Call for solidarity from Bangkok: Zero Evictions for Pom Mahakan, an exemplary community facing terminal eviction after 25 years of struggle!
After a quarter of a century the tiny (under 300 inhabitants) Pom Mahakan community, which nestles against the original old city wall of Bangkok, Thailand, is faced with the very real threat that early August 2016 the authorities, violating the art. 11 ICESCR acceded by the country, will evict all the residents and begin the demolition of their homes on the name of a so called “beautification project”.
This is an international call: stand in solidarity and sign, right now, Zero Evictions for the Pom Mahakan community!
Behind the beautification project: the destruction of Pom Mahahkan Community
The demolition of the houses and the eviction of the residents are planned by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration in order to carry out a so-called “beautification” of the Pom Mahakan site as part of the implementation of the Rattanakosin Conservation and Development Plan.
But the reality is very different.
In 2004, two rows of houses were demolished and the city authorities took over the front area that the residents had been using for their community meetings and other social activities. They destroyed the beautiful garden painstakingly built by the residents and replaced it with an empty lawn crossed by cement paths. Within half a year, what they meant by a “park” had become clear: a wasteland, the cement paths cracked and the grassy expanse pocked with puddles and strewn with garbage, a dangerous and unguarded space at night and an eyesore by day. Where the residents had held firm, by contrast, was a functioning community, a site of exemplary cleanliness and good order, attractive to tourists and often pulsating with the social activities of the residents. This community, which earlier had freed itself of the drug scourge without any violence, has demonstrated its desire to live in accordance with the law, operating as a collectively organized society devoted to the preservation of a site of great importance in Thai history – one of the two remaining fortresses built as part of the original city wall by Rama I, alongside vernacular architecture dating to various periods following the 19th -century establishment of the original community by Rama III.
Why do the city bureaucrats want to dismantle the Pom Mahakan community, a unique treasure for Thailand with an enviable reputation for effective self-governance?
The community has demonstrated organization and artistic skills, reviving the likae dance-drama tradition at the site of its earliest performances in Bangkok; has encouraged artistic competitions and other activities for its children; and has been home to specialists in various traditional crafts and other skills. The subject of two major books (one in Thai, the other in English), and the object of widespread interest in the Thai and international media, the Pom Mahakan community has established an enviable reputation for effective self-governance. An increasingly popular study site for Thai students, it achieved considerable local fame for its rich collaboration with socially aware architects and planners and their students, reaching in 2004 an agreement with the city Governor of that time and with Silpakorn University for a land-sharing deal that would serve the interests of nation, city, and community at one and the same time.
That deal was wrecked by the intransigence of the city bureaucrats and of the more recent city leadership. Despite widespread evidence that legal justification could be made for the daring and creative experiment proposed at that time, the current authorities appear to be determined to make the irreversible error of destroying what has been a remarkable success story of resilience, adaptation, and knowledge production.
Pom Mahakan is a unique treasure that Thailand can ill afford to lose; its destruction would do lasting damage to Thailand’s reputation and tourist trade. Although a court order has temporarily restrained the projected eviction and demolition, it is not clear that the bulldozers can be held back for even the length of that delay.
The ethical and legal reasons to defend the Pom Mahakan community
Only urgent international engagement in solidarity may perhaps persuade the authorities to reflect on the enormous and irreparable damage that their current plan portends and to reconsider that plan before it is too late.
The authorities would be wise not to be denounced as violators of international legality at the United Nations Habitat III conference in Quito in October of this year, when they will discover exactly how widely the international fame of Pom Mahakan has spread.
They should instead show that they are committed to implementing the Recommendations of the East Asian session of International Tribunal on Evictions (Taipei, July 2-4 2016), where the case was successfully presented, as well as the Recommendations adopted at the 50th session of UN CESCR (Geneva, June 19 2015).
