— Recent debates about governance, poverty and environmental sustainability have emphasized a ‘‘rights-based’’ approach, in which equitable development is strongly associated with individual and communal rights. This paper reviews this approach and explores its practical application to Thailand’s ‘‘Community Forestry Bill,’’ which seeks to establish communal rights of access and conservation in forest reserve areas. The paper examines conflicts concerning watershed forests and mangroves in Thailand, and argues that efforts to support rural livelihoods through community rights have been undermined by a state that has frequently supported commercial interests or opposed decentralization to minority groups. The paper documents how civil society organizations may negotiate rights within the wider public spheres in which rules, rights, and ‘‘community’’ are established, and defended. 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.