Myanmar: ICJ held business and human rights workshop in Rakhine State

The ICJ conducted a two-day workshop on “Business and Human Rights” in Kyauk Phyu, Rakhine State on 30-31 May. The event was attended by 40 participants representing civil society organizations in Sittwe, Kyauk Phyu, Ann and Ponna Kyaunn.

It also included members from the township and district courts, township police force and members of parliament, focused on investment in Rakhine state in the absence of credible and transparent mechanisms to prevent human rights abuses.

The workshop occurred against the backdrop of myriad longstanding human rights issues in Rakhine State, including the humanitarian crisis confronting the state’s Rohingya population.

The State has also witnessed ongoing government repression of the State’s ethnic Rakhine population in response to demands for autonomy and their opposition to unregulated development of the State’s ample natural resources, including extensive gas deposits, at the expense of their livelihoods and rights.

The development of gas fields in the State has been fraught with human rights violations, including of forced labour and forced eviction of thousands of farmers from their lands.

As discussed during the workshop, since Myanmar’s relative opening up, the government has continued to invite and approve of foreign investors to develop resource extraction projects in Rakhine State, while locals resist the potential harmful effects of such projects on their livelihoods, properties and environment.

In 2013, hundreds of villagers protested against the adverse impacts of the Shwe gas pipeline construction – a large scale natural gas project developed by Daewoo International of South Korea in a joint venture with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.

Daewoo has once again ventured into Rakhine State, proposing a coal power plant in Kyaukphyu township, that could have adverse effects on the economic and environmental landscapes in local communities.

During ICJ’s previous trips to Sittwe and Kyaukphyu, local civil society activists had asked for information on responsible investment and national and international standards relating to displacement, land confiscations, and environmental and social impact assessments.

In the first day of the workshop, U Kyaw Min San, ICJ’S National Legal Adviser, led the discussion on fundamental citizen rights guaranteed in Myanmar legislation as well as an analysis of the land laws in Myanmar.

Daniel Aguirre, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, gave an overview of international human rights law and the role of States and business corporations in protecting and respecting economic, social and cultural rights.

Vani Sathisan, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, provided a legal analysis of Myanmar’s law on Special Economic Zones (SEZ), highlighting how the law fails to guarantee the protection of human rights and the environment while providing tax reliefs and exemptions, as well as land leases, to win over investors and developers.

On the second day, Daw Tin Tin Wai, Private Sector Policy Officer from Oxfam GB and a Campaign Officer from EarthRights International shared their experiences from Dawei SEZ and Thilawa SEZ, respectively.

They shared that lack of consultations with local communities and large-scale land confiscations through intimidation and threats occurring in the two SEZs reflected flaws in the government and judiciary to protect human rights and provide for access to remedy.

The workshop included a group discussion among the participants focusing on the role of local and international non-governmental organizations in Kyauk Phyu, Ponna Kyunn and Sittwe, the current situation of Kyauk Phyu SEZ and Ponna Kyunn industry zone and land issues related to such development projects.

Hayman Oo, ICJ’s Legal Researcher, facilitated the discussion, which served to highlight the specific themes around which the CSOs were organizing their advocacy and research.

At the closing dinner, U Kyaw Min San extended the ICJ’s appreciation to all the local CSOs for their participation and active engagement, and reiterated the ICJ’s support to work with community-driven organizations to work on recommendations to the government and businesses on transparency, prior consent and consultation, and compensations, and to push for a more rights-compliant approach to investments in Kyaukphyu.

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