Monday, December 16, 2013

Weekly Highlights: Japan’s Opportunity to Prove Itself a Responsible Investor in Burma

 

9-15 December 2013

Weekly Highlights

Japan's Opportunity to Prove Itself a Responsible Investor in Burma

As Japan deepens its economic ties with Burma at the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo, civil society from Tavoy, Tenasserim Region, express concerns over investing in a huge special economic zone that has already caused widespread human rights violations.

Adding to the US$867 million in loans pledged in May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised a further US$578 million in loans for infrastructure development for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), as well as upgrading Burma's railway network. Another agreement was made in which greater protections for Japanese businesses investing in Burma are established, thus creating a safer environment to explore business opportunities.

Japan is already heavily invested in the Thilawa SEZ, with a consortium agreed upon by the governments of Japan and Burma in October 2013 in which major Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi, Marubeni and Sumitomo, will partner with domestic companies to develop the zone. While the development of Thilawa SEZ is making progress, human rights concerns, particularly over forced eviction of farmers to make way for infrastructure development continue to cloud this project. Leading up to the Japan-ASEAN summit, Human Rights Watch issued a letter to Prime Minister Abe highlighting, among other human rights abuses to be denounced in the ASEAN bloc, the problems of Japanese investment in Thilawa SEZ and urged Japan to "view the Thilawa project as a cautionary case study setting out Japan's obligation to help ensure that the rights of local communities are supported against capricious, abusive and illegal displacement."

This cautionary case study also applies to another SEZ, Tavoy SEZ, in Tenasserim Region. Tavoy SEZ is a highly ambitious project, four times bigger than Thilawa SEZ, which plans to be a regional transport hub, linking Europe and the Middle East with ASEAN and the South China Sea. Planned components include a deep sea port, transport links to Thailand, industrial estates and power plants. Primarily a joint Burma-Thailand venture, it has struggled to attract the same investment as Thilawa SEZ. Initial construction has started, including a small port and road links, but the main company involved, Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) lost its concession as it could not find sufficient investment. Now, Tavoy SEZ is being managed by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that has divided the project into seven components that are open to bids. Both the Thailand and Burma governments are keen to attract Japanese investment in Tavoy SEZ although the official position of Japan remains unclear.

Initial work on Tavoy SEZ has already created problems. The environmental affects of heavy industry on this pristine coastline will permanently damage water supplies, create stifling pollution and destroy local ecosystems. Furthermore, a lack of consultation or fair compensation has left local villagers disenfranchised as they are losing their land with inadequate compensation and little opportunity to pursue future livelihoods. In a statement, Dawei Development Association (DDA), a network of activists, monks, civil society organizations who represent the affected people of this project, urged the Japanese government to follow international best practices and refrain from investing in dirty industries in this project. In the statement, after highlighting the problems of lack of consultation and forced displacement, Thant Zin, Coordinator of DDA states, "Japan has clear guidelines to protect against negative social and environmental impacts of development projects on local communities. With such serious concerns about the project so far, the Japanese government and investors must be sure to follow these guidelines before investing in the [Tavoy] SEZ."

The Tavoy SEZ, although in its early stages, has been plagued by a lack of transparency, minimal consultation with affected communities, forced eviction and the lack of implementation of social and environmental safeguards. If Japan is to invest in this mega project, as it has in Thilawa SEZ, it must ensure that international best practices are adhered to and affected people are adequately compensated for any negative consequences suffered. If Tavoy SEZ is to be the showpiece project that both the Thai and Burmese governments envision, it must set the standard for any future investment in Burma by complying with international standards and best practices.

 

News Highlights

Government gives conditional pardon and releases 41 political prisoners but Htin Kyaw and Aye Thein are imprisoned again hours after being released

Activist Naw Ohn Hla is charged for weekly prayer sessions organized at the Shwedagon Pagoda in 2007 for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Three land rights activists go on hunger strike in Paungde Prison, Pegu Region, after being detained for more than 6 months without legal proceedings

 

Inside Burma

Karen National Union postpones second meeting between ethnic armed groups on the government's nationwide ceasefire proposal until January

Sittwe district court sentences two Arakanese men to 10 years in prison for murder in connection with sectarian violence in Mrauk-U in October 2012

Accidental fire destroys thirty-four wooden houses in a Rohingya refugee camp in Pauktaw Township, Arakan State

Authorities fence off 300 acres of farmland in the Letpadaung Copper Mine area

Essar expects to complete its part of the Kaladan multi modal transport project by June 2014

Local people in Tavoy say Thai mining company uses Burma Army to threaten villagers

Up to 10 foreign banks may be allowed to open branches as wholly-foreign owned entities in 2014

Burma to privatize 30 domestic airports nationwide

Ministry of Information urges the Interim Press Council to take action against The Sun Rays journal for "unethical" writing and "hate speech"

Karen language to be taught at primary schools in Pegu Region

 

Regional

 

Thailand's Ubon Ratchathani University to award honorary doctoral degree in Medicine to Dr. Cynthia Maung, founder of the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thailand-Burma border

 

International

 

Japan signs investment treaty with Burma for "greater protections and stable legal environment" and pledge US$580 million in loans for infrastructure development

 

Opinion

Ethnic Violence in Myanmar
The New York Times

Tentacles of Dictatorship Reach Deep into Myanmar's New Democracy
By Naing Ko Ko
The Nation

Latest from the Blog

 

Burma Uses Old Tactics to Silence the People

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Actions

Villagers demonstrating against land confiscation in Rangoon's Thingangyun Township agree to go home after MPs promise to investigate their case

Statements and Press Releases

Sombath Somphone One Year On: 62 NGOs Call for a New Investigation into his Enforced Disappearance
By 62 regional and international non-governmental organizations

New Investment in Dawei Project Must Follow International Best Practices
By Dawei Development Association

Not a Rubber Stamp: Myanmar's Legislature in a Time of Transition
By International Crisis Group

Latest Releases a Step Towards Freedom for all Prisoners of Conscience by Year's End – UN Rights Expert
By Tomás Ojea Quintana

Reports

Villagers in Eastern Shan State Suffer Forced Labour and Extortion by Burma Army Troops Guarding Loggers in Salween Dam Flood Zone
By Shan Human Rights Foundation

Not a Rubber Stamp: Myanmar's Legislature in a Time of Transition
By International Crisis Group

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