Washington, D.C., July 3, 2020–This week, over 150 subsistence miners died after another landslide in the jade mines of Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar. It took place just 9 days after six miners died in another incident, marking the beginning of a new rainy season of recurring tragedy.
Almost exactly a year ago, a Frontier investigation found that a tragic accident in Hpakant that killed 54 people, “was preventable and the result of a lack of political will and long-standing policy failures that have, if anything, worsened under the National League for Democracy government.” Jade mining is a multi-billion dollar industry in Myanmar, but the mines are primarily controlled by companies and armed groups linked to the military. Yet it is the civilian government that has control of the legislative agenda for jade mining and the government ministries that oversee it.
“At some point, allowing the same devastation to unfold every year looks like a formal government policy,” said Ka Hsaw Wa, EarthRights International Executive Director. “Myanmar has environmental laws with the power to halt harmful mining practices, revoke permits, and order companies to remediate environmental harms. This includes making waste heaps and mining pits safe, but year after year, this does not happen and hundreds of miners are dying.”
The deaths are predominantly among subsistence miners forced by insecure livelihoods and conflict to scavenge in the mining companies’ waste heaps, knowing that deadly collapses are inevitable. Meanwhile, mining companies are reported to extract up to USD 31 billion in 2014 from the sector every year, almost none of which reaches the government. Rather than benefiting the people of Myanmar, jade mining is fuelling conflict and corruption but has been largely excluded from the peace process.
EarthRights calls on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Conservation Committee to:
- Declare an environmental emergency.
- Initiate a transparent investigation and bring criminal and administrative proceedings against companies that violate Myanmar law.
- Require mining companies to pay for independent experts to stabilize mining sites before commercial mining activities recommence.
- Empower monitoring groups that include local communities and subsistence miners to work with the government to oversee industry monitoring.
EarthRights calls on the Myanmar government to:
- Ensure that ongoing land reforms protect the rights of farmers and communities to reduce the pressures that force them into subsistence mining.
- Prioritise discussions of natural resource federalism in the peace process and place a moratorium on mining in and around conflict zones.
Kate Fried, EarthRight International