The authorities would then also discover what an enormous opportunity for Thailand the community’s preservation could represent. We urge them to consider all these ramifications of the Pom Mahakan case. A small community has achieved great things; its destruction would be the violation of international legality, a tragedy, and a scandal.
>>> Please stand in solidarity and click here right now to sign and send the Call for Zero Evictions Pom Mahakan!
The Recommendations adopted at the 50th session of UN CESCR (Geneva,June 19 2015) 1 .
The Committeerecommends that the State party2 take all necessary steps, including revising its legal and policy framework, toachieve the following:
- Respectits general comments no. 4 (1991) on the right to adequate housing and no. 7(1997) on forced evictions, increasing its efforts to overcome the housingshortage and ensure that persons living in informal settlements are protectedagainst forced evictions;
- Adopt a human-rights basedapproach in its development projects, as well as establish participatorymechanisms in order to ensure that no decision is made that may affect accessto resources without consulting the individuals and communities concerned,with a view to seeking their free, prior and informed consent.
 (excerpts)Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Concluding observations onthe combined initial and second periodic reports of Thailand on theimplementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and CulturalRights (E/C.12/THA/1-2) at its 28th to 30th meetings(E/C.12/2015/SR.28, 29 and 30) held in Geneva on 4 and 5 June 2015, andadopted, at its 50th meetingheld on 19 June 2015.
 Includinglocal and other subnational governments as precised at UN Human Rights Council,28th session 2015, Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequatehousing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living,and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, « Responsibilitiesof local and other subnational governments in relation to the right to adequatehousing ».
The Recommendations of 1st session of the International Tribunal on Evictions East Asia (Taipei, 2-4 July 2016) 3
- The BMA should cease and desist from all and every attempt to evictthe Pom Mahakan community from now on.
- Since the relevant Royal Decree was released in 1992 (i.e., 25 yearsago), many studies show that the intended park project does not fit with publicneeds. The BMA should reconsider the Royal Decree and propose anew scheme to the cabinet, which can then request a new Royal Decree that wouldsolve the problem in an equitable and just fashion.
- BMA must cease its attacks on the community’s reputation. Not only has the community consistentlyworked to negotiate with the BMA for a mutually satisfactory solution (such asthe one briefly achieved under Governor Apirak Kosayodhin in 2004 butsubsequently overturned through the legal maneuverings of the BMA bureaucrats),but it has demonstrated remarkable skills of self-management; in particular, ithas achieved the enviable goal of creating a drug-free environment withoutusing violence and in full cooperation with the relevant policeauthorities. The BMA should thereforecapitalize on this remarkable human resource rather than relying on slanderousattacks on people whose only desire is to work with the BMA authorities.
- As the community has the right to housing and to the continuousimprovement of living conditions as well as the right to work, the BMA shouldtake seriously the community’s proposed land-sharing plan through aparticipatory process that recognizes the community as an equal partner.
- Given the community’s impressive demonstration of its commitment tothe maintenance of its living traditions and heritage, the BMA and the nationalgovernment should take the wishes of the Pom Mahakan community (and of otheraffected communities) into serious account and should update the RattanakosinConservation and Development Plan to accommodate and make use of thissignificant contribution to the nation’s cultural life.
- UNESCO and other international organization specializing in culturalheritage and the preservation of monuments and of vernacular architectureshould be involved in advocating a social and human rights perspective in therevitalization of heritage projects in Bangkok.
- In Pom Mahakan, Thailand has one truly extraordinary demonstration ofa capacity – demonstrated in varying degrees by other poor communitiesthroughout the country – for effective self-management and for the sustainedcare of the architectural and historical heritage in which the community issituated. We call on the BMA and theGovernment of Thailand to acknowledge this remarkable resource as something inwhich city and nation can take justifiable pride and to do all within theirpower to preserve – rather than destroy – what could be a significant Thaicontribution to global concerns with effective and participatory localgovernance, social justice, and the protection of heritage.
The facebook URLs for the Pom community and for their 'fan' site (Mahakan Model)