UNDP reports reveal the human rights defenders are still targeted by businesses, with 37% resulting in violence leading to loss of life.

February 11, 2024


In recent times, human rights defenders in Thailand have risen up to demand and protect rights on various continuous issues. Human rights defenders are ordinary individuals engaged in various professions but are facing violations impacting their lives, health, and the environment. They choose to protect their own rights and those of the community, either individually or by coming together as a group. However, the progress of standing up to protect rights in Thailand has come at a high cost that human rights defenders must bear.


On the International Day to Prevention of Violence of Extremism, observed on February 12th every year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has discussed about the two UNDP’s reports regarding cases of the role of human rights defenders and laws and meatures that address strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) in the context of business and human rights. The reports highlight that freedom of expression for such activist groups in Thailand is still under threat, and there is intimidation against them. Promoting the core principles of human rights in the justice process is another avenue for preventing violence.

Human rights defenders who come forward to disclose information about businesses face various forms of violations and abuses, to the extent that 30% of them even lose their lives.


The impact on human rights resulting from business activities is one of the most crucial issues that human rights defenders strive to protect. This makes them the primary targets of various forms of attacks orchestrated by businesses.

According to statistical data from a study on the protection of human rights defenders in Thailand by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), conducted from the year 2001 to 2021, it was found that human rights defenders are targeted to the extent that up to 30% of them lose their lives. Meanwhile, other forms of intimidation include physical harm, surveillance, and arrest, leading to disappearances.


There have been 109 cases of lawsuits suppressing public speech in the past 25 years, with the mining industry initiating the cases the most.


Apart from intimidation in the a forementioned form, the use of extrajudicial processes to silence the rights of human rights defenders, such as strategic lawsuits aimed has been increasingly observed in Thailand. The SLAPP cases initiated by businesses include both civil and criminal suits, with the intention of undermining the power and resources of human rights defenders who rise up to advocate and protect rights. This poses challenges for human rights defenders in expressing their opinions and driving towards transformative changes.

A study report on laws and meatures that address strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) in the context of business and human rights found that, over a period of 25 years, from the year 1997 to June 2022, there were a total of 109 cases falling under the characteristics of silencing the human rights defenders initiated by both business and state enterprises. In Thailand, both civil and criminal cases were involved, with criminal cases having a much higher severity, constituting 74% of the total, while civil cases made up the remaining 26%. The mining industry was identified as the most who initiated such lawsuits, accounting for 34%, followed by the livestock industry at 21.1%, and the energy sector at 13.8%. This aligns with statistics indicating that over half, or 53%, of all cases that tried to silence the human rights defender, were centered around natural resources and the environment.

The target groups that often face a high risk of being subjected to strategic lawsuits aimed at suppressing public participation are typically community leaders or activists who advocate environmental issues through information dissemination/online expression (28%). Following closely are gatherings/associations (21%), media interviews (15%), media duties (10%), and filing complaints to authorities (9%).


The impacts of strategic lawsuits on the life of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression of the Thai people.


"This involves going to court approximately once a month, incurring expenses, and losing time, as it takes almost a year for the court proceedings," said a human rights defender during an interview conducted as part of a study on the protection of human rights defenders in Thailand by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Lawsuits aimed at suppressing freedom of expression have significant impacts on both the professional and mental aspects of human rights defenders. This is because, for the most part, they still have to pursue their careers and education. The consequences of such strategic lawsuits create burdens on the social, economic, and psychological aspects of the individuals facing these lawsuits. Particularly, cases that require lengthy consideration and involve criminal charges with potential imprisonment intensify the burdens and pressures on the individuals involved.

The protection of human rights defenders is identified as one of the four key priorities in the first and second versions of Thailand's National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP). The plan introduces various measures, including amending relevant laws, facilitating an access to complaint mechanisms, and providing remedies for those affected.

However, the varying levels of understanding and acceptance regarding the roles of human rights defenders between government agencies and businesses, especially at the local level, remain a significant challenge. Therefore, personnel involved in the justice process, such as judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, play a crucial role in the protection and access to remedies for human rights defenders. This includes understanding and acknowledging the dynamics of society in this regard, aiming to create a safe environment for freedom of expression for the public.

"Various state agencies related to human rights protection need to see us as citizens who rise up to fight as human rights defenders, not as individuals who obstruct development," said human rights defenders during the preparation of this report.

Download report on Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Thailand

Download report on Laws and Measures Addressing Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in the Context of Business and Human Rights