Karen Peace Support Network, a network of 28 Karen civil society organizations, produced a video synopsis of JICA’s development plan for Karen and Mon States, and KPSN’s analysis of it.
It can be viewed here:
JICA hired consultants, RECS International Inc, Nippon Koei Co., Ltd., and Oriental Consultants Co., Ltd to do a preparatory survey of development in Karen and Mon States. The report from this survey was released in October 2013. Only after the report was released did Karen civil society organizations become aware of the plans. They were alarmed enough by the content to do a thorough analysis, make this video, and organize to ensure that JICA is made aware of the problems at this early stage in planning. Their press release can be viewed on our Sep 25th blog entry.
Naive at best, and potentially the start of a development process that could result in impoverishment and even sparking armed conflict, the preparatory study’s assumption that development brings peace is highly flawed. If the plan goes ahead, it has the potential to exacerbate conflicts among political and armed groups in the region. The gap between references in the study to public participation and sustainability, and the reality that critical stakeholders were left out, makes the sincerity of these references suspect.
For example, several mentions are made of improving access into ethnic areas. For ethnic groups, they could interpret this as Japanese economic aid facilitating (inadvertently or not) easier Burmese military access into remaining contested areas.
Infrastructure projects proposed in the study include roads, dams, industrial clusters, and economic zones. Even in peacetime, projects like these result in conflicts around resettlement and land rights. Impoverishment of residents relocated for the JICA-supported Thilawa SEZ near Yangon shows that even when ethnic conflicts are not an issue, the rights of local stakeholders are being violated. Protecting the environment and the rights of local people requires freedom of expression, adequate laws and enforcement mechanisms. Burma’s legal system and human rights conditions still leave much to be desired in this area, and JICA’s track record at Thilawa for its ability to ensure that project proponents respect international environmental and human rights standards does not inspire confidence.