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Defending environmental and human rights in Thailand: Enlaw’s Surachai and Supaporn

Environmental law and human rights are closely intertwined. Often fighting for one leads to fighting for the other. Surachai and Supaporn from EnLaw were working for a human rights law firm when they were assigned a case which turned into one of Thailand’s most notable cases of environmental litigation where ethnic villagers prevailed.

Several dozen community activists had been protesting against a coal power plant. Many of the activists were charged by the police for trespassing and disorderly conduct. Some were facing years of jail time. As a result, Surachai and Supaporn formed En Law in 2001, one of Thailand's first organizations dedicated to empowering marginalized communities to protect their environmental rights through litigation and advocacy.

In 2003, En Law took on the case of Klity Creek, which would become a landmark environmental case. Since the 1960s, toxic runoff from a local mining operation was polluting Klity creek, leading to rising cases of lead poisoning among the residents with no funds for legal assistance.

The villagers were powerless against the continuing industrial pollution, with support from En Law, the Lawyers Council of Thailand and other legal rights groups, the villagers filed and won three cases, including a landmark win at the Supreme Court. The rulings included compensation for more than 150 affected villagers and a restoration of the creek. The Klity Creek case also set a precedent for court ordered cleanups of industrial and mining toxic waste sites.

This is just one of the stories of the many environmental law champions across Asia who are fighting and winning battles for people and the environment. These champions are making positive change that echo for generations.