UPCOMING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE SESSION: "Thailand’s Overseas Investment in Southeast Asia and Transnational (In)Justice" [16 July 2017]

Session organized at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies
"Globalized Thailand?" Connectivity, Conflict, and Conundrums of Thai Studies

15:15-16:45, 16th July 2017, Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Center

Session convened by the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Thailand’s companies have become major investors in neighboring countries, including in agribusiness, hydropower, mining and various forms of industry. Thailand’s companies are backed by government policy, and typically financed by Thai commercial banks as well as, sometimes, Thailand’s Export Import Bank (Thai Exim). Thailand’s regional investment has furthermore been facilitated by various regional economic integration programs, including the Asian Development Bank’s Greater Mekong Subregion Program and more recently the ASEAN Economic Community. As one of the major economies of mainland Southeast Asia, Thailand has sought to positioned itself as central to economic regionalization. Given that Thailand itself is embedded within a wider global network of production, its companies’ investment in neighboring countries’ resource extraction and commodity production can also tied to a wider global political economy.

Whilst it seems that investment, commodities, goods and natural resources flow readily across borders, the same cannot be said of access to justice. In this panel, empirical case studies will be presented of Thailand’s cross-border investments that have in the process resulted in environmental and social harms, and in some cases violated human rights. The panel explores the various processes and arenas that have emerged as communities and civil society have sought redress and access to justice. These arenas have included in the national courts of the project host country, but also through various formal and informal cross-border processes that link to Thailand, including via Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (TNHRC), and in one example a case ruled upon by Thailand’s administrative court. Meanwhile, a report of the TNHRC on the Dawei Special Economic Zone in Myanmar led to a Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommendation in March 2016 that the government should set up a mechanism for the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for Thai companies investing overseas. Thus, a wider array of international norms is also brought into play, reflecting the legal pluralism that nowadays governs cross-border investments. This also brings into focus a question of the extra-territorial obligations of Thailand with regard to the investment of Thai companies.

This panel will critically evaluate Thailand’s investment role in the region through the lens of transnational social and environmental justice. Through empirical case studies on agribusiness, hydropower and special economic zones, the political economy of these investments will be explored in order to understand the production of injustice and human rights violations.  The papers will ask: what are the roles, opportunities and challenges for public interest law, national/ regional human rights institutions, other transnational soft law mechanisms, and civil society to protect and promote human rights on Thailand’s investments?

  • Paper 1:  Accountability Beyond the State: Extra territorial obligations in the case of the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Concession, Cambodia by Michelle D’cruz
  • Paper 2: Redressing transboundary environmental injustice at the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Roadlink Project by Naruemon Thabchumpon
  • Paper 3: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: Human Rights and Hydropower Dams on the Salween and Mekong Rivers by Carl Middleton

Discussant: Walden Bello.

Chair: Daniel King

Abstracts can be downloaded here (see page 7; session 53). Conference details are available here.

UPCOMING PUBLIC SEMINAR: "Water scarcity and disaster recovery in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar: Technical problem or governance challenge?" [5 July 2017]

14:00-16:00, Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Co-organized by the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) and the Master of Arts in International Development Studies of the Faculty of Political Science Chulalongkorn University.

This event will be broadcast on Facebook live: www.facebook.com/CSDSChula/


Hakha town is the capital of Chin State, Myanmar, located in the mountainous Northwest of the country. Chin State is one of the poorest states in Myanmar, including in terms of economy, basic infrastructure, and access to health care and education. This reflects a lack of long-term investment in basic services, as well as being the product of Myanmar’s long-standing conflict.

In recent years, the town’s population has faced growing water insecurity. This has created great hardships for the local population, especially in the dry season. For those who cannot access water from private springs, or afford to buy water, they must queue sometimes for hours to collect relatively small amounts of water. This situation has caused discontent towards the Municipal, State and Union level government, and has also on occasion caused conflict amongst the local population themselves.

Compounding the difficulties faced by Hakha’s population, in June 2015, Hakha town suffered a major landslide. As a result, over 4000 people living in at-risk places were moved, many permanently to a new settlement. In the settlement, the government has provided land or houses, yet basic services including water and schools were lagging behind. In the longer-term, the resettled people, who are mostly farmers, are uncertain about how they can make a living without access to farming land, and a perceived limited support from the government.

Research presented at the seminar will show how water insecurity is the product of physical, social and political processes that are inter-related, including: rising water demand due to a growing population without systematic town planning; deforestation of the surrounding watershed which has reduced water supply; and underinvestment in water supply infrastructure. The seminar will explore the underlying causes of these dynamics, as a basis for deliberating approaches to ensure equitable and reliable water access for all of Hakha’s residents.

Seminar speakers

  • “Water insecurity in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar” by Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (Director of CSDS) and Orapan Pratomlek (CSDS project coordinator)
  • “Prospects for improved water security: Municipal water, watershed protection, and urban planning” Van Bawi Lian (CSDS researcher)
  • “Lessons learned from landslide disaster recovery in Hakha town, and how to strengthen resilience” by Hlawn Tin Cuai (Master Student of Architecture (IMARCH), Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University; and ex- Operation Manager of Hakha Rescue Committee, September 2015 to February 2016)
  • Discussant: Pastor Lai Cung (Hakhathar Baptist Church)
  • Chair: Asst. Prof. Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon (Director of MAIDS Program, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University)
  • Opening remarks: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, Dean of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University (t.b.c.)

For further details on CSDS’s research on Water governance and access to water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar, visit here: http://www.csds-chula.org/water-security-in-hakha/

This research is supported by Chula UniSearch under the Human Security Cluster. 


UPCOMING PUBLIC SEMINAR: "Building Infrastructures. Monitoring Development" by Casper Bruun Jensen [24 January 2017]

UPCOMING PUBLIC SEMINAR: "Building Infrastructures. Monitoring Development" by Casper Bruun Jensen [24 January 2017]

Casper Bruun Jensen is an Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology, Osaka University. He is a Science, Technology and Society (STS) scholar. His theoretical and ethnographic works cover a wide range of issues such as Practical Ontology, Symmetrical Anthropology/Amodernism, Lateral Analysis, Multinaturalism/Environment, Development and Infrastructure.

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