In February, 2017 the International Commission of Jurists released a comprehensive report on the Special Economic Zones and the corresponding laws in Myanmar. It examines the State duty to protect human rights and finds that the laws come up short. It  provides recommendations on how the government in Myanmar can take steps to avoid repeating mistakes of the past as it develops the SEZ in Kyauk Phyu, Rakhine State.

The Government of Myanmar should impose a moratorium on the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) until it can ensure SEZs can be developed inline with international human rights laws and standards, said the ICJ at a report launch held today in Yangon.

The 88-page report, entitled Special Economic Zones in Myanmar and the State Duty to Protect Human rights, assesses the laws governing Myanmar’s SEZs and finds that the legal framework is not consistent with the State’s duty to protect human rights.

For example, a case study examining the Kyauk Phyu SEZ in Rakhine State shows that the land acquisition process initiated in early 2016 lacks transparency, does not comply with national laws on land acquisition, and risks violating the rights of 20,000 residents facing displacement.

“The SEZ Law undermines the protection of human rights, and critical legal procedures are often poorly implemented, so the Kyauk Phyu project risks repeating the rights violations that have been associated with SEZs in the past,” said Sam Zarifi, the ICJ’s Asia Director.

“The NLD-led Government can make a break from the past by ensuring economic development projects benefit Myanmar’s people, rather than rushing to facilitate projects which result in human rights violations and ultimately undermine sustainable development,” he added.

Myanmar’s legal framework for SEZs is based on the 2014 SEZ Law and incorporating national laws governing land, labour and the environment.

The report shows that while national laws require Environmental Impact Assessments and the application of international standards on involuntary resettlement, the SEZ Law does not establish clear accountabilities for the implementation of these procedures.

This has contributed to human rights violations and abuses in each of Myanmar’s three SEZs, the report says.

“It has been encouraging that government officials have emphasized their commitment to protecting human rights in SEZs in line with the rule of law,” said Sean Bain, the ICJ’s Legal Consultant in Myanmar and lead author of the report.

“The legal reforms recommended in this report will be critical to meet these commitments while fulfilling the State’s duty to protect human rights in SEZs. We also suggest that investors take heightened due diligence measures to ensure they are not complicit in rights violations,” he added.

The report was based on extensive legal research as well as interviews with over 100 people, from affected communities to investors and government officials, during 2016.

Key recommendations to the Government of Myanmar

  • Protect human rights in Myanmar’s SEZs by amending the SEZ Law, through meaningful public consultation in accordance with international standards.
  • Order a moratorium on the development of SEZs, and on entering related investment agreements, until the SEZ Law has been amended to ensure conformity with international human rights law and standards.
  • Commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Kyauk Phyu SEZ, in line with Myanmar’s environmental conservation laws. This would involve consultation to inform decision-making on the Kyauk Phyu SEZ and related projects, by identifying cumulative environmental and social impacts of all the developments in Kyauk Phyu, while considering conflict dynamics and economic development in Rakhine State.
  • Suspend land acquisition in Kyauk Phyu until after the completion of a resettlement plan that is in line with international standards, as required in the EIA Procedure.


Sean Bain, ICJ Legal Consultant in Myanmar, t: +95 9263533230 ; e: sean.bain(a)

Myanmar-SEZ assessment-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2017-ENG(full report, in PDF)

Myanmar-SEZ assessment SUMMARY-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2017-ENG (executive summary of the report, in PDF)

Myanmar-SEZ assessment full-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2017-BUR (Burmese version of full report, in PDF)

Myanmar-SEZ assessment-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2017-BUR(Burmese version of the executive summary, in PDF)


The ICJ conducted a two-day workshop on “Business and Human Rights” in Kyauk Phyu, Rakhine State on 30-31 May. The event was attended by 40 participants representing civil society organizations in Sittwe, Kyauk Phyu, Ann and Ponna Kyaunn. 

It also included members from the township and district courts, township police force and members of parliament, focused on investment in Rakhine state in the absence of credible and transparent mechanisms to prevent human rights abuses.

The workshop occurred against the backdrop of myriad longstanding human rights issues in Rakhine State, including the humanitarian crisis confronting the state’s Rohingya population.

The State has also witnessed ongoing government repression of the State’s ethnic Rakhine population in response to demands for autonomy and their opposition to unregulated development of the State’s ample natural resources, including extensive gas deposits, at the expense of their livelihoods and rights.

The development of gas fields in the State has been fraught with human rights violations, including of forced labour and forced eviction of thousands of farmers from their lands.

As discussed during the workshop, since Myanmar’s relative opening up, the government has continued to invite and approve of foreign investors to develop resource extraction projects in Rakhine State, while locals resist the potential harmful effects of such projects on their livelihoods, properties and environment.

In 2013, hundreds of villagers protested against the adverse impacts of the Shwe gas pipeline construction – a large scale natural gas project developed by Daewoo International of South Korea in a joint venture with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.

Daewoo has once again ventured into Rakhine State, proposing a coal power plant in Kyaukphyu township, that could have adverse effects on the economic and environmental landscapes in local communities.

During ICJ’s previous trips to Sittwe and Kyaukphyu, local civil society activists had asked for information on responsible investment and national and international standards relating to displacement, land confiscations, and environmental and social impact assessments.

In the first day of the workshop, U Kyaw Min San, ICJ’S National Legal Adviser, led the discussion on fundamental citizen rights guaranteed in Myanmar legislation as well as an analysis of the land laws in Myanmar.

Daniel Aguirre, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, gave an overview of international human rights law and the role of States and business corporations in protecting and respecting economic, social and cultural rights.

Vani Sathisan, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, provided a legal analysis of Myanmar’s law on Special Economic Zones (SEZ), highlighting how the law fails to guarantee the protection of human rights and the environment while providing tax reliefs and exemptions, as well as land leases, to win over investors and developers.

On the second day, Daw Tin Tin Wai, Private Sector Policy Officer from Oxfam GB and a Campaign Officer from EarthRights International shared their experiences from Dawei SEZ and Thilawa SEZ, respectively.

They shared that lack of consultations with local communities and large-scale land confiscations through intimidation and threats occurring in the two SEZs reflected flaws in the government and judiciary to protect human rights and provide for access to remedy.

The workshop included a group discussion among the participants focusing on the role of local and international non-governmental organizations in Kyauk Phyu, Ponna Kyunn and Sittwe, the current situation of Kyauk Phyu SEZ and Ponna Kyunn industry zone and land issues related to such development projects.

Hayman Oo, ICJ’s Legal Researcher, facilitated the discussion, which served to highlight the specific themes around which the CSOs were organizing their advocacy and research.

At the closing dinner, U Kyaw Min San extended the ICJ’s appreciation to all the local CSOs for their participation and active engagement, and reiterated the ICJ’s support to work with community-driven organizations to work on recommendations to the government and businesses on transparency, prior consent and consultation, and compensations, and to push for a more rights-compliant approach to investments in Kyaukphyu.


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