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Chayan Vaddhanaphuti

HRD & Professor
Chiang Mai University

Chayan Vaddhanaphuti is a human rights defender, an academic and the founding director of Chiang Mai University‘s Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development. A strong advocate for the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples in Thailand, he works to defend their rights to land and natural resources. He is well-known for his activism against development projects that would be detrimental to local communities’ rights, including large-scale hydropower and logging. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti promotes principles of sustainable development with full respect for community rights, including their right to participate in decision-making around development projects.


Human rights defenders in Thailand face threats, physical assaults, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, and extrajudicial killings. HRDs most at risk include those working with migrants, particularly along the border with Burma, those who are fighting for economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights, and those working in the conflict zone of the three border provinces in Southern Thailand. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has documented 35 cases of extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders between 2003 – 2012, approximately 30 of whom were HRDs working on ESC rights. Many of these cases have not been properly investigated by the authorities.

Freedom of expression is limited in particular by the use of the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste law (prohibiting the criticism of the royal family), which have been repeatedly used to target political activists, human rights defenders and other independent voices. Police have also responded violently to peaceful protests, using excessive force against local communities demonstrating peacefully against the construction of dams or oil pipelines. In several instances, police have arrested and charged a number of protesters and human rights defenders. Trade unionists have also been prosecuted because of their work and charged with organising illegal assemblies.