Legal Framework for SEZs in Myanmar insufficient to protect human rights: ICJ Report

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has recently issued a report entitled “Special Economic Zones in Myanmar and the State Duty to Protect Human Rights.”  In this report, they review the legal framework in which the SEZs in Myanmar are being developed, and provide an overview and analysis of the Kyauk Phyu SEZ being developed in Rakhine State. The report also lists recommendations for relevant actors. The recommendations include a moratorium on SEZ development until laws are amended to address weaknesses and contradictions in Myanmar’s SEZ legal framework.

Mekong Watch has been monitoring the Thilawa SEZ since 2013, and have recently been monitoring Japan’s involvement in the Dawei SEZ project, and the legal issues the ICJ points out are relevant to these two SEZ projects as well.

The ICJ finds that Myanmar’s 2014 SEZ Law is not sufficient to enable Myanmar to fulfill its obligations under international law. Continue reading

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Dawei SEZ Fact Sheet Available

We have compiled information into a factsheet on the Dawei SEZ project. It can also be downloaded as a PDF document (including photos, 5MB) by clicking this link:  dawei_factsheet_eng_2016nov10

The text of the fact sheet (without photos) is below:
November 10, 2016
Fact Sheet
Project Name: Myanmar/BurmaDawei Special Economic Zone Development Project

Project Overview:

The Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development Project is an enormous plan to build what could be among the largest industrial zones in the world if it goes according to plan. It is projected to become a hub of logistical activity in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), with a deep sea port to be built just beside the SEZ. Also with a road and railways built to link the deep sea port to the Myanmar-Thai border, connecting to roads and railways beyond, it is to create an alternative trade route replacing the traditional sea route that crosses the Malacca Straits.

The planned size of the SEZ is about 20,000 hectares, equivalent to 1/3 the size of Lake Geneva, and approximately 8.3 times the size of the already problem-ridden Thilawa SEZ on the outskirts of Yangon. Infrastructure related to the Dawei SEZ includes a deep sea port, roads, railways, reservoirs, power plants, and gas pipelines. These would replace villages, some of which are indigenous, as well as plantations, rice fields, rotational farming fields, rolling hills, rivers, beaches, mangrove forests, and ecosystems. Continue reading

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[MW Statement] Premature JICA Decision Violates Environmental Guidelines

What will it take for JICA to learn from its past mistakes? The Thilawa Special Economic Zone is entering it’s next stage, but JICA is repeating many of the same mistakes it made during Phase 1. Local people affected by Phase 1 of the Thilawa SEZ were so concerned about the repercussions of being relocated that they filed an official complaint against JICA in June 2014. An examiner who investigated the complaints wrote a detailed report with many recommendations to JICA for measures that should be implemented to improve the project. JICA put together a team of experts to talk with relocated families to try to address the problems they were facing. JICA dedicated a lot of time, money and effort for this. Why are they now repeating such similar mistakes now in Zone B?

Mekong Watch issued a statement in October (original in Japanese), and the English translation is below:

October 24, 2016

[Statement] Myanmar’s Thilawa SEZ Zone B Phase 1

JICA Violates Environmental Guidelines with Premature Decision to Invest

Agreements on farmland expropriation still incomplete

On October 21st, upon revising the joint venture contract with Japanese and Myanmar enterprises and the Myanmar government, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) decided to provide overseas lending and investment[1] to develop Zone B’s Phase 1 (approx. 100 hectares) of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) development project being supported by both the Japanese public and private sectors.

Agreement has still not been obtained, however, from farmers who will lose their means of livelihood due to expropriation of farmland in Zone B Phase 1, and negotiations regarding compensation measures are still ongoing. Continue reading

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[Seminar] Investment to Myanmar and Environmental and Social Aspects “What should Japan do?: Reports from Local Residents Affected by the Thilawa SEZ”

Sep 27, 2016 (Tue) 18:30-20:30

Organized by: Mekong Watch

Cooperation by: Ayus, FoE Japan, Human Rights Now
Location: Global Environmental Outreach Centre (Tokyo)
(1st Floor of UN University, between Shibuya and Omotesando)
Fee:  500 Yen (Students and Mekong Watch and cooperating organizations’ members are free)

More than 2 years have passed since residents affected by the Thilawa SEZ Development Project filed a complaint and request for investigation into JICA’s what they believed to be violations of JICA’s safeguard policies. Have there been any improvements? What are the current situation and problems? Any concerns? At the seminar, residents and local NGO staff will be reporting on recent developments. Continue reading

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Thilawa Update

All residents from Phase 1 of the Thilawa SEZ Development project have been resettled, but in spite of the many unresolved problems, preparations are being made to relocate the next 2000-hectare area.

During Phase 1, residents were greatly dissatisfied with both the resettlement process and compensation. Two years since relocation, there is still insufficient clean water supply, some families have left the relocation site, and some families are still in debt.

Will lessons learned from the Phase 1 area resettlement process be reflected in Phase 2? From what we are seeing so far, it seems many of the mistakes may be repeated.

Full EIA scoping reports not available in Burmese:

In January this year, EIA scoping reports for each of 3 subsections of the 700 ha area were disclosed. Both the summaries and full reports were disclosed in English, but in Burmese language, only summaries were provided. Continue reading

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Our Villages Aren’t Built on Coal

At the end of last year, activists and people from villages in Myanmar where Japanese companies are poised to build coal-fired power plants came to Japan to speak about their concerns. They made it clear that they are against the implementation of these projects at a public seminar hosted by Japanese NGOs. Below is an English translation (with some minor editing) of the seminar report.

Seminar Report:

“Messages from Myanmar…our villages aren’t built on coal”

Date: Nov 27, 2015 18:00-20:30
Place: GEOC

Organizers: FoE Japan, Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES), Mekong Watch, Kiko Network

Supporters:, A SEED Japan, Aryus Buddhist International Network, Fair Finance Guide Japan.


  1. “Japan-supported coal-fire power projects in other countries and Japan’s involvement in plans in Myanmar”
  2. Demands of Myanmar’s civil society to Japan
  3. Messages from local people from areas where Japanese companies are planning coal-fired power plants
    1. Mon State
    2. Ayeyarwady Region
    3. Tanintharyi Region

Continue reading

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[Seminar] Outdated Coal for a New Myanmar?! Coal is not our Future.

We Can’t Build our Future on Coal-Fired Power Plants
-A Message from Myanmar/Burma’s Villages to the People of Japan-

Nov 27, 2015 (Fri) 18:00-20:30
Organized by: Mekong Watch, JACSES, FOE Japan, Kiko Network
Location: Global Environmental Outreach Centre (Tokyo)
(1st Floor of UN University, between Shibuya and Omotesando)

Local people from communities in Myanmar/Burma where coal-fired power plants are being planned are coming to Japan. They want people in Japan to know that they do not want coal-fired power plants. Why are they coming here? Because in spite of the international movement away from coal, the communities are worried that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) will support Japanese companies who want to construct such plants in several locations. Continue reading

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