On March 1st, the Shwe Gas Movement launched their 7th Annual Global Day of Action against the Shwe Gas and China-Burma Pipelines Project. With support from over 100 organizations in over 20 countries, SGM drew attention to the human rights abuses being perpetrated as a direct result of the pipeline and demanded that the project be suspended until the negative environmental and social impacts of the project are addressed.
Over the past year, Burma has become more open and civil society groups have had success in campaigning to suspend or modify several controversial development projects; the Mytzone Dam in Kachin State and the coal-fired power plant in Dawei. The recent changes in Burma have left many, myself included, cautiously optimistic. However, excitement from those successes should not overshadow the work that is left to be done. As Katie judiciously stated in her post, back in December, “even the most optimistic agree that it will take a long time before any of what we’ve heard from Burma’s capital is felt on the ground by those who have suffered the most. It took decades to build one of the world’s most notorious armies… those half-million soldiers won’t change their brutal ways overnight.” This is evidenced by the continuation of brutal Burmese military offensives in areas near controversial development projects. The renewed violence between the Burmese Army and ethnic armed groups in Northern Shan State, more specifically, in areas slated for the Shwe Oil and Gas Pipelines, is a perfect example of this.
In an effort to gain control of areas around natural resource projects in Kachin and northern Shan State where Chinese-led hydroelectric are planned or in operation, and where the Shwe Gas and China-Burma Crude Oil pipelines are planned, the Burmese Army launched offensives against both the Shan State Amy North and the Kachin Independence Army; these offensives ended 22 and 17 year-long ceasefires respectively and have led to a humanitarian crisis with over 70,000 internally displaced people in Burma, and thousands fleeing as refugees to China. While the SSA-N has re-signed a ceasefire with Burmese Army, as of late 2011, fighting between the KIA and the Burmese Army continues to rage. Credible reports of wide-spread human rights abuses committed by the Burma army continue, with rapes, destruction and looting of local villages, torture, summary execution, and other crimes documented by both international and local human rights and civil society groups.
According to Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), which has been documenting the atrocities committed by the Burmese Army since fighting recommenced between the Burmese Army and the KIA in June 2011, “37 women and girls were raped during the first two months of the conflict; 13 of these [women] were killed.” According to KWAT, the prevalence of these kinds of atrocities has only increased since the expansion of the Burmese Army offensive in September.
The story of human right abuses that occur as a result of ethnic conflict and large scale development projects in Burma is not new. Human Rights organizations have been documenting these abuses for decades. It is also not a story that should be forgotten, especially in this critical time when western governments are considering lifting sanctions and there is the potential for a greater number of these development projects. As I write this now, I anxiously await the outcome of the Kiobel and Mohamad cases, which will decide where corporations’ responsibility will lie in all of this; if they can be held responsible for participating in crimes against humanity and torture abroad. And I hope, for the sake of Burma and any other resource rich country, that they will continue to be.