On March 1st, over 100 organizations in more than 20 countries marked the Global Day of Action (GDA) against the Shwe Gas Project by holding protests and calling on the Burmese government to postpone the two controversial pipelines set to come online in 2013. The multi-billion dollar projects traverse the breadth of Burma, from the western coast in Arakan (Rakhine) State through Shan State to Yunnan China, and will export Burma’s natural wealth to China with little benefit for the people of Burma. EarthRights International supports the GDA’s call to suspend the project until rights are protected and negative impacts are prevented within a sustainable framework for national development.

Highlighting the GDA was a letter signed by civil society organizations both inside and outside of Burma to President Thein Sein expressing serious concerns over abuses linked to the project, including forced displacement, militarization and conflict in northern Shan State, loss of livelihoods, environmental degradation, lack of public information and local participation, and inadequate benefits for local communities from the Chinese and Korean led projects.

Launched by the Shwe Gas Movement (SGM), the GDA has three main activities as described by SGM Coordinator, Wong Aung. “First we will demand the foreign governments and stake holders in the project to temporarily suspend the project withdrawing their respective investments from the project in consideration of social suffering, environmental damage and human rights violations impacted by the project in our region, and second a signed petition by over 100 organizations will be sent to President U Thein Sein, and third we will hold demonstrations in a number of countries that include stake holding countries in the project.”

Over the last year as restrictions inside Burma have eased and local communities and civil society organizations learn more about major development projects and feel freer to organize and speak openly, vocal opposition has grown. Partly responding to this opposition based on human rights and environmental concerns, major investments have been modified or suspended; The Myitsone Dam in Kachin State was suspended in late 2011, and the recent announcement of the suspension of a 4,000 MW coal-fired power plant to fuel the Dawei Deep See Port and Special Economic Zone project.

Will the Shwe Gas and Burma-China oil pipelines be next in line? Already, communities in Arakan State are calling for 24-hour electricity from the Shwe gas project and police have arrested, harassed, and in one case, imprisoned, and tortured those opposed to the projects. Local communities see little benefit with over 90% of the energy contracted for export to China, and fishing and farming communities along the project route are already are experiencing loss of land and access to fishing areas. Most recently, fighting has erupted near the border with China as the Burmese army attempts to wrestle control over the pipeline corridor from armed ethnic groups, leading to internally displaced persons, and refugees.

Land Confiscation and Loss of Livelihood

In order to clear land for the pipeline projects in Arakan State, Magway and Mandalay Division and northern Shan State, the Burmese military and local officials, and local and multinational companies have confiscated farmers’ land. Some farmers have received some compensation, while others have received little or nothing; others have been promised one amount, but received only half of their payments. The Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO), which operates in areas along the pipeline route in Shan State has documented land confiscation between Kyaukme and Hsipaw in northern Shan State, including numerous cases where no compensation was provided. EarthRights International has received reports that many people are removed from their land with threats that if they do not leave they will receive no compensation and their land will be taken.

Even if the farmers do receive compensation, it is not sufficient to recompense for the loss of their source of income. As most farmers along the pipeline are subsistence farmers, their livelihood depends on their land. The lack of a relocation plan or vocational training for those farmers leaves them with no alternate source of income, and the compensation income dries up in a short period, leading to food insecurity. In addition, many fishing areas in Arakan State have been blocked off from use by local fishermen, who often have no other method of providing food for their family.

Widespread corruption in local land offices has led to further livelihood impacts for communities along the pipeline route. In typical cases, local farmers do not have land title, despite having lived and worked on the land for generations. They are forced to pay anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the land compensation price to local corrupt offices to obtain land titles.

Recently, Daewoo International, operator of the Shwe Offshore Gas Project and Onshore Natural Gas Terminal and a participant in the onshore Shwe Gas pipeline disclosed their compensation process, and has made efforts to compensate farmers whose land was damaged by project-related activity in Kyakpyu Township. These actions are welcomed and EarthRights International encourages further efforts from them and all investing companies to disclosure project information and fairly compensate local communities negatively impacted by the projects.

Increased Fighting in Northern Shan State

Attacks by the Burmese army against ethnic armed groups is occurring today as a result of the army’s attempt to gain control over areas slated for the pipeline in northern Shan State. Fighting began with Burmese army attacks that ended a 22-year ceasefire between the Shan State Army-North and the Burmese army in March 2011 and army attacks against the Kachin Independence Army in June 2011 ending a 17-year ceasefire. These attacks, initially sparked by tensions caused by Chinese hydroelectric projects continues and has now spread to the pipeline corridor in Shan State, despite ceasefire negotiations and statements by President Thein Sein calling for the cessation of offensive attacks by the Burmese army.

EarthRights International foresaw the pipeline projects leading to heightened tension and violence and warned all stakeholders as early as 2005 of the human rights risks if the project went ahead. In 2008, the Korea Government ignored the risks of the project when it dismissed a complaint filed by EarthRights International on behalf of the Shwe Gas Movement and nine co-complainants to the Korean National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Shwe Gas Movement Global Day of Action

Reports on the Pipelines

  • The Burma-China Pipelines: Human Rights Violations, Applicable Law, and Revenue Secrecy (2011) (EarthRights International) (English, Burmese, Korean
  • Sold Out: Launch of China pipeline project unleashes abuse across Burma (2011) (Shwe Gas Movement) (English, Burmese)