To the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan
July 26, 2001
We, the individuals and organizations listed below, respectfully urge the Government of Japan to conduct a thorough study of the human rights and environmental situation around the Baluchaung Hydropower Plant No. 2 (“the Baluchaung” hereafter). We believe that no Cabinet decision on the grant should be made until a thorough study is complete. We are concerned that supplying a large grant for power plant repairs without a comprehensive and concrete understanding of the situation around the power plant could exacerbate the human and environmental problems in the Baluchaung area. There are also political risks which require assessment. We are aware that a team will be sent to the Baluchaung to conduct a technical study to assess specifically what needs to be repaired. Human rights and environmental factors should also be included into the Terms of Reference for this study. If, however, the study as we have outlined below, is beyond the capacity of the technical survey team, a qualified team must be organized and dispatched to the project site.
To ensure that Japanese ODA does not contribute to the abuse of the rights of people in the vicinity of the Baluchaung, it is essential that a thorough investigation of the current human rights situation, as well as the potential for future abuse during repairs, is carried out before the Cabinet makes a final decision on the grant. Forced labor, forced relocation and other human rights violations have been repeatedly shown to systematically accompany infrastructure projects in Burma. This has been documented extensively by the ILO, NGOs, and Burmese organizations in the border regions. The UN General Assembly and other international bodies have also repeatedly cited human rights violations.
The Baluchaung is situated in a context which provides sufficient reason to believe that human rights abuses could result from the proposed repairs. It is located in an ethnic state in which peace has yet to be made. It is under constant guard by armed troops of the military regime, and an armed organization representing Karenni people has voiced opposition to the grant. Under such conditions, unless extensive and transparent measures are implemented to prevent abuses, ODA from Japan could, in this case, lead to grave human rights violations as well as impede the reconciliation process needed for democratization in Burma.
We appreciate the efforts of MOFA to assess the human rights and environmental conditions around the Baluchaung in June. We are afraid, however, that the study was insufficient to gather information which accurately reflects the reality on the ground. In a country such as Burma, where there is no freedom to express one’s opinion without fear of persecution, extra precautions must be taken to ensure the safety of those who cooperate with the survey. Time must also be taken to build trust between the survey team and the communities to be surveyed.
We have therefore chosen to outline below the scope and principles of the study which are essential to cover and maintain in order to accurately assess the Baluchaung situation. Only then can a responsible decision be made regarding the appropriateness of the grant.
AREAS FOR INVESTIGATION
1.Military presence and current/potential HR abuses at and around the Baluchaung :
The extent of militarization of an area often corresponds to the extent of human rights violations such as forced labor and other forms of exploitation of local communities. For this reason, it is important to assess the extent of military presence in the area, as well as the potential for an increase in military presence as a result of this project.
a.What is the exact military presence at the Baluchaung now? Where do provisions come from (especially food, housing)? Are provisions bought? If so, how and for how much? Are any villages required to supply guards or soldiers with any materials? Perform any labor? Provide any services?
b.If additional security will be required during repairs, exactly how much will be required? Will this mean an increase in the number of soldiers? In the quantity or quality of arms? Are there currently sufficient housing facilities near the BHP2 to house all additional military forces? Enough cooking facilities? Is there enough storage space for any additional equipment or vehicles which will be brought into the area? Will any new buildings be required? (if anything additional is required, this could lead to forced labor to build, or villages forced to provide and bring supplies. Or, it could also indicate that soldiers to be housed in villages, which can also lead to human rights violations.)
c. According to MOFA, the SPDC has stated that there are no bases of anti-government forces nearby and therefore security should not be a problem. What then, are the reasons for the tight security around the Baluchaung?
