My Colleague, Vani Sathisan, has written an article published this week in the Myanmar Times on the human rights issues in Myanmar’s nascent Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that is relevant for investment in general. In an attempt to shed its pariah image after decades of economic isolation, Myanmar has been opening up its door to billions of dollars of investment. Special Economic Zones have been a means to facilitate investors to inject capital into developing deep-sea ports and industrial estates. Talks to revive the Dawei SEZ begin again this week as the new Thai Prime Minister visits Myanmar on his first official overseas trip. The international community cannot ignore the significant negative repercussions for human rights and the environment amidst the gold rush. Villagers continue to be displaced without fair and adequate compensation for their property, farmers and fishermen lose their livelihoods, zero or few free prior consultations with the residents were held and access to judicial and non-judicial remedies is not guaranteed. Without proper environmental and land laws, as well as an effective judiciary to enforce these laws and provide appropriate judicial remedies, these development projects risk being counterproductive for sustainable development and the protection of human rights in Myanmar. A rights-compliant investment culture is critical to promote and preserve sustainable development for the country.
‘In Myanmar, there is still ambiguity about the roles of environmental impact assessments and environmental management plans. The Environmental Conservation Law enacted in 2012 requires significant refinements. Even though impact assessments are required for all major development projects under the new Foreign Investment Law, the precise environmental and social standards expected for investors have yet to be articulated. The procedures for impact assessments remain in draft form.’