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15 December 2014 – 11 January 2015: Letpadaung Crisis Takes a Turn for the Worse

January 12, 2015

jpaing-irrawaddy-6-1-2015As 2014 ended seeing Burma’s reforms backsliding and the peace process stalling, Burma welcomed 2015 with many unresolved issues continuing to face people across the country.

The ongoing dispute between local villagers and the Burma Government and Wanbao, a Chinese mining company, over land grabs and environmental damage continues to rumble on as police shot dead Daw Khin Win as she was demonstrating against the controversial Letpadaung mining project in Sagaing Region. Meanwhile, the police continue to arrest and detain activists who speak out against such violence on politically motivated charges, underlining the dire need for legal and judicial reform and the complete lack of the rule of law in Burma.

Letpadaung copper mine is a joint project between Wanbao Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the Chinese arms manufacturer, Norinco, and the Burma Army company, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited. Since an agreement was signed between the two companies in 2010, many villagers have been forcibly evicted, losing control over to pursuing traditional livelihoods on their ancestral land while environmental damage from the project has been a constant. Resistance from local villagers, activists and monks has been ongoing and the reaction of the police has been heavy handed. This is not the first time that police brutality has caused a national stir. In November 2012, police used phosphorus bombs upon attacking a protest camp, inflicting horrific burns on dozens of people including monks.

The latest violence comes after company workers and police attempted to fence off farmland without notification. As local villagers protested, police attacked and shot at them, killing 56 year old woman, Daw Khin Win and injuring others. This situation outraged the country’s democracy and human rights activists, civil society groups and political opposition across the country. Many civil society organizations and prominent ethnic political parties and armed groups issued statements calling on the Government to take due responsibility. Subsequent protests against this brutality were held in Rangoon and a few other major towns and cities, while hundreds came out to the streets of Mandalay. Police charged seven activists, including prominent woman human rights defender, Naw Ohn Hla in Rangoon under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, a usual rouse to detain democracy activists and human rights defenders. Their trial begins this week.

This case is particularly salient for the EU, which last year committed €10 million to improve crowd control strategies of the police. Thus far, the EU has yet to release a statement condemning this police brutality despite the obvious embarrassment.

The Burma Government is keen to blame such democracy activists and human rights defenders for unrest at Letpadaung. For example the secretary of the parliamentary committee set up to resolve problems with this project stated, “We are trying to investigate who are these outsiders, organizations and activists that are inciting the villagers; the authorities are preparing a lawsuit against them. The recent incident at Letpadaung was caused by these outsiders.”

These excuses are a distraction from real issues of legal and judicial reform and the dire need for some semblance of rule of law. The killing of Daw Khin Win by the police force does not compensate those who have no means to pursue their livelihoods. The arbitrary arrest of activists demonstrating against the murder of Daw Khin Win does not bring justice to her family. Furthermore, as seen in many other examples of police violence in the past, the judicial system is so corrupt and partial that it cannot guarantee accountability. Examples of arbitrary arrest, torture and violent attacks on those standing up for their rights were a common thread throughout last year. None of these victims were able to seek redress from a judiciary that is merely in the pocket of the authorities and serves as a tool to protect those in power that commit such violence.

Thus it is imperative that the Burma Government adopts steps to reform the judiciary to become independent and effective as well as show the political will to hold members of the security services accountable. Rule of law in Burma has been shown again to be painfully absent. The international community, especially the EU, must pressure the Burma Government to implement such steps that create an environment that protects the rights of the people and their communities rather than using oppressive laws to stifle the voices of those who work to protect these people and communities. This is especially significant in 2015, a year that may prove to be crucial for the reform process given the general elections. These steps include amending or repealing the raft of laws that do not comply with international human rights standards and are used to suppress human rights activists and civil society, as well as reforming the judiciary to ensure independence from the Government or the Army. Otherwise, we will see more tragic cases such as that of Daw Khin Win in 2015 and national reconciliation will be further and further away from being realized.

On behalf of the Burma Partnership team we wish you all the best for 2015 and we hope it will be a positive one for the people of Burma.

