Another Landslide, Another Tragedy

Armed actors, including druglords, Myanmar military-affiliated militias, ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar military itself, which has the largest stake, have interests in the jade mines and use this profit to sustain the conflicts that devastate local communities in both Kachin and Shan States.

A landslide in the jade mining area of Hpakant, Kachin State, has taken dozens more victims, putting a spotlight on a corrupt, exploitative and violent industry. This is not the first landslide that has killed local jade miners and it won’t be the last until the industry is tidied up, taxed, regulated, and brought under a federal governance structure that addresses natural resource management and the rights of the ethnic nationalities. Moreover these rights must be fully guaranteed by law, while the Myanmar[1] military, the prime beneficiary of this industry, must be brought under civilian control.

The landslide occurred on 22 April 2019, when the sides of a lake that had formed on the site of an abandoned jade mine collapsed, causing an avalanche of mud, trapping people and equipment. The collapse was caused by the excavation of another mine, below the site of the collapsed lake. It is estimated that 54 people were buried alive in the mud who were working during the night.

“When you take drugs, you feel so much stronger, more manly, and the high piles of earth don’t look so high any more. You can also find more jade.”

One miner in Hpakant

The jade industry in Myanmar is worth billions of dollars each year, up to $31 billion in 2014 according to Global Witness, as China’s thirst for the quality jade found in the mines of Hpakant, a town in Kachin State, is unrelenting. Around 300,000 migrant workers from across Myanmar come to work in these mines in unspeakably unsafe and filthy conditions, but looking to find that one large piece of quality jade that can earn them enough money to live on for the rest of their lives. Many of them scavenge the turned over ground, looking for pieces of jade that are leftover from large-scale industrial operations. The industry is not regulated properly, and leaves people vulnerable to landslides such as the one that occurred on 22 April, as companies are not forced to deal with leftover sites, or take necessary precautions. Another landslide in 2015 killed over 100 people. The work for the miners is extremeley difficult, both physically and mentally, and the presence of hundreds of thousands of young men in one area is a breeding ground for substance abuse and prostitution. Shacks selling heroin are common where a shot of heroin is less than $1. As one miner put it “When you take drugs, you feel so much stronger, more manly, and the high piles of earth don’t look so high any more. You can also find more jade.”

Yet given the toil and hardship that the workforce endure, as well as the huge environmental destruction to the area, it is particularly galling that only a handful of military, ex-military and cronies benefit, taking all the profit while paying no tax and thus depriving both Kachin State and Myanmar itself, of much-needed revenue to address poverty and underdevelopment. Armed militias affiliated with the Myanmar military, former head of the military junta, Than Shwe, and other well-connected generals rake in billions of dollars from this industry, which is worth nearly half of Myanmar’s current GDP. Yet most of this is not declared, and real ownership of the jade companies is not transparent. Furthermore, the industry fuels armed conflict and displacement. Armed actors, including druglords, Myanmar military-affiliated militias, ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar military itself, which has the largest stake, have interests in the jade mines and use this profit to sustain the conflicts that devastate local communities in both Kachin and Shan States.

This landslide is an all too often occurrence in filthy and hugely lucrative business which the people of Myanmar do not benefit from. The jade mining operations need to be suspended until a peace process that ensures an equitable natural resource management in line with principles of federalism is guaranteed constitutionally and implemented in policy. Furthermore, those who currently benefit from the death, destruction and toil of the underclass of workers who are in danger everyday need to be brought to account for the devastation that their thirst for profit brings. The jade industry in Myanmar is a monster that pays for the worst of the violence, abuse, and displacement, at the center of which is the Myanmar military. It must be tamed.

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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

Supreme Court Upholds Conviction of Reuters Journalists

By Article 19

Tata: Owner of Tetley, Jaguar and Land Rover: Stop Supplying Burma’s Genocidal Generals

By Burma Campaign UK

In Burma, the Same State That Pardons Also Imprisons

By Burma Human Rights Network

Supreme Court Rejects Reuters Journalist’s Appeal Against Jail Sentence

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Myanmar Court Rejects Appeal by Reuters’ Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

By Committee to Protect Journalists

Surge in Arrests for Critical Speech: Repeal Laws Criminalizing Peaceful Expression

By Human Rights Watch

IDFA and IFFR Call for Immediate Release of Myanmar Filmmaker and Festival Director Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi

By International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and International Film Festival Rotterdam

ျမန္မာ့တပ္မေတာ္မွ ေဒါင္းတုိ႔မ်ဳိးဆက္ သံခ်ပ္အဖြဲ႕ေခါင္းေဆာင္(၅)ဦးအား မတရားဖမ္းဆီးတရားစြဲဆုိခဲ့သည့္အေပၚ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္

By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

UN Experts Call Rejection of Reuters Appeal a “Grave Injustice”

By UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

U.S. Embassy Statement on Freedom of Speech

By U.S. Embassy in Burma

reports

Reports

Abuse or Exile: Myanmar’s Ongoing Persecution of the Rohingya

By Refugees International


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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