Dawei SEZ’s grave human rights violations, forced evictions and flawed EIAs come under fire
Myanmar Times 19 February 2018 | Htoo Thant
From flawed land acquisition, destroyed farmlands to the lack of transparency, this project is failing on many human rights measures and threatening the lands and livelihoods of communities.
DAWEI Special Economic Zone (SEZ) has been accused of grave human rights violations including forced evictions, a lack of transparency and environmental disruption as the land lease contract for its initial phase is expected to be signed before April. In addition, the legality of the Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) is severely questioned while experts say that the project has destroyed farmlands, polluted rivers and is threatening the lands and livelihoods of communities.
The SEZ in Tanintharyi Region, which is divided into two phases, is one of the three SEZs in Myanmar -- the other two being Thilawa SEZ in southern Yangon and Kyaukphyu SEZ in Rakhine.
“For the initial phase of Dawei SEZ, we will hire international legal consultants to sign land lease a contract that is planned to be finalised before this April, and soon transfer it in accordance with the Concession Agreement,” deputy commerce minister U Aung Htoo told Amyotha Hluttaw on February 14.
Under an agreement signed by Dawei SEZ Management Committee and Italian-Thai Development on August 5, 2015 for the initial phase, several conditions have to be met within 210 days before the project begins. But the deadline was extended to April 30 last year as more time is needed for negotiations.
According to U Aung Htoo, seven out of 10 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or Social Impact Assessment (SIA) reports have already been approved. Approval of remaining three EIA/SIA reports is not yet secured. The deputy minister told parliament that “Now, we are going to seek approval for the remaining three EIA/SIA reports,” as seven out of ten reports have been approved.
Environmental Resources Management (ERM) has been chosen as the consultant team to ensure that the land lease contract and land compensation and relocation works adhere to international standards, he added.
“To help initial projects gain momentum, reviewing contracts, seeking loans for two-lane road construction and drawing a master plan are also being undertaken with the help of officials from Japan International Cooperation agency [JICA],” he said.
The initial phase for Dawei is 10,353 acres wide and a total acre which has to be compensated is 9895. Compensation, totalling K7.487 billion, was already made for 912.65 acres and K38.16 billion are earmarked for compensating 3424.26 acres, which are owned by local farmers, U Aung Htoo explained, adding that the relocation process will ensure the level of transparency which adhere to international standards.
However, the project has come under severe criticism from academics and NGOs.
No EIA consultations
US-headquartered NGO EarthRights International severely criticised the EIAs in the SEZ, saying that those are highly flawed and neglected community rights.
“So far, projects in Dawei have violated local communities' rights to free, prior and informed consent. There have been no meaningful consultations for EIAs.
“The EIAs that we have looked into have many flaws, such as neglecting communities' concerns over ethnic conflict, customary land rights, and indigenous rights. The project threatens their land and resource rights while it is unclear whether the project will benefit the community at all.
“Rivers, creeks, and farmlands have been polluted and destroyed due to project activities, forcing communities to struggle to access food and livelihoods. Both the land acquisition and compensation processes have been non-transparent and flawed -- communities often have no access to project information. Land has been seized with inadequate compensation or no compensation at all,” Bo Bo, deputy director at EarthRights International in Myanmar, stated.
Sean Bain, legal consultant from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), told The Myanmar Times that the project lacks transparency and no public consultation has been done after the EIA reviews, which is required by law.
“Our understanding is that no site-wide EIA has been conducted as required by law. That EIA for the entire zone should take place before and not after the individual EIAs for different project components, such as a waste facility or power plant.
"A lack of transparency suggests land acquisition and resettlement arrangements are already inconsistent with applicable national law and international standards. We have been monitoring developments in Dawei and are unaware of a public consultation or appeals process being initiated after review of the EIAs, as required by chapter six of the EIA Procedure,” Mr Bain explained.
Dr Charlie Thame from Thammasat University echoed a similar criticism: residents in the proposed project site were evicted by force from their lands and unfairly sidelined in the land acquisition process. It’s welcome news that funds have been earmarked to compensate farmers, yet "similar promises to locals have been made and broken in the past". This is partly due to unclear laws and shortcomings implementing them.
“Locals have been cut out of the land acquisition process by speculators and brokers, and forcibly evicted from lands their livelihoods depend on; some have then been sued and detained for protesting. While customary tenure and the right of women to own land are recognised under the 2016 National Land Use Policy, they are not under existing land laws.
“Moreover, recent complaints about the dispute resolution mechanism in Thilawa SEZ suggests that accountability to local communities and the environment under the 2014 SEZ Law largely depends on the discretion of SEZ developers, which is neither fair nor impartial. Progress needs to be made remedying historical injustices, and ensuring laws governing land and the SEZs are more protective of locals and the environment, before the government moves these projects forward by signing leases,” Dr Thame argued.