Mekong Watch’s Three Urgent Demands to JICA and MOFA re: Thilawa SEZ

On 30 September, Mekong Watch submitted an urgent letter to JICA and the Japanese Foreign Ministry. We are very concerned that one of the 3 people who filed a request for investigation into compliance with JICA’s safeguard policies in the Thilawa SEZ project has been sued for trespassing.  See below for the English translation of the letter, or download from here: 20140929_MW to JICA MOFA .

JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations requires that when resettlement is unavoidable, measures must be taken to enable resettled people to improve, or at least maintain their standard of living.  The resident against whom the lawsuit was filed realized that he and his family could not maintain their standard of living at the resettlement site, and has refused to move until adequate livelihood restoration measures and compensation is provided.  He is a farmer, but has been provided no land to farm after resettlement. Compensation is insufficient to get his family through a transition from being a farmer to finding a new occupation. He has cattle, but at the resettlement site, there is nowhere to raise them. His family is not alone among the 67 other families facing many difficulties in trying to re-establish a life with insufficient support. Now, he has been charged with trespassing, and he and his family could face 3 months in prison.

For some time, JICA refused to meet with project affected people, in spite of repeated requests to do so. After the request for investigation, discussions among JICA, Burmese government officials and people affected by the Thilawa SEZ finally began. The investigation into the project’s compliance with JICA’s Guidelines is also in progress, with the final report expected to be completed in early November. It is of grave concern that one of the residents who requested the investigation has been charged with trespassing, given the fragile nature of discussions and the fact that JICA’s investigation still underway.

Mekong Watch urges JICA and the Japanese Foreign Ministry to:

  1. communicate a strong objection to the Burmese Government regarding the lawsuit and forceful measures against project affected people;
  2. verify details of the facts with the Burmese Government;
  3. press the Burmese government to ensure that compensation and resettlement is carried out in compliance with JICA’s Guidelines.

See below for the English translation of the entire letter:

29 September 2014
H.E. Fumio Kishida, Foreign Minister
Mr. Akihiko Tanaka, President, Japan International Cooperation Agency

Urgent Action Required regarding Human Rights Violations against Resident who filed Objection with JICA on Burma (Myanmar) Thilawa SEZ Development Project

Mekong Watch
Fukuda Kenji, Representative Director

On 18 September 2014, Mekong Watch submitted a petition to JICA (attached “Regarding Alleged Human Rights Violations Against Residents who Filed Objection regarding Burma (Myanmar) Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development Project). We are again submitting this urgent letter due to development of grave concern regarding this same matter.

In regard to the Thilawa SEZ, one of the three residents who submitted the Objection to JICA on 2 June has continued living at his residence in the Thilawa SEZ Phase 1 (400 hectare) area. While he accepted the first installment of compensation, he has refrained from agreeing to the total amount of compensation decided by the authorities due to being unable to maintain his same standard of living at the resettlement site. He has requested appropriate compensation and livelihood restoration measures at the resettlement site that would enable him to maintain his current standard of living there.

The above-mentioned Requester was summoned to the Thanlyin Police Station last week on 26 September, where he and his family (wife and 1 son. He has 2 daughters who are minors and were not included) were charged with trespassing under section 447 of the Myanmar Penal Code. Fortunately, they were released on bail the same evening, but they are now waiting for notification of the first court hearing, and could face up to 3 months in prison.

In regard to this project, we have been in contact with JICA, requesting JICA to confirm allegations of threatening language by Burmese government authorities towards project affected residents, such as telling the residents that if they did not agree to the compensation packages, legal proceedings could be instigated. We find the current situation deplorable, as we had also requested JICA to urge the Burmese government authorities to refrain from using forceful measures, including lawsuits.

In addition, the Objection filed with JICA by 3 residents due to deteriorating livelihood has yet to lead to the implementation of any concrete livelihood restoration measures. It is therefore difficult to say that the ongoing situation is in compliance with the provision in JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations (hereafter the Guidelines) which requires host countries to “improve [project affected people’s] standard of living,…or at least to restore these to pre-project levels.” For resettled residents to be arrested or confronted with punitive measures during resettlement-related negotiations also violates provisions in JICA’s Guidelines that require “appropriate participation” of stakeholders.

Also, considering that JICA’s Examiner is currently in the process of investigating this project based on the Objection Procedures, and that consultations to resolve outstanding issues are being planned, the fact that local government authorities are using forcible means, such as penal measures, against one of the Objection requesters could be interpreted as a repercussion of having filed an Objection. Even if it is unclear that this is actually a disadvantage of having filed the Objection with JICA, it is likely to be interpreted in this way, and could cause project affected people to hesitate to utilize the Objection Procedures, thus affecting the effectiveness of the Objection Procedures and people’s trust in the system’s integrity.

We, therefore, make the following demands of the Foreign Ministry and JICA.

  1. Communicate to the Burmese government that you strongly object to the current forceful measures being taken towards resettled residents, particularly in light of potential and ongoing negotiations to resolve outstanding problems.
  2. Verify the detailed facts of this matter with the Burmese government immediately.
  3. Immediately press the Burmese government to guarantee resettlement and compensation in compliance with the provisions in JICA’s Guidelines (including appropriate participation of stakeholders, and improvement/restoration of living standards).

Also considering that there are many more households to be resettled in the remaining 2,000 hectares of this project, we demand that the Japanese government and JICA take a strong and resolute position against these serious violations of the rights of project affected people.

Attached Document:

Mekong Watch letter to JICA, 18 September 2014: Regarding Alleged Human Rights Violations Against Residents who Filed Objection regarding Burma (Myanmar) Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development Project

 CC: JICA Examiner for the Guidelines
        Members of JICA’s Environmental and Social Guidelines Advisory Committee

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