Monday, November 11, 2013

Weekly Highlights: Investment at What Cost?


4 - 10 November 2013

Weekly Highlights

Investment at What Cost?

The re-engagement of Burma with the global, free market economy has created opportunities, hope and great potential.  Yet with this re-engagement come significant pitfalls, human rights abuses and the legitimization of past abuses being two of the more serious. All foreign investment must be scrutinized and held to the highest standards in order to avoid either of the above mentioned dangers. Specifically, business ties to any cronies of the Burma Army or perpetrators of human rights abuses must not be tolerated and land confiscation associated with this increased business engagement must end.

On 7 November, 37 civil society organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to update the US Specially Designated Nationals list for Burma. The list is a US Treasury Department list of individuals and companies barred from having financial or business ties to the United States. These individual and companies were barred due to their ties to the military regime, serious human rights abuses, corruption and the selling of weapons to North Korea. This list has remained basically unchanged since 2009; this is despite the ongoing corruption in the country and the very serious human rights violations that have occurred. The US itself acknowledges that the list is out of date, as evidenced by diplomatic cables leaked in 2009 where the US embassy in Rangoon noted that "many of the real perpetrators of human rights abuses or those who provide significant support to the regime are not yet targeted." An updating of the list and a systematic way of adding and removing names are of immediate importance.  To date the US government has been more concerned with establishing economic ties and a revised list could cause complications for US businesses. This is a sad state of affairs when economic interests trump basic human rights.

One of the most frequent human rights violations that this list would target and one which is increasingly occurring in Burma is land confiscation. Burma Partnership has released a briefer highlighting the seriousness of this on-going problem.  The increase in foreign investment, the liberalization of the economy, and lack of rule of law generally, including both appropriate legislation and an independent judiciary, have resulted in land confiscation on an endemic scale. The government of Burma has responded to this growing problem with inadequate laws and is currently viewed more as an obstacle than a part of the solution.

In response to Oxfam's campaign against land confiscation that is driven by food and drink companies, Coca Cola has committed to a "zero tolerance" policy on land confiscation throughout its supply chain. This is welcome news after Coca Cola has re-entered Burma for the first time since 1962. The company has pledged to:

  • "Commit" to zero tolerance for land grabs
  • "Know and Show" risks related to land rights and land conflicts in their supply chains
  • Advocate for governments and others in the food industry to tackle land grabbing and to support responsible agriculture investment.

This is a positive development but it highlights the glaring inadequacies regarding land confiscation in Burma generally.  This is an individual commitment by a single company and has come after significant pressure by an international advocacy organization. The fact that there isn't an across the board commitment to a zero tolerance approach to land confiscation by all companies operating in Burma is unacceptable and the fact that in their current state, Burma's domestic laws regarding land confiscation are unable to adequately deal with this violation is equally troubling.

Economic engagement with Burma must come with a strong emphasis on which actors companies are engaging with and what effect this engagement has.  Business done with past and present human rights violators, with corrupt officials, with those that have ties to one of the most oppressive governments of the past 60 years is indefensible. Business that results in land confiscation from some of the most oppressed people cannot be supported. Western economic engagement will continue, the question that needs to be asked is with whom and at what cost?

News Highlights

More violence breaks out in Arakan State as at least three Rohingya men are killed and one Arakanese woman dies in revenge attack while INGOs working in the area are accused of pro-Rohingya bias causing Save the Children and the Red Cross to temporarily leave the area

Peace talks in Myitkyina between the Burma government and a team comprised of various ethnic armed group representatives result in tentative agreement to sign a nationwide ceasefire and engage in political dialogue

Inside Burma

Media law drafted by the Interim Press Council is passed by the lower house of Parliament

Parliamentary committee charged with producing a report on constitutional reform extends deadline for public to submit proposals by a month until the end of December

Lower House submits amendments to peaceful assembly law

Recent decision to increase electricity costs to be reviewed by Parliament

68 Rohingya receive sentences of 3-5 years for their alleged role in last year's communal violence, bringing the total of Rohingya sentenced to nearly 200

Kachin civilians flee to displacement camps following military clashes in Bhamo, local rights group claims Kachin civilians suffer rape and arbitrary killings at the hands of the Burma Army as peace talks continue


Thai government sends a newly appointed taskforce to Burma to kickstart the fledgling Dawei Special Economic Zone project


Australia cuts all funding to Mae Tao Clinic on the Thailand-Burma border, a health service provider that has treated refugees and vulnerable populations from all over Burma for over twenty years

EU to provide training to Burma's police force, including providing riot gear, sparking fears that it could be in contravention of its arms sales embargo

World Bank estimates that Burma's economy will grow by 6.8% next year but warns of rising inflation

Parliament approves $60 million loan from Asian Development Bank to build 300 power plants across Burma


The Lady Does Protest too Seldom
By Carlos Sardina Blanche

Latest from the Blog

Nationwide Ceasefire Accord: Not the End Game
By Burma Partnership


200 workers at a garment factory in Rangoon's Dagon Seikkan Township strike over the dismissal of a colleague and the installation of CCTV cameras near a women's toilet

Monks and locals set up a new sit-in protest camp near Letpadaung Copper Mine after authorities refused permission for them to visit a historic temple that they suspect was damaged due to mining related explosions

100 protesters light candles in front of Rangoon City Hall in opposition to recent electricity hikes, four are arrested

Statements and Press Releases

Public Consultation Meeting on Article 18 of Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Procession Law
By 18 Civil Society Organizations in Burma

37 Organizations Urge President Obama to Update Blacklist with Respect to Burma
By 37 Civil Society Organizations

Letter to President Obama: US Should Update Blacklist
By Human Rights Watch

ျပည္ေထာင္စုျငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးေဖာ္ေဆာင္ေရး လုပ္ငန္းေကာ္မတီႏွင့္ လက္နက္ကိုင္ တိုင္းရင္းသားအဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ား၏ တစ္ႏိုင္ငံလံုး ပစ္ခတ္တိုက္ခိုက္မႈမ်ားရပ္စဲေရး ေတြ႕ဆံုေဆြးေႏြးပြဲ ပူးတြဲထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Union Peace Working Committee and ethnic armed groups


Endemic Land Confiscation in Burma: A Major Challenge to the Reform Process
By Burma Partnership

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