The International Labor Organization has documented in detail ways in which forced labor is carried out in Burma. From its surveys, it is evident that military presence in an ethnic area often leads to forced labor. Documentation of development projects has also shown that there is a clear link between violations of human rights and development projects. The Japanese government has indicated that the repairs of the Baluchaung are not of the scale which would lead to forced labor. While it may be true that forced labor would not be used to conduct repairs, it is nevertheless, essential that the possibility of forced labor be investigated in relation to the foreseen increase in military presence. It is also crucial that the Japanese Government’s concerns regarding forced labor are conveyed to the military regime, and that measures are implemented to allow monitoring for forced labor and other human rights abuses during the repair process.
As a member of the ILO, the Japanese government is required to halt any relationship with the military regime that could contribute to the existence of forced labor in Burma. If aforementioned measures are not implemented and forced labor is used, the Japanese government would, as a result, violate the principles of the ILO resolution on forced labor in Burma.
It is necessary to assess if and how forced labor in relation to the Baluchaung has been used in the past, as well as to design and implement effective measures to ensure forced labor will not be used in relation to the repairs. There are reports of ongoing use of forced labor in Karenni State, even after the ILO resolution came into effect in November 2000. While it is possible that villagers currently residing in the vicinity of the Baluchaung have been subject to forced labor, it is also possible that many of those who have performed forced labor in relation to the Baluchaung have also been forcibly relocated or have moved to other areas. For this reason, it is necessary to collect information not only from the immediate surroundings of the Baluchaung, but also from relocation sites, Loikaw, the Thai-Burmese border, and other areas to which people originally from the Baluchaung area may have gone.
Possible forms of forced labor to be investigated should include:
a.supplying housing, food, materials, or services for personnel stationed at the power plant (military and civilian)
b.building barracks or other facilities for power plant personnel (military and civilian)
c.building housing or other facilities for foreign visitors/personnel
d.clearing weeds/plants around power poles or along power lines
e.building and/or repairing roads leading to and around the power plant
There have been reports of the forced relocation of many villages around the Baluchaung hydropower plants (No 1 and No 2). Even if forced relocation will not be required for the repairs, it is important to investigate the history of human rights violations in relation to the Baluchaung. According to the World Commission on Dams (WCD), outstanding human rights and environmental problems must be remedied. One of the strategic priorities (Strategic Priority 3) of the WCD clearly states that “outstanding social issues associated with existing large dams are [to be] identified and assessed; processes and mechanisms are [to be] developed with affected communities to remedy them.” For the Japanese government to go ahead with the grant and repairs without investigating outstanding problems would be equivalent to the silent approval of these violations. Assessing the extent and reasons for past forced relocation is also needed in order to assess the possibility of similar violations in relation to the repairs scheduled to take place.
In order to investigate forced relocation, it is important to go to areas to which villagers have been forcibly relocated. There are several relocation sites in Karenni State. Some villagers have fled to the Thai-Burmese border after receiving forced relocation orders. It is therefore necessary to carefully collect information from various areas, including the Thai-Burmese border, to accurately assess the situation of forced relocation.
For example, reports indicate that in 1990, villagers in Bya Ka Neh and Canni villagers were relocated to Shan Ywa Village. Villagers in Shan Ywa should be interviewed to find out how they came to live in Shan Ywa. Are they from the village originally, or were they subject to forced relocation? If forced to relocate to Shan Ywa, from where were they relocated? Under what circumstances? How were they informed of the requirement to move? Where they given sufficient, if any, compensation for moving? Were they given any assistance in resettling in relocation sites? Were they able to maintain a decent standard of living once they moved? Did everyone relocate, or did some people chose to stay in their villages? If some stayed, what happened to them?
Answers to questions such as the above must be found in order to assess the human rights situation around the Baluchaung. Reasons for past relocations will provide more accurate indication of whether such forced relocations could occur again. Also, only after accurate information is collected regarding forced relocation in the Baluchaung area can appropriate measures be taken to resolve this problem in accordance with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.
