Myanmar: ICJ convenes workshop in Shan State on Business and Human Rights

On 22 and 23 July the ICJ convened a workshop on Business, the Environment and Human Rights Law in Taunggyi, the capital of Myanmar’s Shan State.

This followed meetings between the ICJ’s legal advisers and the Shan State High Court and also with the State Advocate General on 13 July, to discuss rule of law developments.

The workshop aimed to identify ways to address the impacts of business activities on human rights and the environment, through legal advocacy including strategic litigation, and to provide a forum for cooperation and experience sharing among participants.

More than 50 lawyers, parliamentarians, human rights defenders and civil society representatives attended from Shan, Kayah and Mon states – provinces that together border Thailand, Laos and China.

An overview of the investment context was provided by Dr Myint Zaw of Paung Ku Myanmar, who also shared lessons from environmental activism in Myanmar.

As well as highlighting weaknesses in domestic law and policy, he presented concerns around lack of transparency and information sharing between the legislature and executive branches of government.

Australian lawyer and ICJ consultant Mae Tanner gave an overview of international human rights law and standards relevant to business activities and environmental protection, particularly emphasizing the obligations assumed by Myanmar in ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

She offered insights as to how UN mechanisms can be used by civil society to advance their advocacy on business and human rights in Myanmar.

Senior Advocate U Myint Thwin drew on his extensive litigation experience to share perspectives on the complex and confusing array of land laws in Myanmar and emphasized the importance of legal knowledge and training to combat corruption and achieve accountability.

The ICJ’s legal adviser Mr Sean Bain outlined the domestic laws relevant to investment and environmental protection in Myanmar and highlighted some key provisions that offer protection against human rights violations and abuses.

He noted the government’s stated aim of promoting the rule of law in Myanmar and emphasized the importance of demanding accountability, transparency and justice in this context.

Amarin Saichan, lawyer with Thai NGO EnLAW, shared experiences of pursuing strategic litigation to address unlawful and harmful business activities in Thailand, stressing the need for creativity in using the law to seek justice and accountability.

He also raised concerns around the use by government of strategic litigation against public participation in Thailand and explained how Thai lawyers are using the courts to guarantee the right protest against harmful development projects.

Participants had the opportunity to discuss how the strategies they shared could be used in the context of issues faced by their communities.

These included human rights and environmental concerns raised by energy and extractive projects, restrictions on shifting agriculture, and violations of the right to freedom of expression and assembly faced by communities who oppose state-backed developments.

They considered advocacy strategies for four case studies selected by participants from across Shan, Kayah and Mon states.

Throughout the workshop speakers and participants highlighted the importance of cooperation between civil society and lawyers, and the need to use Myanmar’s legal system more proactively as part of their broader advocacy strategies.

This workshop is part of the ICJ’s ongoing support to lawyers and civil society in Myanmar.