Thailand: Nasae Yapa

In the beginning, I was really scared of the officials, but now I am not. I have realized that if we do not stand up to protect our own rights, we will continue to be intimidated.

— Nasae Yapa

Nasae Yapa (born 1966) is a Lahu hill tribe farmer and village headwoman who has advocated the protection of the rights of the hill tribes since 1990. In the process, she has been intimidated and imprisoned by the authorities. She has remained steadfast to the cause, however, conveying to local officials that they cannot take the hill tribes for granted.

Nasae Yapa of the Lahu Hill Tribe Network is an active member of the network of Seven Tribal Groups of Thailand. She has been trained on laws concerning women and serves as a volunteer for a project campaigning against the flesh trade and promoting the rights and dignity of indigenous peoples. When the government launched its 'War on drugs' in 2001, she assisted the local police by providing information on drug smugglers. But the authorities, who earned points from the national government on the basis of the number of arrests they made, took advantage of her and other villagers. Uniformed officers entered their homes and planted metamphetamine tablets when the owners were not looking. Then, they forced the villagers to plead guilty before the courts or face longer prison terms. Since most villagers do not have land titles or even Thai citizenship, it is almost impossible for them to get bail. Many villagers, including Nasae Yapa’s younger brother, were arrested on similar charges of drug possession. When she spoke up for the villagers who were being abused, she was charged with obstructing the work of the officers. Although many villagers testified on her behalf and insisted that she did not physically harm an officer, she was charged with harming officers and helping drug traffickers escape the law and was sentenced to a six-month prison term. After her release, Nasae Yapa vowed to continue the fight against corruption and abuse of power. "Now I am not afraid of the officers. In the beginning, it was quite difficult to convince the others in the community, because they believed the officers were always right. But since the people witnessed direct abuse, they are now willing to stand up and fight."

Lahu Hill Tribe Network