The highland people of Thailand are ethnic minorities denied citizenship in the country of their birth. Without legal status, they are considered “illegal aliens” in their own country, subject to arrest, deportation, and abuse, and are denied basic rights such as education, health services, land ownership,political participation, and the right to travel freely.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, UNESCO, and Vital Voices Global Partnership presented a panel to discuss the highland people's plight. The ten-minute UNESCO film A Right to Belong, which portrays how they experience statelessness and the importance of citizenship in their own words, was screened.
- David A. Feingold, International Coordinator for Trafficking Programs, UNESCO, Bangkok
- Amanda Flaim, Statistical Consultant, UNESCO, Bangkok
Feingold’s research has shown that lack of citizenship is the single greatest risk factor for a highl and girl or woman in Thailand to be trafficked or otherwise exploited. Feingold and Flaim presented the results of UNESCO’s Highland Citizenship and Birth Registration Project. Funded by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sustainable Development Program Fund, this project includes the most extensive study of the relationship between the highland people’s lack of legal status and their inability to access social services.
- Kathleen Kerr, Vital Voices Global Partnership
Kerr discussed the findings of Vital Voices’ recently-published report examining the legal and practical obstacles highland people of Thailand face in accessing citizenship and the consequent vulnerability to human trafficking. Kerr, an associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, worked with Vital Voices to identify and analyze the barriers to citizenship that render the highland people stateless and susceptible to exploitation.
- Wenchi Yu Perkins, New York Office Representative and Human Rights Program Director, Vital Voices Global Partnership
Perkins represents Vital Voices to liaise with the United Nations and is responsible for expanding Vital Voices' network and building private-public partnerships in the Greater New York area. In addition, she manages and develops Vital Voices' human rights programs, including the hallmark anti-trafficking program.
- James A. Goldston, Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative
Goldston served as moderator and commentatorfor the panel presentation. He drew parallels between statelessnessamong the highland people of Thailand and other ethnic and racial minoritiesaround the world and described the Justice Initiative’s global advocacy efforts to combat statelessness.
Event audio is available below. Note that, for legal reasons, Kerr's portion of the presentation is not available.