EARTH Thailand

NHRC looks into cross-border rights violations

Myanmar Times 06 March 2017 | Su Phyo Win      

The delegation led by Tuenjai  Deetes the National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand – along with journalists, researchers and civil society representatives – visited Dawei in late February to exchange views in a public forum and push forward the investigation of two Thailand cross-border investment firms: Myanmar Pongpipat company and Italian-Thai Development company. After the visit, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC of Thailand) will submit a report to the Thai and Myanmar governments.

During the visit, the commissioner met with the local community in Dawei and listened to the grievances of people affected by the two firms.

“One of the biggest issues is [that] … sedimentation from the mine … affects the environment. There’s a huge change in this area. Whether or not the demarcation area or mining area is not clear is not the issue.

“But the issue is that this mine has no right to change the environment and the landscape, which causes an impact on the livelihood of the people living in this area,” she said, relating to the Heinda mine operated by Myanmar Pongpipat company since 1999 on more than 2000 acres of land in Myitta township, Dawei District in Tanintharyi Region.

The commissioner supported and advocated the community’s recommendations, and now she demands to restore the river.

“We can’t believe that there has been a river before, as we don’t really see the river. Restoring the area and then rehabilitating the river should be the main priority. In the past, the community and villagers can use the river and then catch some fish to eat. But at the moment, their livelihood has disappeared…”, she said.

“As the human rights commissioner from Thailand, and who’s also in charge of the subcommittee on the community rights and natural resources as its chairperson, I saw the impact of the villagers from the mining company,” Mrs Tuenjai said.

“I would like to bring about the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights [UNGPs] which state that the Myanmar government also has to undertake these principles … in terms of the practices on the ground.

“The efforts made by the commission’s second visit, which came here to conduct fact finding, also will result in a report on policy recommendations to the government. And right now, we have cabinet resolutions regarding these issues in the cases of cross-border investments,” she added.

In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed the UNGPs, a set of guidelines for countries and companies to prevent and address human rights abuses committed in business operations. In 2015, the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) published a Myanmar language translation of the UNGPs.

As for the Heinda case, the commissioner said she would be in charge of the subcommittee. The team will supervise and follow up the implementation of cabinet resolutions regarding Thai firms investing cross-border.

“As the Thai Human Rights Commission, we are going to seek cooperation with the Myanmar Human Rights Commission [MHRC] in terms of what they can do for the Heinda case,” the commissioner explained.

The Heinda and Bawapin mines have long been opposed by local communities, who have accused the companies of polluting water supplies and ruining farmland.

At the end of June 2016, the Myanmar Times reported that state-run No 2 Mining Enterprise ordered Thailand’s Myanmar Pongpipat company, which operated the Heinda tin ore mining project, and Eastern Mining company which ran Bawapin mine, to put a halt to their work.

U Myint Maung, Tanintharyi Region minister for natural resources and environmental conservation, said that the two companies failed to keep the terms of their contracts, broke mining laws and damaged the environment.

According to the commissioner, the Thai government is concerned about human rights violations and protection.

Members of the business community in Thailand and other countries tend to maximise their profit without taking the social and environmental impact into account.

“The subcommittee [should] … come and see here directly the people and the documents. When we go back to Thailand, we will invite the ministry of foreign affairs and many ministries … to come and ask them to protect the human rights of the villages here,” she said.

“This is the reason that the UNGPs are promoted in every country which is a member of the UN, in order to follow the principles on business and human rights. But the principles have not become … something to be enforced by law yet. So I think if every country adopts UNGPs on the national level, it [the country] will be more practical.

“We would like to advise our Thai government to legislate the UNGPs as law on the national level,” she added.

The commissioner explained that the NHRC would like to collaborate with the MHRC on different aspects because “this human rights violation is happening in Myanmar”.

“So if both commissions work together, it will be more practical. I have to discuss this with the ministry of foreign affairs of Thailand in terms of how to cooperate.”

It could be a starting point for the MHRC because their work might be limited at present. But if the Thai counterpart initiated the collaboration, it might be easier for initiatives to kick off.

“Let us be clear that the NHRC is here because the commissioner is invited to come and participate in the public forum in Dawei,” she said, adding that NHRC did not visit Dawei as an investigations unit.

The NHRC has three main priorities on its agenda in 2017. The first one is business and human rights and the second priority is community rights and natural resources management.

According to Mrs Tuenjai , those two issues are related to companies like the Heinda mining business. She believes those examples can be good case studies for the NHRC to work on to tackle cross-border human rights violations.

“For me, this is a great honour for the NHRC of Thailand to have the trust of the people here who sent us the letter about the human rights violations of Thai companies. I would encourage them also to trust the MHRC,” she said.