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Letpadaung Report Does Not Address Concerns, Places Security Forces Above the Law

By Burma Partnership  •  March 18, 2013

Letpadaung Monywa Mine © JPaing/IrrawaddyThis week the much anticipated report of the Letpadaung investigation commission, appointed by President Thein Sein and chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was finally released. The report acknowledges that the mine lacks strong environmental protection measures and would not create more jobs for local people. It also recognizes that farmers were forcibly evicted from their land to make way for the project. However the report says the copper mine project “should not be unilaterally stopped.” This recommendation deeply disappointed local farmers and activists who angrily rejected the commission’s report while the Wanbao Company welcomed it.

After the release of the report, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited the villages affected by the project to explain the findings of the commission. She called for the communities to stop opposing the project and accept compensation for their lost land. “We have asked the company to first give jobs to our people and second to maintain a healthy environment, according to international standards, and third to provide education and health care for the people,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in a speech in Salingyi Township. But she was confronted by protesters who feel that the report does not acknowledge their demands.

During her visit, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also urged villagers to end their peaceful actions against the mine, telling them that their protest “is in vain.” “Don’t protest without getting permission from the authorities. I suggested that the authorities take action if the people protest without getting permission because there must be law enforcement in our country,” added the NLD Chairperson. Communities in the Letpadaung mine area requested permits to exercise their right to peaceful assembly but were rejected 11 times by the police. In addition, in the past months, it has become clear that the new Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law has been used to criminalize democracy activists and human rights defenders and that permission to protest is often denied for political actions. On Friday again, protesters were warned by authorities to leave the area near the mine.

The commission was limited by its mandate which did not include investigation of the police’s use of excessive force against protesters in the November 29 crackdown. The report says that smoke bombs containing phosphorous were used. The commission acknowledges the mistake of the police for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that police receive riot-control training. “We want to suggest that the police should check the material that they will use and what its effects are, before an anti-riot crackdown,” says the report.

Only recommending training reinforces the feeling that security forces in Burma are still above the law enjoying impunity. It also sends the message that security forces can do it again, as the only sanction for burning peaceful protesters will be a training. One would have hoped for the commission to have called, as suggested by the Lawyers Network report, for further effective and independent investigation into the police abuses, prosecutions of those responsible for violations including senior officials, and remedies and compensations for the victims of the crackdown, so that rule of law is followed and justice is done in the Letpadaung case.

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