Communities demand transparency and participation in Dawei SEZ
Myanmar Times 07 March 2017 | Su Phyo Win
Following their visit to Dawei, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC of Thailand) is going to invite key members from the two Thai companies – Myanmar Pongpipat company and Italian-Thai Development company – to discuss the community’s recommendations.
“After the election in Myanmar, Thailand and every country in the world supports Myanmar, we think that the government system of Myanmar will change. The government should respect the rights of the people and should resolve human rights violations. This is an expectation from the world and also from me,” Mrs Deetes said.
“I hope that the Heinda mining company and the SEZ developer company will be the first example of the Myanmar government to allow participation by the people and to release information and listen to the people’s voices. They should be allowed to take part in the discussion of public policy.
“In Thailand we are going to have a new law for minerals and mining – the focus of this new law is shaped by the participation of the people. So I hope that every mechanism of mining [regulation] in the world should take on board the people’s input ... If they [the government] will listen to the people, a problem like this would not happen again,” she added.
The commissioner believes that local communities and citizens should judge a company only after scrutinising its actions. If a Thai firm is not up to standard, the NHRC will deal with it. But some companies have good policies and responsible practices. Those responsible businesses may have a good attitude regarding human rights and they might comply with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
The people in the Dawei Special Economic Zone have sent a letter to the NHRC to follow up the investigation of government resolutions.
On May 16, this year, it will be one year since the cabinet resolutions of NHRC on Dawei investigation were formed.
“We will submit the report and recommendations to the government,” Mrs Deetes said.
The three key priorities are to compensate communal and environmental damage, to get all kinds of information about the development project and to secure a role in the decision making process. There needs to be a mechanism for people to take part, according to the commissioner.
“But for cross-border investment, the only thing the NHRC can do is report to the government. After that, it is the Thai government’s decision whether to take actions against the company committing human rights violation or not,” she said, adding that the NHRC can support or recommend legislations regarding cross-border investments.
“In the past, the investors just think about profits but they never care about human rights violations or the natural habitats destroyed by their businesses,” she said.
The subcommittee on the community rights and natural resources led by the commissioner will invite the executives of Italian-Thai Development to listen to the local communities in Dawei.
“Because we came here to find and collect information, we get recommendations from the community ourselves. We can only report to the government and business people. I appreciate the strength of the people; they are not silent, as in the past, they are starting to fight,” she said.
U Thant Zin, the coordinator of Dawei Development Association (DDA) said the commissioner’s visit will help push the Thai government to legislate a new law related to protecting the environment and human rights from Thai cross-border investment companies.
“In Thailand, there are civil society groups and communities who can express grievances related to development projects and investments … In Myanmar … the government thinks that we are barring development,” he said.
Myanmar wants quick development, without considering the environment and the livelihood of the communities bitterly affected by investments, U Thant Zin added.
“Other countries such as Thailand had encountered similar dilemmas when building up their economy, and they are now paying for their mistakes,” he said.
U Thein Lwin, a villager of Myaung Pyo, said there are many organisations which have travelled to the area and witnessed the impact caused by Myanmar Pongpipat.
“I won’t expect much from the commissioner’s delegation visit. But it is a good sign that the commissioner talks to us and listens to community voices. The government officials just talk to the companies and visit the mining areas,” he said.
On February 25, villagers impacted by the activities of the Italian-Thai Development submitted a letter to the NHRC, requesting problems to be solved before reactivating the project. The letter asked for the firm to disclose all data and information related to the project, to undertake meaningful public participation and ensure that fair and adequate compensation is provided with the consent of the local community.
U Ye Swan, a villager from Mayingyi village in Dawei, whose plantations are included in SEZ area, told the Myanmar Times that almost all the villagers want to get fair compensation and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
“If you want to do a project, you need to have money. If you do not compensate well, do not minimise environment impacts and do not respect community demands, the project will be delayed. Since they started to develop this project in 2008, nothing much happened here,” he said.
“We don’t even know the role of the Myanmar National Human Right Commission [MHRC] so we just have to send letter to the NHRC of Thailand. We want this project to restart, because all construction work has stopped and the community is also suffering … road constructions are not finished … and plantations are destroyed without compensation. Our livelihood has become more difficult,” he added.
U Sitt Myaing, vice president of MHRC, told the Myanmar Times that the commission has not received any letter regarding the Dawei projects recently.
“I don’t know why the villagers did not send [a letter] to the MHRC about rights violations,” he said.
U Sitt Myaing said the commission can plan how to protect human rights violations in that area, if the commission received a letter from villagers. He added that the commission has not received any offer from the NHRC of Thailand about potential collaboration between the two organisations.