In many development projects, people get hurt. In the name of development and progress, some people are impoverished. It may be easy to say it is a necessary sacrifice, as long as it is not one’s own life being turned upside down. When it is development project proponents, however, how much tolerance do they have to being inconvenienced?
Kyaw Win’s family is among the 68 families ordered to resettle to make way for Phase 1 of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ). In June this year, Kyaw Win was one of 3 people who filed an official objection against JICA and requested an investigation into JICA’s compliance (or lack of) with its own Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations. He signed an agreement to receive the first part of compensation, but did so because he had been told that failure to do so could result in being sued by the government. Such threats are not taken lightly when having lived most of one’s life under a military junta.
After beginning to build a home in the resettlement site, Kyaw Win realized the amount promised would not enable him to maintain the standard of living he had built. He therefore refused to sign the agreement to receive the rest of his compensation, and he and his family continued living in their home within the Phase 1 area. He has made it clear he would be willing to move if he were provided a compensation package that would enable his family to maintain their standard of living, as is promised by JICA’s Guidelines. Not an unreasonable request.
On September 26th, Kyaw Win was summoned to the local Thanlyin police station, where he, his wife and son were charged with trespassing under section 447 of the Myanmar Penal Code. They were released on bail the same day, but could be imprisoned for up to 3 months after the court hearing. The date for the court hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Mekong Watch received word earlier that Kyaw Win had been warned that he might be sued by the government, and on September 18th, we appealed to JICA to look into the situation and ensure that forcible measures against Kyaw Win and his family would be stopped.
Mekong Watch is concerned about this for many reasons. One is, of course, the welfare of Kyaw Win and his family. It has also been only recently that negotiations began among affected residents, the Burmese government and JICA. The measures taken against Kyaw Win do not bode well for meaningful negotiations. In addition, harassment of people who file formal objections against JICA sends a strong message (whether intended or not) that people who do so will suffer consequences. Though JICA’s Guidelines require that affected people be able to participate in decision-making, allowing such harassment castes a dark shadow of doubt on the integrity or effectiveness of these guidelines.
There are many more families facing resettlement from the remaining 2,000 hectares of the Thilawa SEZ, and they are watching Phase 1 carefully and with understandable trepidation.
Mekong Watch sent a letter to the Japanese Government and JICA on Sep 29th (English translation will be uploaded later this week), and are demanding that Japan confirms details of the charges against Kyaw Win’s family, and requests the Japanese government to object to the forceful measures being taken against project affected people, especially considering that negotiations were finally started in order to address outstanding problems. It is also of critical importance that the Japanese government communicate to the Burmese government the necessity for resettlement and compensation to be in line with JICA’s Guidelines, which require an improvement, or at least maintenance of pre-resettlement living standards and protection of socially vulnerable groups.
Enabling people to maintain their standard of living is the least that can be done for disrupting the lives of families who are moving to make way for investors–in this case, JICA, Mitsubishi Corporation, Marubeni Corporation, and Sumitomo Corporation–to come in and try their hand at making a profit. And if it is for the greater common good of improving Burma’s economy, then let’s improve the lives of people affected by the project too.