Another outstanding problem which needs to be investigated is the impact of the Baluchaung on farmers. A drought in 1997 and the subsequent drop in the water level of the Baluchaung River reportedly led to restrictions on taking water from Baluchaung River. This was reportedly done in order to prioritize water usage for the power plant. It is important to investigate the facts around this issue for 2 reasons. 1) If it is true that restrictions were imposed on farmers on taking water from the river, this is an outstanding social problem which must be resolved, as outlined in the WCD Strategic Priorities. 2) Even if it is not true that restrictions were imposed, the drought, lack of water, and negative impact on farmers has been confirmed. As a potential environmental and social impact of the repairs, it is important to investigate the links between this power plant and agriculture in the area in order to design and implement measure to address similar issues in the future, should there be another drought.
Specific issues which require investigation include the following:
a.What is the present scale of agriculture in areas upstream of the hydropower plant (on the mainstream and relevant tributaries)?
b.What was the scale of agriculture in the same areas in 1996? If there is a difference, how is it different and why?
c.What was the population of farming communities upstream of the hydropower plant prior to and after the drought? If there is a significant difference, what are the reasons for this? Forced relocation? Inability to sustain livelihood during the drought? Other reasons?
d.Currently, what are the main water supply sources for agriculture upstream of the Baluchaung and Maw Bye dam?
e.Will repair of the Baluchaung affect the amount of water required by the power plant? If so, how?
f.Are there any concrete plans regarding agriculture along the Baluchaung River and relevant tributaries? If so, are these plans in balance with the water supply considering the amount of water required by the power plant?
5.Electricity to local villages:
Little if any of the electricity generated by the Baluchaung is supplied to local communities. It is an unfortunate example of how a development project has sacrificed the environmental and human resources of one area in order to provide a service to another. This is one of the complaints of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). It may also be an issue felt by communities near the power plant.
The World Commission on Dams makes it clear that the needs and concerns of communities affected by development should be integrated into decision-making from the initial stages of planning. While forced labor and other human rights issues must be investigated, it is also necessary to assess to what degree any benefits have been brought to local communities by this project. In order to assess this, issues such as the following should be evaluated:
a.How much electricity from this power plant is supplied to nearby villages and towns?
b.Are nearby villages electrified? If so, how (by the Baluchaung? Generators? Other power supplies?)?
c.If nearby villages and/or towns are provided with electricity, to what extent and for what purposes is this electricity used (for example, is electricity provided to the village only for the Village Peace and Development Council office? For military purposes? For civilian use? Only enough for schools? Etc.)?
Another issue which as been reported to affect local communities is the existence of landmines around the Baluchaung. Reports suggest that villagers have been injured or killed by stepping on mines, or have lost livestock to mines as well. As a signatory to the Treaty to Ban Landmines, the Japanese government should confirm the situation of landmines around this project which is has been consistently responsible for financing.
While inquiries should be made to the authorities regarding the existence of landmines, it is not enough only to rely upon their response. We understand that upon inquiry to the military regime, the Japanese government was informed that there are no landmines around the Baluchaung. In addition to the inquiry, it is important to inquire with people in surrounding communities if there have been injuries or deaths from landmines. These inquiries should also be made at relocation sites and border regions in conjunction with the forced labor and forced relocation surveys.
a.There is a report of the existence of a “BE” (Battalion Engineer Unit) at either Baluchaung No.1 or Baluchaung No 2 which is responsible for the maintenance of landmines. If this Unit indeed exists, the nature of its work should be made clear.
b.If there are landmines, how many are there and of what type?
c.Specifically which areas are mined?
d.Why are the mines?
e.Have civilians (villagers and power plant employees) been injured by landmines in the area?
f.If there have been injuries and/or deaths, when and where did they occur?
g.Has any work been done (remunerated or not) to decommission mines in the area?