News Highlights

United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Ms. Yanghee Lee makes her second mission to Burma, visiting communities in northern Shan State and internally displaced persons camps in Arakan State, which prompts a protest at Sittwe airport organized by Arakanese Buddhist nationalists who reject the UN’s position that the Rohingya have the right to self-identity

Inside Burma

Burma Government replaces the Remaining Political Prisoner Scrutiny Committee with the Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee, removing members from the former committee who are critical of the Government, in the process also excluding organizations engaged with political prisoners such as Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

President Thein Sein and Burma Army chief Min Aung Hlaing hold first joint meetings with ethnic armed group representatives in hopes of reaching a nationwide ceasefire accord within the next month though the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Karen National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Chin National Front (CNF) did not attend the meetings

Union Election Commission announces the 2015 general election will be held in early November, as it plans to release preliminary lists of eligible voters in the near future

The debate on the draft Banks and Financial Institutions Law continues as many express concerns that the draft law gives too much power to the Central Bank of Myanmar

United Wa State Army, Burma’s largest non-state army, retake key trading post in the golden triangle from the Burma Government by reopening Popakyen trading hub in Mong Hsat Township, Shan State

Burma Army crackdown on timber trade in Kachin State and the Burma Army owned Myawaddy daily newspaper accuse KIA of facilitating illegal trade

Burma welcomes its first local cardinal who calls on Burma’s religious leaders to avoid stirring up extremism

Karen man who was found guilty of bombing a guesthouse in Taungoo that killed two is sentenced to death, although the alleged mastermind is still at large


50 migrants, mostly Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma are being held in southern Thailand, possibly victims to human trafficking

Projects in Dawei Special Economic Zone may be revived as Thailand rejoins talks with Burma


UN General Assembly adopts a resolution expressing serious concern regarding the plight of Rohingya muslims and urging Burma Government to grant them citizenship and equal access to services

Finnish funded project in Karenni State that was highly criticized by local civil society for encouraging refugees to prematurely return is proclaimed a success by the Finnish Government


Japan’s Misadventures in Burma
By Rin Fujimatsu and Alex Moodie
The Wall Street Journal

Flawed Scrutiny Process Leaves Political Prisoners Languishing
By Bo Kyi
The Irrawaddy

Latest from the Blog

As 2014 Comes to an End, Students Hold Key to New Chapter in Burma Politics
By Burma Partnership


TAKE ATION! Write a letter to President Thein Sein and the Burma Government in response to charges against seven peaceful protesters – four of them currently detained – after they peacefully demonstrated against a fatal shooting at the Letpadaung copper mine site in December

TAKE ACTION! Call on the Burma Government to immediately and unconditionally release Ko Wai Lu who has been arbitrarily detained and is facing imprisonment in Myanmar after he provided support to peaceful protesters who are calling on the authorities to resolve their land dispute

Political prisoners and former political prisoner have revived a campaign calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners in reaction to continuing arrest of political prisoners after Thein Sein’s broken promise to release all political prisoners by 2013

Statements and Press Releases

Open Letter: To President Thein Sein
By Amnesty International and Fortify Rights and Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch and International Commission of Jurists and Physicians for Human Rights

Even Though I Am Free I Am Not: The need for the campaign in 2015
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

oint Statement for 67th Annivesary of Independence Day of Burma (Myanmar)
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Former Political Prisoners Society

Myanmar National Human Rights Council Urged to Free Aung Soe
By Burma Campaign UK

Statement on Government Policy on Return and Resettlement of Exiled Activists and Political Forces
By Burma Partnership and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Equality Myanmar

UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee Should Focus on Violations of International Law
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Statement from First European Rohingya Conference
By European Rohingya Conference

Myanmar: Drop Charges Against Father of Slain School-Girl
By Fortify Rights

Statement by Karen Community Based Organizations Welcoming the Release By The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School of, “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar” It’s Time For Justice
By Karen Community Based Organizations

Statement on Letpadaung Region Crackdown that Killed One Local Resident
By Member Parties of United Nationalities Alliance and Partner Political Parties and Ceasefire Ethnic Armed Groups and Mass-based Civil Society Organizations

Statement of Civil Societies on Latpataung Copper Mining Conflict
By Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability

Myanmar: UN expert to assess human rights situation in Rakhine and Northern Shan States
By UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Burma Army Kill Villager in Front of His Parents, then Force over 1,200 Villagers to Demonstrate Against “Insurgents” for Killing Civilians in Murng Yawng
By Shan Human Rights Foundation


Our Lives Not For Sale: Tavoyan Women Speak Out Against the Dawei Special Economic Zone Project
By Tavoyan Women’s Union

This post is in: Weekly Highlights