Rare triumphs for the little man
The dawning of the Year of the Snake seems to augur well for the "Davids" -- the little men and women, the underprivileged waging legal battles to defend their basic constitutional rights against transgressions by the Goliaths in the business and bureaucratic empires -- thanks to the Administrative Court.
- Published: 18/01/2013 at 10:24 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
It took around a decade for the Klity Creek lead contamination case and the Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline protest case to finally bear fruit. The final rulings by the Supreme Administrative Court are indeed a welcome reprieve and a rare victory for the underprivileged.
In a period of just a week, the Davids finally won two hard-fought court cases against the Goliaths:
- After nine years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Administrative Court on Jan 10 issued its judgement, ordering the Pollution Control Department (PCD) to pay 22 Karen villagers in Klity village, Thong Pha Phum district of Kanchanaburi, a total of 3.8 million in compensation for its failure to clean up Klity Creek. The villagers' only water source, it was heavily polluted with lead waste illegally discharged by Lead Concentrate Company, exposing the community to deadly lead contamination and illness.
- On Jan 16, the Supreme Administrative Court delivered a final ruling on the Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline protest case, after 10 years of interminably slow court proceedings. The court ruled the police guilty of using unnecessary force to break up a demonstration by villagers in Songkhla’s Jana district and ordered the Royal Thai Police Office to pay 100,000 baht in total compensation to the protesters injured by the police.
This was a scene from the chaotic protest against the southern pipeline in 2002, described by the Supreme Administrative Court as a case of violence by police against citizens. (File photo)
The levels of compensation set by the court in both cases are relatively insignificant, and certainly far too small to redress the sufferings heaped on the 22 Karen villagers or the injuries suffered by the gas pipeline protesters. That's another issue. It's the principle, the precedent, that is important at this point - and the court's role in it.
Surapong Kongchanthuek, an activist fighting for the Klity villagers’ cause, said after the judgement that money was never the main goal of their legal battle, which was principally meant to send a strong message to the authorities – in this case the PCD and the Ministry of Natural Resources – that they have an obligation to protect the safety of the Karen community, no matter how few or underprivileged they may be.
The Supreme Administrative Court’s rulings in both cases should serve as a precedent for other similar cases still pending in the Administrative Court or waiting to be brought to court.
In the gas pipeline affair, the police should have been more restrained in their handling of an unruly protest. In this case, although the Supreme Administrative Court agreed that some of the protesters were armed with swords and slingshots, the protesters as a whole were not systematically armed as claimed by the police. The court also reprimanded the police for not following proper mob-control procedure and instead using aggressive force to disperse the crowd.
The Administrative Court is viewed by the little men, the underprivileged people, as their last resort in their desperate efforts to fight injustice – be it a violation of their right to personal safety, a healthy environment, the right to clean and unpolluted air and water, or whatever.
On the opposite side, however, is Big Business and the many politicians who have a negative, almost resentful, attitude towards the Administrative Court, accusing the judges of siding with the underprivileged, the Davids.
It is very disturbing indeed that many supporters of constitutional amendment want to clip the wings of the Administrative Court in a self-seeking desire to appease Big Business.
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
- Position: Former Editor