Supaporn Malailoy, 46, is not a lawyer. But since 2000, she has devoted her life to champion environmental and human rights issues on behalf of Thailand’s rural communities.
For three years, the people of Si Maha Phot and Kabinburi Districts in Prachinburi Province have been suffering from the effects of several landfills that spread across 205 rai of land.
The residents in the area number around 5,000 people, most of whom are either farmers or factory workers.
According to Supaporn, the water and soils around the communities are damaged. The air is toxic, and therefore residents are risking cancer daily.
Last year in August, a group of activists calling themselves the Khon Rak Kroksomboon Group sent an open letter to the governor to file a complaint about the landfills, which are operated by a private company.
The leader of the group is Sumet Rianphongnam, a 48-year-old farmer.
In May of this year, Sumet received a court warrant for defamation, the private company in question is suing him for 50 million baht.
Enter Supaporn to help Sumet and the activist group in their legal battles.
Supaporn is the general manager of the environmental foundation EnLaw Foundation (Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants), established in 2000. Through litigation, training, and advocacy, EnLaw fights for the land and resource rights on behalf of Thailand’s marginalized communities.
What has happened since the submission of the letter last year?
They’ve set up a committee combining residents and representatives from the government and the company. They are supposed to discuss and find solutions.
So far, they have covered the landfills with rubber sheets. It helps with the smell a little. But there are other issues. For example, garbage trucks are always running in and out, and also chemical waste dumped into the river.
Apart from the 50 million baht lawsuit, did anything else happen?
In September last year, Sumet and his wife were shot at in three separate incidents. There was 14 bullets total fired at them. Another activist also had a few flash grenades thrown at him. It was an attempt to scare him, not to kill him.
I’m very shocked at the level of harm they are doing to the locals. It’s too much. These people are just standing up for what’s right for their communities. The government needs to be more firm and do something about this.
Do activists in Thailand often get sued?
It happens very often. Every time a local activist comes to consult with us about their community’s situation, my organization would immediately set up a budget, just in case they get sued. We always have to think ahead.
We are also very concerned about attempts to intimidate the activists and even threats to their lives and well being.
There was this one case, in which an activist was shot dead right in the middle of a local market. This wasn’t an attempt to threaten gone wrong. It was outright murder.
I am very thankful that these people are standing up to try and save their communities. But instead of receiving help, they face legal charges, lawsuits, and possible murder.
How bad is the landfill problem in our country?
Since the Kor Sor Chor [National Council for Peace and Order, NCPO] took over, they have opted out the regulations for city planning, which makes it easier for companies to get approvals to build landfills.
Before this, there were green areas preserved for the communities. But these days, landfills can be built just about anywhere, including close to people’s homes, and it affects the local ecosystem.
How bad is it?
I think we are already in a crisis, and it must stop now. Especially in the eastern part of Thailand, every day, people face the risk of getting cancer. Thailand doesn’t have any regulations or departments to oversee how factories affect local communities.