MAC: Mines and Communities

Turning Treasure Into Tears

Published by MAC on 2007-03-01

Turning Treasure into Tears

I. Executive Summary

This report describes how human rights and environmental abuses continue to be a serious problem in eastern Pegu division, Burma - specifically, in Shwegyin township of Nyaunglebin District.2 The heavy militarization of the region, the indiscriminate granting of mining and logging concessions, and the construction ofthe Kyauk Naga Dam have led to forced labor, land confiscation, extortion, forced relocation, and the destruction of the natural environment. The human consequences of these practices, many of which violate customary and conventional international law, have been social unrest, increased financial hardship, and great personal suffering for the victims of human rights abuses.

By contrast, the SPDC and its business partners have benefited greatly from this exploitation. The businessmen, through their contacts, have been able to rapidly expand their operations to exploit the township's gold and timber resources.

The SPDC, for its part, is getting rich off the fees and labor exacted from the villagers. Its dam project will forever change the geography of thearea, at great personal cost to the villagers, but it will give the regime more electricity and water to irrigate its agro-business projects.

Karen villagers in the area previously panned for gold andsold it to supplement their incomes from their fields and plantations. They have also long been involved in small-scale logging of the forests. In 1997, the SPDC and businessmen began to industrialize the exploitation of gold deposits andforests in the area. Businessmen from central Burma eventually arrived and in collusion with the Burmese Army gained mining concessions and began to force people off of their land. Villagers in the area continueto lose their land, and with it their ability to provide for themselves. The Army abuses local villagers, confiscates their land, and continues to extort their money. Commodity prices continue to rise, compounding the difficulties of daily survival.

Large numbers of migrant workers havemoved into the area to work the mining concessions and log the forests. This has created a complicated tension between the Karen and these migrants. While the migrant workersare merely trying to earn enough money to feed their families, they are doing so on the Karen's ancestral land and through the exploitation of local resources. Most of the migrant workers are Burman, which increases ethnic tensions in an area where Burmans often represent the SPDC and the Army and are already seen as sneaky and oppressive by the localKaren.

These forms of exploitation increased since the announcement of the construction of the Kyauk Naga Dam in 2000, which is expected to be completed in late 2006. The SPDC has enabled the mining and logging companies to extract asmuch as they can before the area upstream of the dam is flooded.

This situation has intensified and increased human rights violations against villagers in the area. The militarization of the region, as elsewhere, has resulted in forced labor, extortion of money, goods, and building materials, and forced relocation by the Army.

In addition to these direct human rights violations, the mining and dam construction have also resulted in grave environmental degradation of the area. The mining process has resulted in toxic runoff that has damaged or destroyed fields and plantations downstream. The dam, once completed, will submerge fields, plantations, villages, and forests. In addition, the dam will be used to irrigate rubber plantations jointly owned by the SPDC and private business interests.

The Burmese Army has also made moves to secure the area in the mountains to the east of the Shwegyin River. This has led to relocations and the forced displacement of thousands of Karen villagers living in the mountains. Once the Armyhas secured the area, the mining and logging companies will surely follow.

This report is based on field surveys and in-depth interviews conducted by EarthRights International (ERI) in the district since 2001. Most of the information presented here was gathered between 2004 and 2005 from Burmese of different ethnic backgrounds. Many of the individuals interviewed worked for the different extractive industries that operate in the district either as miners, dayl aborers, loggers, or in other secondary occupations related to the exploitation of non-timber forest products, such as rattan and bamboo. Additional interviews were conducted with internally displaced persons (IDPs) hiding in remote areas oft he district as well as former convict porters and soldiers who had defected from the Burmese Army.3

II. Recommendations

In the absence of significant political and institutional reforms in Burma, an end to the problems described in this report is unlikely. However, the following recommendations outline the main areas which need to be addressed and specify what domestic and international mechanisms can be used to induce constructive changes.

EarthRights International (ERI) calls on the following actors:

To the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC):

General Human Rights Abuses

.. To make changes to the 1974 Constitution so that civilians have more rights overthe land they occupy, including rights to obtain legal land title. The changes should also include provisions to enable civilians to be included in decisions abouthow their land is used.

.. To create clear mechanisms that state the conditions wherein land may be confiscated by the State. The mechanisms should alsocontain avenues of complaint for civilians against land seizure and provide clear punishments for State officials who violate these mechanisms.

.. To provide suffi cient food, salaries, and other material supplies to its soldiers and officers so that they are self-sufficient in the field and do not need to live off the population. Complaint and punishment mechanisms should be put into place to deter soldiers from the extortion or looting of villagers.

.. To institute safe complaint mechanisms for civilians to report human rights abuses by the military. Military personnel found guilty of these abuses shouldbe punished.

