Sea Nomads Threatened with Extinction, Claims Burmese Rights Group

16th December 2020 – London/Yangon – In recent years, Myanmar has captured the attention of the international community because of its flagrant human rights violations against its indigenous populations – notably the Rohingya, Rakhine, and Kachin peoples. The country, however, is comprised of several other indigenous and ethnic groups that are experiencing severe human rights violations at the hands of the Tatmadaw and have not landed on the radar of the international community.

“Burma’s persecution of the Moken people is another jarring example of the government’s efforts to erase their minorities in the interest of profit and bigotry. Recognition of the plight of the Moken is not enough, the international community must stand firmly as allies in protecting their safety and culture from the devastating harms of the callousness of the Burmese Government,” said BHRN’s Executive Director, Kyaw Win.

On December 16, 2020 Burma Human Rights Network launched a report titled, “The Coming Extinction: The Moken People of Burma’s Mergui Archipelago” which focuses on an ancient sea nomadic tribal group, the Moken people, who reside in the waters around Myanmar and Thailand, their ancestral home. As a result of persecution at the hands of the Myanmar military and endorsed by the National League of Democracy government (led by Aung San Suu Kyi) they have been forced to live on land and cannot practice their faith and culture freely. While there are some limited reports that discuss the unique lives of the Moken people, the Burma Human Rights Network indicates that more is needed given the fact that hours of interviews and research indicate that their lives and culture has been and continues to be systematically destroyed as a result of tourism and leases given to pearl companies who come to the Mergui Archipelago in search of its beautiful pearls.  The report provides a comprehensive overview and history as to the Moken people and the threats they are facing.

BHRN was joined during their report launch by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Francisco Cali Tzay.  Mr. Tzay reiterated and underscored the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Myanmar has endorsed.

In the report, BHRN calls upon the Myanmar government to stop all human rights violations against the Moken and to appropriately count them as their own indigenous group in the national census and give utmost respect and deference to their culture. Further, pearl companies who are doing business in and around the Mergui archipelago should consistently uphold the tenets of free, prior, and informed consent which is found not only in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but also the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  The pearl exploration in this region provides millions of Dollars revenue which support Burma that in turn has been able to use the funds to continue genocide against its indigenous groups all over the country.

The international community has obligation and opportunity to stop the annihilation of an indigenous group that has much to contribute and teach the world. The launch on the report is timely considering the United Nations has launched its Decade on Oceans or “Ocean Decade” to take place beginning this year. The remaining Moken people and the few other tribal groups whose cultures are based on the sea have a lot to teach the international community about the preservation of the oceans and its life.  However, without concerted international efforts to protect the Moken, this sea faring peoples will be lost forever.

Background on the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)

BHRN is based in London and operates across Burma/Myanmar working for human rights, minority rights and religious freedom in the country. BHRN has played a crucial role in advocating for human rights and religious freedom with politicians and world leaders.

Media Enquiries
Please contact:

Kyaw Win
Executive Director
Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
E: [email protected]
T: +44(0) 740 345 2378


View the original press release.

Read the report here.

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