Rights-Compliant Investment Needed to Keep SEZs Fair for All

by Vani Sathisan*

resident-thanlyin-township

A resident of Thanlyin township sits inside her home after officials posted an eviction notice in February 2013.

The village elder from Mutu, a small village near Dawei, in southern Myanmar, held out the 30 complaint letters residents had sent to Tanintharyi Region Chief Minister U Myat Ko.

The letters sought to highlight alleged human rights violations related to the development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and requested that adequate compensation be paid to those affected.

In Mutu and neighbouring villages, farmers and fishermen lamented the displacement of communities, loss of livelihoods and culture, and forced relocations due to the development of the Dawei SEZ and related infrastructure. Some told us they were being charged with trespassing on government land because they had refused to leave their homes after their land had been confiscated.

While the Dawei SEZ has been stalled for some time, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will visit Myanmar – his first official overseas trip – and is expected to hold talks aimed at reviving the project.

But the complaints emanating from Dawei are not isolated incidents. Amid the euphoria of the investment gold rush, Myanmar faces an epidemic of land disputes exacerbated by the development of SEZs. Continue reading