Locals in Dawei Seek Justice After Impact of Destructive Tin Mining

By Saw Yan Naing 21 December 2016

Villagers from the economic development-driven Dawei District in Tenasserim Division say that they have not received proper compensation after a tin mining project began negatively affecting their livelihoods.

With their lawyers, locals from Myaung Pyo village in Dawei District held a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday, explaining that they had been fighting for two years to be compensated by the Myanmar Pongpipat Company’s Heinda tin mining project due to its negative physical and environmental impact.

“The mine’s negligent environmental management has wreaked havoc on our land, health and livelihoods. The fresh waterway has been poisoned with dangerous levels of lead and arsenic, and crops have been destroyed by sediment from the mine,” villagers said in Rangoon.

The Heinda project, conducted by Myanmar Pongpipat Company and No 2. Mining Enterprise, has caused severe flooding and sedimentation, destroying villagers’ houses, plantations, sanitation infrastructure and making the water toxic, according to a statement released by the Dawei Pro Bono Lawyers Network, a civil society organization assisting locals. The legal case is currently pending.

“The Myaung Pyo villagers are hopeful that their case will bring justice,” said the statement.

Nine plaintiffs from Myaung Pyo village first filed a lawsuit against the Myanmar Pongpipat Company in March 2014 in order to seek compensation for damages caused by the project.

However, in June of this year, the plaintiffs were barred from pursuing the case further as the courts decided it should have been filed within one year of the damage, which began in 2012. The Dawei Pro Bono Lawyers Network, which represents the plaintiffs, argued that the time limitations relied on by the Union Supreme Court are inapplicable.

“Under Myanmar law, time limits only start to run once ‘continuing harm’ ceases,” said the lawyers in the statement.

The mine project was suspended temporarily in June 2016 at the request of the environmental conservation department of Tenasserim Division. But the project reportedly continues to operate today, which lawyers involved believe is a violation of the 2015 Environmental Impact Assessment procedures.

The lawyers and the plaintiffs also said that the reaction of the environmental conservation department in the Heinda case would be “a crucial test of the current Burmese government’s and court’s commitment to these principles,” as Burma seeks to improve human rights, democracy and pursue sustainable development.

During the conference in Rangoon, a documentary called “poison development” made by filmmaker Kyaw Thu Maung was also shown.

As economic and political reforms have opened Burma up to unprecedented domestic and foreign investment, development projects have mushroomed across the country, and the Dawei region is reserved as a special economic zone with multi-billion dollar projects such as a deep-sea port, an industrial park, roads, mining, rubber and palm plantations.