The indigenous peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country: indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers in the south of Thailand; small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east, and in eastern Thailand, especially along the border with Laos and Cambodia; and the many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (the Chao-Khao). With the drawing of national boundaries in South-east Asia during the colonial era and in the wake of decolonization, many peoples living in remote highlands and forests were divided. There is thus not a single indigenous people that resides only in Thailand.
Nine so-called “hill tribes” are officially recognized: the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu. There is no comprehensive official census data on the population of indigenous peoples. The most often quoted figure is that of the Department of Welfare & Social Development. According to this source, there are 3,429 “hill tribe” villages with a total population of 923,257 people. Obviously, the indigenous peoples of the south and north-east are not included.
A widespread misconception of indigenous peoples being drug producers and posing a threat to national security and the environment has historically shaped government policies towards indigenous peoples in the northern highlands. Despite positive developments in recent years, it continues to underlie the attitudes and actions of government officials. 296,000 indigenous persons in Thailand still lack citizenship, which restricts their ability to access public services such as basic health care or school admission.
Thailand has ratified or is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR), the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, The Indigenous World 2011
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