7.Sustainability of Repairs:
We understand that one of the purposes of the Japanese government in giving the grant for the Baluchaung is to help fulfill the basic human needs of civilians in Burma. Aside from the fact that it has been reported that Karenni villagers have suffered human rights violations in relation to the Baluchaung, it is questionable if this goal will be met even in Rangoon. In order to assess this, it is necessary to examine the exact extent of the repairs required and how effectively repairs can be conducted with 3-3.5 billion yen. Will 3 billion yen sufficiently repair the power plant to ensure the provision of electricity to civilians in Rangoon? Or would it only hold off other necessary repairs which would eventually require a greater sum to fix? If the sum is not sufficient, is it appropriate to provide this grant at this time? Three billion yen is already a large sum for a grant. Yet it is also not feasible to provide a new yen loan at this time. But if 3 billion yen will not meet the goal of the grant, alternatives should be considered.
8.Electricity distribution in Rangoon and Mandalay:
Another possible barrier to achieving the professed goals of this grant is the electricity distribution system in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other areas supplied by the Baluchaung. There are reports that electricity is distributed in a way to prioritize military leaders and government ministers’ residences, the Ministry of Defense and associated departments, and to factories located in the industrial zones under the ownership of the MOD or under control of the Myanmar Economic Holdings Enterprise. There are also reports of unequal fees for electricity. If the objective is to contribute to fulfilling the basic human needs of civilians in the cities, it is necessary to look into the electricity distribution system as well. How much of the electric supply is prioritized for military use must be ascertained. As ODA should not be used for military purposes, this should be a serious concern to the Japanese government. Relying only on data from the military regime on how electricity is distributed is insufficient. It is necessary for a separate survey to confirm the actual situation.
9.Position of the Karenni on the Thai-Burma border.
A second purpose the Japanese government has given for the grant is to promote the dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime. This is, of course, for the purpose of promoting a political transition in Burma. We are concerned, however, that this decision is short-sited considering the position of the Karenni.
While the sentiment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the grant has not been made public, she has indicated that she is not satisfied with the status of the talks by refraining from participating in the July 19th memorial services for her father. There has yet to be sufficient concrete progress made towards reconciliation and democratization to warrant the timing of this grant.
In addition, even if the timing was appropriate in the context of talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime, the KNPP has made it clear that it is against the grant. The Japanese government is aware that reconciliation with the ethnic nationalities is essential for a peaceful transition to a civilian and democratic government. To provide a grant while neglecting the concerns of the ethnic people it affects most does not bode well for confidence building measures in the national reconciliation process. The Karenni have indicated that they see the Baluchaung as something which has been responsible for extensive suffering by the Karenni people, but which has provided no benefit to their communities. To give this grant now could, therefore, work more to exacerbate the tension between the military regime and ethnic groups rather than contribute to reconciliation.
It is important that the Japanese government consult with the Karenni (the KNPP and other organizations representing Karenni people) on this grant for the following reasons.
a.The KNPP does not have a cease-fire agreement with the military regime in effect now.
b.As actors in the national reconciliation process, it is important that the KNPP and other Karenni organizations also support the grant if this grant is to promote a peaceful political transition in Burma.
c.Upon discussion, it may be possible to find a common ground with the Karenni. If certain conditions are met, they may be able to support the grant. This cannot be confirmed, however, unless they are consulted directly.
d.Karenni organizations have information which would be required by the Japanese government to accurately assess the situation around the Baluchaung.
Especially considering the major drawbacks to providing a grant to repair the Baluchaung now, it is essential to examine alternatives. Are there alternatives to this project which are less likely to lead to human rights violations? How can the target population benefit without risking the human rights of other communities? Would improving the distribution of electricity in Rangoon, for example, be just as effective in providing more electricity to civilians? Would supplying generators or solar panels to hospitals and schools be more appropriate? Answers to questions such as these cannot be answered without proper investigation. But this investigation is necessary in order to ensure that providing a 3 billion yen grant is indeed the best option rather than the only option.
PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH TO BASE THE PRELIMINARY STUDY
In order to prevent human rights abuses from resulting from the preliminary study itself, and in order to achieve the goal of accurately assessing the situation around the Baluchaung, certain principles must be consistently upheld. These principles must be respected by all actors in the study, including the survey team, the Japanese government, and the SPDC.
