Memorial to Sutthi Atchasai, Thailand Environmental Defender

By Carole Excell (Posted: July 16, 2014)

We received information today that Sutthi Atchasai, a community environmental advocate and activist in Thailand was shot last night and pronounced dead early this morning. The police have not yet concluded the cause of his death. The TAI Secretariat is saddened and shocked by this news. He was an environmental defender for his community and a right to information activist as well. He is a huge loss to Thailand and the Map ta Phut community. It was a privilege to work with him and TAI will miss him greatly.

I remember the first time I met Sutthi Atchasai( called Sutthi) when I traveled to Thailand to launch our Access Initiative project, the Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment (STRIPE). We visited Map ta Phut, the project location where we planned to help communities get information about the pollution released into the local environment. Established by the government of Thailand, the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate has a long, documented history of air and water pollution. Home to 147 factories—including petrochemical plants, oil refineries, coal-fired power stations, iron and steel facilities, and an industrial port—the Estate occupies 8,000 acres built over about 30 agricultural and residential communities Sutthi invited us to some local offices and in Thai began a presentation made up of pictures where he described his Map TA Phut Community and how it had changed over the years from a farm land community to one of the largest industrial estates in Thailand. He then documented for us his fight to address air and water pollution, coastal changes and multiple industrial accidents that had released chemicals that affected schools and communities all around Map ta Phut. We were all mesmerized.

He talked to us about his decision to develop the Eastern Community Network and then eventually the hard decision, especially in Thailand, to take a case to the constitutional court to stop the Estate expansion and find a lawyer to challenge the Government’s decision. He spoke of winning the case and the court issuance of a ruling acknowledging that Map Ta Phut pollution adversely affects people’s health and the environment and ordered a plan to reduce the pollution. The court also suspended 76 industrial projects due to their failure to conduct health impact assessments, which are required under Thailand’s Constitution. Sutthi also documented the protests that he had led including to the embassies of the US and Canada demanding that they require companies within the Map ta Phut estates from the US and Canada to proactively release information about their pollution.

Sutthi Atchasai agreed to work with our partners, the Thailand Environmental Institute as part of our STRIPE project to use the Thailand Right to Information Act to request data from the Government about companies within the estate. He also agreed to introduce us to community members and be part of our project where we would use the results of this research to work with the Government to advocate for proactively released information about company pollution. He journeyed to WRI’s office in Washington at the end of the project with Government officials and participated in a study tour with WRI that talked about innovations in the US system for release of company pollution and enforcement data and the ways civil society in the US have used this data to reduce pollution. I remember at the end of the tour he thanked us for providing this opportunity to him.

We honor him, salute his life’s work and convey our sincere condolences to his family and the Map Ta Phut community.