.. To fulfill its obligations under International Labor Organization Convention No. 29 (1930), which it ratified in 1955. Additionally, the SPDC should ratify International Labor Organization Convention No. 105 (1957) and implement the terms of this agreement immediately. The SPDC should actively enforce Order No. 1/99 (14 May 1999) and the Order Supplementing Order No. 1/99 (27 October 2000), which outlawed the use of forced labor in all circumstances and proscribed punishment for its use. Protectionshould be extended to civilians who report forced labor abuses.

.. To sign and ratify the following international human rights documents, including: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Optional Protocols; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICESCR); the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CAT); the Geneva Convention (the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War and its Additional Protocol); and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

General Environmental Abuses

.. To replace outdated laws and replace ineffective environmental provisions to bring them into accordance with its 1994 Environmental Policy and the UN-supportednational action plan for the environment known as "Myanmar Agenda 21."

.. To strengthen the National Commission for Environmental Affairs (NCEA) by empowering it to enforce existing laws and other regulations regarding environmental issues. The NCEA should be provided with sufficient human and fi nancial resources to accomplish this task.

.. To reform the system for administering and enforcing environmental laws, which is inefficient and narrowly defined by sector. In most cases, the laws are concerned with licensing requirements (by ministry) and refer to environmental protection in vague terms where they are mentioned at all.

.. To revise and enforce penalties for violating environmental laws. Fines and other deterrents should be adjusted to account for the differences in comparative wealthof individuals, Burmese companies, and foreign companies. This will help prevent situations where it might be more cost-effective to damage the environmentinstead of preventing the harm in the first place.

.. To offer financial and other incentives to state-owned enterprises and private sector actors to manage the country's natural resources in a sustainable way.

.. Any new dam projects should follow the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.

Mining

.. To ban and take immediate legal action against individuals and companies using ecologically damaging techniques, such as: 1) hydraulic mining, a practice thathas been outlawed throughout the world; 2) "deep trenching," which involves cutting deep trenches across the farmland; as well as 3) the indiscriminate use of mercury, cyanide, sulphuric acid, and other chemicals to leach precious metals and minerals from extracted ore.

.. To enforce Section 12(a) of SLORC Law No. 8/94 which contains language requiring that: a) all applications to the Ministry of Mines conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) prior to receiving official approval to extract minerals, gems, and precious metals; and b) to investigate whether the environment, flora and fauna, highways, religious property, and/or items of cultural heritagewould be negatively affected by mining activities. Laws and regulations in boththese areas should be strengthened.

.. To create an independent agency to conduct future social impact assessmentsand environmental impact assessments in order to avoid conflicts of interest.

.. To repeal the section of the SLORC Law No. 8/94,which states that no mining company is liable to prosecution or fines.

.. To promulgate laws that permit citizens whose health and/or livelihoods are harmed by mining activities, including downstream pollution, to file lawsuits and receive adequate compensation for their injuries.

To Governments:

.. Governments should encourage the SPDC to unilaterally declare a cease-fire against all groups and begin demilitarizing areas inhabited by non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

.. Governments should exert pressure on the SPDC to step down and install a democratic government that also includes ethnic nationality representation.

.. Governments should continue to pressure the SPDC to engage in meaningful and substantive discussions with the National League for Democracy and representatives of the country's many non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

.. Governments should maintain existing economic sanctions and continue to withhold international aid to the regime until significant improvements in the human rights situation are independently verified by the UN Special Rapporteuron the human rights situation in Myanmar and other monitoring groups.

.. Governments should demand that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be released from "protective custody" so that she may resume her normal activities as head of the political opposition.

International Organizations and NGOs:

.. The International Labor Organization (ILO) should strengthen existing resolutions on Burma to require the ILO's constituents (governments, employees, and labor) to take concrete actions to eliminate trade with and assistance to the regime that is contributing to the practice of forced labor.

.. UN agencies and other international environmental organizations should abstain from providing funding or other technical forms of assistance until serious steps are taken by the SPDC towards meeting its existing international treaty obligations regarding the environment.

.. The Asia-Pacific Center for Environmental Law and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) should pressure theSPDC to honor the terms of "Myanmar Agenda 21," which they helped author.

.. NGOs should continue to develop the capacity of indigenous groups to documenthuman rights and environmental abuses and advocate for change in relevantregional and international forums.

To Private Sector Actors:

.. Private sector actors should refrain from investing in or providing technical support for extractive industries in Burma until the companies adopt internationally recognized best-practices to protect laborers and to safeguard the environment.

.. Major importers and distributors of gold should eliminate their tacit support ofthe SDPC by refusing to import these products from Burma, refrain from purchasing Burmese gold through third countries, or through smuggled or illegal shipments.

To Opposition Groups:

.. Provide for measures in any future constitution which will protect the environment and create mechanisms for the enforcement of those measures.

.. Put in place a moratorium on all new large-scale development projects, i.e. dams, mining, logging operations, until a new constitution and political structure is inplace.

.. Develop a comprehensive resource development strategy based on the principle ofecological sustainability.

.. Develop a strategy to deal with land conf scation.

.. Any new dam projects should follow the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams. EarthRights International
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