1.No Military Involvement:
Military presence in ethnic areas has repeatedly been linked to human rights abuses against ethnic peoples. It is therefore conceivable that Karenni people in the area around the Baluchaung have also been subject to various forms of abuse, such as forced labor, and forced relocation, and forced to perform other duties to support SPDC troops. It is therefore meaningful that the following principles be closely followed:
a.According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the SPDC has said there are no particular security concerns since there are no bases of anti-government forces in the area. The survey team should therefore be allowed go to the Baluchaung and any other areas required for the survey without a military escort. If an escort for the survey team is absolutely required, it should be civilian and unarmed.
b.If there is indeed a security problem and military escort is required, the SPDC must provide a written guarantee that no civilians will be forced to perform any form of labor for the military escort. Civilians should also not be required to provide food, supplies, or shelter for the military escort. Any labor, food, materials, or services requested of civilians must be remunerated accordingly. A transparent monitoring system must be implemented to ensure that forced labor or other abuses by the military are not used.
2.Access to villages and individuals:
The survey team must be allowed access to anyone at the Baluchaung, surrounding villages and other areas the team deems necessary. No military or other official persons should accompany surveyors during visits to villages for investigation or to individuals to whom members of the survey team wish to speak. This is necessary in order to guarantee not only the security of the individuals, but also to create an environment which will allow for more candid discussion. Again, if an escort is required for the survey team due to concerns such as the existence of landmines, this escort should be civilian and unarmed.
Interpreters must be individuals under no obligation to report to the SPDC or any government-related officials. Interpreters must also be free from threat or pressure by the SPDC to report on the content of any hearings or interviews. If those being interviewed do not trust the interpreters, it is highly unlikely that accurate information will be obtained.
4.Guarantee of safety for interviewees:
Measures to provide anonymity for those interviewed must be implemented in order to guarantee their safety. This is of utmost concern to ensure both the acquisition of accurate information, as well as to prevent harassment, interrogation, and other abuses of those who are interviewed. Interviewees must feel safe and free to explain their experiences without fear of reprisal. They must also be free to decline to be interviewed if they so wish. Measures could include interviewing sufficiently large numbers of households in each area to provide a degree of anonymity to individuals. The SPDC must agree that identities of those interviewed will not be disclosed to them. Public hearings for information gathering should be avoided, as this makes those who speak up vulnerable to identification.
5.Appropriate survey team:
The survey team must be a third party without vested interests linked to the Japanese government, the SPDC, nor companies who may be contracted for future work on the Baluchaung. Members of the survey team must not be civil servants or employees of government agencies. They must, however, be approved by all both the SPDC and the Japanese government. They must have experience in human rights investigation and be familiar with the human rights situation in Karenni State, in Burma, and the claims being made by Karenni people regarding human rights abuses in relation to the Baluchaung.
6.Conditions under which study can be suspended:
If members of the survey team feel they are in danger, or if there are reports that interviewees have been harassed or faced danger/threats as a result of cooperating (or perceived cooperation) with the survey team, the study can be suspended. It can also be suspended if surveyors feel accurate information cannot be obtained and the reasons for this cannot be remedied. In the case of the study’s suspension, a decision on the grant for the repair of the Baluchaung should be postponed until the study can be resumed and completed.
An effective complaints mechanism must be designed and implemented so that cases of intimidation, other forms of harassment or violations of the principles outlined here can be reported to relevant authorities.
8.Disclosure of information:
Names of people interviewed will not be disclosed. Other specific information that can be used to identify individuals should also not be disclosed. All other information on methodology, process, and results, however, must be disclosed. In initial mid-term report should be released for public comment. Public comment will also be useful to assess the effectiveness of the survey team’s work and to identify areas which require further investigation. The final report will also be made public. Only after completion of this report can a decision be made on whether or not to provide this grant, and the conditions under which it should be given.