March 6, 2017

This post updates our previous coverage of the case from August 2016

In a major victory for their ongoing struggle against a real estate developer, the People of the Sea or Chao Lay indigenous community of Rawai Beach in Phuket, Thailand have won legal recognition of their ancestral land.

The Provincial Court of Phuket on 31 January 2017 dismissed a lawsuit by Baron World Trade Co, which alleged that the community was trespassing on its land. The court ruled that although the company had received an official title to the disputed land from the government in 1965, the Chao Lay peoples’ settlement on Rawai Beach predates that time. As evidence of their pre-existing land claim, the court cited the records of a local school where 30 students from the community were enrolled before 1955 and video footage of a visit by the late king of Thailand, Bhumibol, in 1959.

For the Chao Lay, who have lived in this area long before the arrival of luxury tourist resorts, the beach and forests are not only essential for their livelihood, but are also central of their cultural identity. Their struggle was one of the cases highlighted by the Land Rights Now initiative during the Global Mobilization week in August 2016. The land dispute has often turned violent, resulting in physical attacks on the community and destruction of their property. In the past, the company has also blocked the community’s access to their land and sacred sites.

While the recent court judgement is a welcome step, this must be accompanied by concrete implementation of the verdict by the local government and an end to the denial of the Rawai Beach community’s rights. The Land Rights Now initiative stands in solidarity with Chao Lay peoples’ continued struggle for recognition and respect of their customary land claims.

Photo Credit: Chao Lay of Rawai