Fresh Protests at Letpadaung Copper Mine Underline Need for Better Management of Natural Resources

March 2nd, 2017  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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Last week, the highly controversial Letpadaung Copper Mine in Myanmar’s[1] northwestern Sagaing Region once again faced protests when nearby villagers instigated a roadblock in front of the compound, demanding that the mine cease operations. Protestors claim that the mine’s operators — Wanbao Mining Limited, a subsidiary of a Chinese arms manufacturer — reneged on promises made to local residents in 2013, including adequate compensation for confiscated land.

The Letpadaung Copper Mine, a joint venture between Wanbao, the military-affiliated, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, and the state-owned company, Mining Enterprise 1, has previously come into the international spotlight due to the Myanmar Government’s disproportionate response to peaceful protests. In November 2012, police forces attacked over 100 Buddhist monks and villagers with white phosphorous, an incendiary chemical usually reserved for warfare. In December 2014, police shot to death a female villager, Daw Khin Win. Since protests begun in 2011, dozens have been criminally charged under the country’s laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly. The parliamentary investigation commission created in the wake of the protests in 2012, while affirming the environmental and human rights concerns brought up by civil society, did not, and does not, call for suspension of the mine, nor have any officials involved in the protest crackdowns been held accountable. In a report released earlier this month, Amnesty International highlights Wanbao’s lack of environmental and rights accountability, and calls for a moratorium on operations until a full environmental investigation is achieved and adequate safeguards are put in place.

The Letpadaung Copper Mine example is a microcosm of larger pattern of natural resource extraction in the country. Economic liberalization in recent years, combined with the signing of bilateral ceasefire agreements with some ethnic armed organizations, has opened access to areas previously beyond the reach of the Myanmar Army, the government, and foreign investors. Extractive industries in Myanmar often come into conflict with local communities and raise concerns of inadequate compensation, environmental damages, human rights violations, the lack of adherence to the practice of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and little or no economic benefit offered to their communities. Furthermore, such resource extraction in ethnic areas fuels armed conflict as the Myanmar Army seeks to secure project areas. A report launched last week by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC), an independent organization providing resources and capacity-building in support of the peace process, says that there has been “no progress” in the equitable management of resources under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government. Examples of similar narratives litter the country. Notably, several of the six-hydropower dams proposed on the Salween River have recently, too, been marred by protests from local communities who will be affected by the projects.

Sustainable development in Myanmar will require the equitable management of resources, community-driven efforts, and a systematic procedure for public consultation for proposed projects. In a positive move last week, the Myanmar Lower House of Parliament agreed to discuss an urgent proposal to review controversial dam, mining, and construction projects across the country. Similar dialogues must continue but with the full and meaningful consultation with, and participation of, potentially affected local communities and civil society groups. Speaking at the ENAC report launch, Sai Nyunt Lwin, the Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy said, “We’re focusing on who should own natural resources, who should manage them, how to allocate [revenues] and what the implications will be.” Addressing such questions and working with local communities will benefit not only the affected communities, but also the government as it seeks to build trust and dismantle the grievances over natural resources that have continually dogged the national reconciliation process.

“We’re focusing on who should own natural resources, who should manage them, how to allocate [revenues] and what the implications will be”

In its effort to keep up with the pace of development, Myanmar must be cautious of succumbing too quickly to the seduction of rapid industrialization and sending the country down a path of rampant human rights abuse and environmental degradation. At this early stage of its opening up, there is abundant opportunity for Myanmar to establish standards that would protect and preserve the environment and livelihoods for local communities for future generations. On the other hand, Myanmar’s geopolitical maneuvering is made evermore complex in the context of national reconciliation as these large projects often encroach upon ethnic communities, for which natural resources play a large role in autonomy and control. Thus the government, depending on its response, also risks further undermining a peace process already blighted by ethnic mistrust. Therefore, the NLD-led Government must navigate pressures from foreign investors and governments along with its own ambitious development goals and the wishes of the people.

In the meantime, however, there should be a moratorium on all large-scale resource extraction projects, particularly in armed conflict-affected ethnic areas, until a sustainable peace agreement with provisions on an equitable share and management of natural resources is achieved, and a comprehensive assessment is conducted on the potential social and environmental impacts of all such projects with the full and meaningful participation of local communities.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

ေက်ာင္းသားသမဂၢ အေဆာက္အအုံ ျပန္လည္တည္ေဆာက္ေရး လုပ္ေဆာင္ေနမႈမ်ားႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္၍ ရခုိင္ျပည္လုံးဆုိင္ရာေက်ာင္းသားႏွင့္လူငယ္မ်ားအစည္းအ႐ုံး (ရ၊ က၊ လ၊ စ) မွ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္
By All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress

Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear: Amnesty International releases its Annual Report for 2016 to 2017
By Amnesty International

Rohingya Refugees of Myanmar: Bangladesh is Facilitating Ethnic Cleansing of the Rohingyas in Arakan and Indigenous Jumma Peoples in the CHTs by Using the Fleeing Rohingyas
By Asian Centre for Human Rights

Statement from the Ninth Congress of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
By  Kachin Women’s Association Thailand

Refugee Youth Must Have the Opportunity to Participate in Burma’s Transition
By Karen Student Network Group and Karen Youth Organisation, Burma Link

Heal: Do Not Wound Statement by His Eminence Cardinal Charles Bo for an End of Violence and Terror in the Country
By His Eminence Cardinal Charles Bo

The Human Rights Council Should Adopt a Strong Resolution on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar
By Human Rights Watch

Students’ and Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB) felicitation letter to the Ceremony of the 69th Anniversary of Zomi National Day
By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

ရန္ကုန္တကၠသိုလ္ ေက်ာင္းသားသမဂၢ အေဆာက္အဦး ျပန္လည္တည္ေဆာက္မႈအေပၚ ျမန္မာနိုင္ငံေက်ာင္းသားလူငယ္မ်ားကြန္ဂရက္၏သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

End of Mission Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
By Yanghee Lee/United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner



Myanmar: Amnesty International Annual Report 2016/17
By Amnesty International

ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံ၏ သဘာဝသယံဇာတ ပုိင္ဆုိင္မႈ၊စီမံခန္႔ခြဲမႈ၊ဝင္ေငြခြဲေဝမႈႏွင့္ အက်ဳိးသက္ေရာက္မႈ အစီရင္ခံစာ
By Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”