‘Low point’ in world heritage committee history as politics ‘tramples’ human rights of the Karen people

Along Thailand’s border with Myanmar, in rich forests filled with rare plants and animals, the indigenous Karen people are fighting for the right to live on their traditional land.

Last month, the UN’s human rights agency said the Karen continued to be forcibly evicted from the Kaeng Krachan forests. Thailand’s application to inscribe the forests as a world heritage site must be denied, the agency said.

Unesco came to a similar conclusion. Yet in a meeting of the world heritage committee, the 21-member countries handed the forests the coveted global status.

Like the decision not to place the Great Barrier Reef on a world heritage “in danger” list, the Kaeng Krachan inscription is part of what conservationists say is a worrying politicisation of world heritage decisions.

The UN had said the Karen people were being threatened and forcibly evicted from their traditional lands, and their homes in Kaeng Krachan were being burnt. What are thought to be the remains of one Karen land rights defender, Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, were found in an oil drum at a dam in the forest in 2019.

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Graham Readfearn