Dam Nation

Communities living alongside the lifeblood of Myanmar[1] – its rivers – came together for International Rivers Day on 14 March, 2018 to make their collective voices heard and oppose harmful hydropower construction. In Karen, Karenni, and Shan States, where fourteen dam projects are in various stages of planning or construction, the message was clear – “say no to military action and destructive energy projects that endanger peace.”

The Salween River, which runs through Shan, Karen, Mon and Karenni States, ethnic nationality areas that have experienced decades of armed conflict, is Southeast Asia’s last remaining river that flows uninterrupted. The communities that live alongside it depend on it, not just for their livelihoods, but for the cultural and spiritual importance it carries. Yet the Myanmar Government and Army is recklessly and aggressively pushing ahead with the construction of fourteen dams, the power generated from which will largely be sold off to Myanmar’s neighbors – China and Thailand. As the statement by Karen Rivers Watch, a coalition of ethnic Karen civil society organizations, pointed out “Government support for the Salween dams threatens to dispossess hundreds of thousands of ethnic people of their land and livelihood, including refugees and internally displaced persons who have already been forced to flee armed conflict. Ultimately, these energy projects will export electricity, but import social problems and environmental destruction to river systems that support the lives  of millions of people in Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan States.”

“Government support for the Salween dams threatens to dispossess hundreds of thousands of ethnic people of their land and livelihood, including refugees and internally displaced persons who have already been forced to flee armed conflict. Ultimately, these energy projects will export electricity, but import social problems and environmental destruction to river systems that support the lives  of millions of people in Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan States.”

Karen Rivers Watch

Not only will this have devastating environmental and social impacts on local communities, but already they are placing great strain on the fragile ceasefires signed by ethnic armed organizations. Incidences of armed conflict have occurred around proposed dam sites such as the Hatgyi Dam where 5,000 people remain displaced after the Myanmar Army aggressively attempted to secure the area in 2016. The fragility of the ceasefires – the Karen National Union (KNU) is a signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement – has been brought into focus recently with armed clashes in the KNU’s Mutraw District, causing approximately 2,000 villagers to flee. The Myanmar Army is attempting to repair a road unused by local people in the area to make troop mobilizations easier, part of its strategy to take advantage of ceasefire conditions to militarize and strengthen its positions in previously inaccessible areas.

While Myanmar’s energy needs are taking priority over local communities, there are alternatives to the displacement, destruction and conflict that the dams will bring. The Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG) – a network of ten civil society organizations working in ethnic, conflict-affected areas of Myanmar – last year released a report with a roadmap for sustainable, federal and decentralized governance of Myanmar’s natural resources, including water. The roadmap “seeks to safeguard rights and tenure, safeguard against environmental destruction, and prevent the escalation of conflict. Steps are intended to build the capacity of local, representative governments to establish and implement development priorities appropriate for their respective populations.” Included are sustainable and decentralized community-based measures to manage rivers and water sources, including energy production.

Large-scale dam projects in Myanmar have thus far brought more conflict, environmental destruction, the loss of land and livelihoods and irreparable social and cultural damage. As Paul Sein Twa, Director of Karen Environmental and Social Action Network stated in his speech on International Rivers Day, “Our Karen people ask for peace and freedom. What they [authorities] give us in response are dams. That is not what we asked for. The dam cannot bring us peace. We don’t want any dams. We are against it.” International corporations, financial institutions, and the central Myanmar authorities, armed with market power and the military might of the Myanmar Army must not continue to bully ethnic populations into accepting the irreversible destruction that huge dams will bring. On International Rivers Day, ethnic communities who not only depend on the rivers, but have sustainably managed and taken care of them for generations have made their voices clear, they must be listened to for the sake of future generations of all people of Myanmar.

“Our Karen people ask for peace and freedom. What they [authorities] give us in response are dams. That is not what we asked for. The dam cannot bring us peace. We don’t want any dams. We are against it.”

Paul Sein Twa, Director of Karen Environmental and Social Action Network

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[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

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar: Oral statement to HRC37 interactive dialogue with Fact Finding Mission and Special Rapporteur
By Article 19

Australia-ASEAN Summit: Leaders Must Take a Stand Against Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya
By Amnesty International

Statement by Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, on his visit to Bangladesh to assess the situation of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar
By Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

Regional MPs Urge Myanmar Parliament to Reject Amendments to Peaceful Assembly Law
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Myanmar: Military Land Grab as Security Forces Build Bases on Torched Rohingya Villages
By Amnesty International

Rohingya Continue to Suffer Food Shortages and Unlivable Conditions
By Burma Human Rights Network

Mass Atrocities against Rohingyas Require Urgent Action for Accountability Mechanism
By Burma Human Rights Network, Burma Rohingya Organization-UK and European Rohingya Council

FCO Minister Field statement on UN Fact Finding Mission on Burma
By Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Joint Statement Following the Second UK-Bangladesh Strategic Dialogue
By Foreign & Commonwealth Office

FCO Minister Field Statement on the Rohingya Crisis
By Foreign & Commonwealth Office and The Rt Hon Mark Field MP

Myanmar: Accountability for Ethnic Cleansing Urgently Required
By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar: Cooperation with UN Needed, UN Must Put Rights Up Front (UN statement)
By International Commission of Jurists

Burma’s “Peace Process”: The Government Talks, the Military Shoots, Villagers Flee
By Karen Community of Canada

Karen National Union (KNU) Position Statement on Tatmadaw Military Activities in Sending Military Forces into Mutraw District (Papun) to Build a road based for Military Use, during the Implementation of the Ceasefire
By Karen National Union

အပစ္အခတ္ရပ္စဲေရး အေကာင္အထည္ေဖာ္ေနဆဲကာလတြင္ တပ္မေတာ္မွ မူေၾထာ္ခရိုင္ (ဖာပြန္)အတြင္း စစ္ေရးအျမင္ျဖင့္ ကားလမ္းေဖာက္လုပ္ေရးအတြက္ တပ္အင္အားေစလႊတ္မႈႏွင့္ပါတ္သက္သည့္ စစ္ေရးလႈပ္ရွားမႈမ်ားအေပၚ KNU- ကရင္အမ်ိဳးသားအစည္းအရုံး၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Karen National Union

Say No to Military Action and Destructive Energy Project that Endanger Peace
By Karen River Watch

ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးကုိ အႏၱရယ္ျပဳသည့္ ျမန္မာစစ္တပ္၏ စစ္ေရးလႈပ္ရွားမႈႏွင့္ စြမ္းအင္စီမံကိန္းမ်ားကုိ အလုိမရွိ
By Karen River Watch

Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar: Concrete and Overwhelming Information Points to International Crimes
By Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Myanmar: UN Expert Calls for Accountability Over Violence in Rakhine State
By Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

reports

Reports

Remaking Rakhine State
By Amnesty International

They Are Running Again, This Time With Babies: Over 1,700 Villagers Flee as Burma Army Attacks and Builds Roads in Northern Karen State
By Free Burma Rangers


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.

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