Burma's Thein Sein meets U.S. President Barack Obama in Yangon, 18 November 2012

Burma Says Reform Publicly, Amid Land-Grabbing Violence – OpEd

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By Zin Linn

As the President Thein Sein Government of Myanmar (Burma) gains credits right through the international sphere, villagers in country’s eastern parts are being displaced and their lands confiscated to make way for development projects, the Karen Human Right Group (KHRG), a grassroots Karen-led human rights organization, said clearly during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT).

In the press conference Tuesday, Karen Human Rights Group launched a report – ‘Losing Ground: Land conflicts and collective action in eastern Myanmar’- which concentrated on the most challenging and burning human rights issue, especially about land-grabbing violence by military and administrative authorities, reported by the villagers throughout eastern region of the country.

According to the study of KHRG’s ground records collected between January 2011 and November 2012 in seven geographic research areas in eastern Myanmar (Burma) indicates that natural resource extraction and development projects undertaken or facilitated by civil and military State authorities, armed ethnic groups and private investors caused not only confiscation of native villagers’ land but also forced dislocation without official consultation and compensation. In addition, the authorities even give no notice to the project-affected groups of people.

Following the government’s reforms, there was a ceasefire agreement signed between the President Thein Sein’s representatives and counterparts from the Karen National Union (KNU) in January 2012. Afterward, dozens of business and development projects have been set off in eastern Burma (Myanmar). First of all, these projects have been started with displacement and land confiscation, without compensation or due process of the law, KHRG said. Eastern Myanmar remains highly militarized. As investment actors more and more join together with local and national authorities to get hold of land in eastern part of the country. The local communities know that asking for getting back of their own land brings a prearranged threat.

The KHRG’s report includes analysis on the context, the current legal framework, trends of project implementation (including types of investment and actors), as well as consequences and the ways that villagers are responding. The report – Losing Ground – reveals authentic evidences of the villagers on the topic of the impact of development projects including the Dawei Mega-port and the Shweygin Dam, and identifies the government, corporate, and armed actors who have failed to meet their ethical and legal obligations to the communities of eastern Burma.

According to the KHRG, This report draws on villagers’ interviews and testimony, as well as other forms of documentation including photographs, film and audio recordings, collected by community members who have been trained by KHRG to report on the local human rights situation. Findings in this report are based on field information across seven research areas, covering all or part of Kayin and Mon States and Bago and Tanintharyi Regions. Of 809 documents analyzed, 99 raised concerns or dealt with issues related to natural resource extraction and development projects in eastern Myanmar.

The documentation has been analysed for cases in which villagers’ access to and use of land has been disrupted. This report highlights trends of abuse, and details obstructions to the formal channels of complaint or redress that villagers face. The report closes by outlining the serious consequences created by such abuses and the lack of meaningful inclusion of villagers in the making of decisions, which affect them so fundamentally.

The KHRG highlights its findings in the report obviously. It says that villagers were not consulted before a project began, nor given an opportunity to enter into dialogue or request additional information. Villagers expressed land confiscation as a result of the project spreading out and intrusion onto land in conjunction with the project site. Besides, the authorities confiscated land belonging to refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs) with no respect to the human rights.

Villagers explained also that they were never offered compensation, nor provided with an opportunity to negotiate for compensation even though their lands were damaged due to the development project. Local inhabitants described relocation orders issued by military and local authorities were often come with threats of violence for non-cooperation.

The report spotlights, “Forms of collective action described include: writing complaint letters to Myanmar government bodies, to the KNU or to private companies; organizing public protests; forming committees to submit complaints and strengthen collective bargaining ability; directly negotiating with relevant authorities; and refusing to comply with verbal or written orders.”

KHRG’s report also suggests that all development actors must do environmental, health and human rights impact assessments prior to project implementation. The assessments must be carried out independently of the actor’s interests. There must be a consultation with project-affected communities and assessments must be made publicly available in all local languages.

In addition, development projects should be planned in consultation with local population, with full disclosure of information relating to how the projects could affect their lands and livelihoods. Communities should participate in decisions regarding size, scope, compensation, and means of project implementation, the report says.

Finally, KHRG urges domestic civil societies to keep up knowledge-sharing and giving support to independent associations across the country. The grassroots right organization also encourages the media to make bigger coverage of land conflicts in rural eastern Myanmar (Burma).


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