By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. human rights experts urged UNESCO on Friday 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 independent experts’ appeal came ahead of Monday’s review by a UNESCO committee, where the Thai government is seeking heritage status 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 Kaeng Krachan national park near the Myanmar border.
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.
“This is an important precedent-setting case, and may influence policies on how indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in protected areas across Asia,” the U.N. experts said in a statement.
“The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt,” they said.
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 statement said.
It said there had not been consultations in “good faith” allowing the Karen to take part in the UNESCO nomination process.
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.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Giles Elgood)