordinated and facilitated by IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature and supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. It was initiated to work with countries of the Mekong Region – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam – to improve water governance by facilitating transparent and inclusive decision-making to improve livelihood security, human and ecosystem health.
For more information, please contact Tawatchai Rattanasorn, Senior Programme Officer, IUCN Thailand. Email: tawatchai.RATTANASORN@iucn.org
By Dararat Weerapong and Teigan Allen