Below is an English translation of a letter written by villagers relocated and facing relocation due to the Thilawa SEZ project to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Their letter was submitted 30 April 2014.
Long-time Burma watchers know that speaking out against the government and official decisions in Burma is by no means risk-free. Though the situation is different now than it was a few years ago, the risks villagers are taking to speak up, write letters to JICA, appeal to their own local authorities, and hold press conferences is also an indication of how much they have to lose.
JICA’s failure to respond to villagers only reinforces the old totalitarian ways of rule in Burma–a form of rule that many people in Burma are struggling to change. As an aid agency from a democratic country, one would expect more.
Below is an English translation of the latest letter from Thilawa villagers to JICA. They are requesting that if JICA will not meet them, to provide a written response to their questions about violations of JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations in the Thilawa SEZ project (Phase 1). As a start, we hope JICA will respond in writing and actually uphold the principles of transparency, accountability, and stakeholder participation, and not just use these principles as window dressing.
(This is an unofficial translation – The original letter was written in Burmese.)
To Mr. Akihiko TANAKA,
President of Japan International Cooperation Agency
April 30, 2014
Re: Request a Formal Reply and Explanation about JICA’s Position Regarding our Concerns over the Thilawa SEZ Development Project
Dear Mr. Akihiko Tanaka:
As we wrote in our most recent letter dated on April 7, 2014, we have sent letters to you several times regarding our concerns about the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Project. In the same letter, we asked for a meeting between April 23 and 25, and requested your response by April 11, but received none. Additionally, we are aware that on April 23, JICA decided to invest in Phase 1 (400 ha) of the Thilawa SEZ Project, before you provided any answer to us.
It was only on April 28 that a staff member from JICA’s Yangon office…called us in response to our letter. She told us that the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee had been taking appropriate measures, following JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations (the Guidelines), and that she had not heard that JICA’s staff were planning to meet with us about this issue.
We are not sure whether such a phone call could be considered as your response to our concerns. Therefore, we would like to request your formal written answer to us. Further, if JICA says that the Project is following the Guidelines, we would like to request your explanation about how the current situation of the villagers negatively affected by the Phase 1 of the SEZ Project is complying with JICA’s Guidelines.
We would say that the implementation in the remaining part (2,000 ha) of the SEZ Project would not succeed, if the government provides the same resettlement and compensation measures for the villagers to be affected in 2,000 ha as the ones in 400 ha. We look forward to hearing from you.
Thilawa Social Development Committee
(contact names and phone numbers deleted)
Copied to: Mr. Fumio KISHIDA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan
Each Examiner for the Objection Procedures on JICA’s Guidelines
Each member of the advisory committee for JICA’s Environmental and Social Considerations