Special Economic Zones and Human Rights Violations in Myanmar

Special Economic Zones and Human Rights Violations in Myanmar


by Cristina Donateo

Cristina Donateo is a young graduate with a Master’s in International Development at the University of Bologna, Italy. Cristina spent three months at HBS Myanmar carrying out research on human rights violations related to Foreign Direct Investment and Special Economic Zones in Myanmar.

Despite their projected success in boosting economic growth and development for the country, SEZ in Myanmar have been subject to controversial discussion. Ever since the enactment of the SEZ Law in 2014 and the approval of the three projects, civil society groups have been raising concerns and reporting evidence on human rights violations experienced by communities residing in the investment area. In order to foster responsible investment in the already existing and future SEZs in Myanmar, it is important that the Government commits to fully implement international human rights standards and adjust the relevant legal framework in accordance with them.

Described as a “success story”, by Set Aung, deputy governor of the Central Bank and chairman of the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee, Thilawa is the most advanced of the three SEZ sites and about to extend to its second phase of construction. To date, the total investment in Thilawa has reached more than $1 billion, with 78 firms from 16 countries investing in the area. However, evidence indicates that the development of the first phase of the project resulted in forcible evictions for 81 households, 68 of which have been displaced to a newly-built (but very-poor-standard) relocation site in November 2013. In addition to loss of livelihoods following expropriations, villagers were not able to restore their income and benefit from job creation in the area, falling into a debt trap instead. Now that the extension of the project to its second phase has been announced, civil society urges both national authorities and foreign investors to protect the rights of local population and address their needs following relocation.

Thailand-backed Dawei SEZ is the largest out of the three projects and was stalled until recently, when Tanintharyi Region Chief Minister Daw Lae Lae Maw announced that Japan renewed its interest to invest in the area.

While there are still very few signs of development on the ground concerning the industrial estate, the construction of a 138km-long road link to Thailand has already taken place, leading to expropriation for hundreds of villagers, who received inadequate compensation in return for the land they used to live and work on. The vast size of the project – almost 200 km², roughly eight times the size of Thilawa – leads to major concerns about the consequences that the project, if developed to completion, will have on local population.

A new report issued by HBS Myanmar focuses on the state of human rights violations entailed by the initial stages of construction in Thilawa and Dawei. The report assesses social impacts occurred in the investment areas, by providing a background overview and evidence collected on the ground during 2016.

Please find the full report here: Full report SEZ and HR violations in MM

Related Content

  • Thilawa Special Economic Zone - An Overview of Forced Evictions and Land Rights Violations

    Land confiscation in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone affected more than 4,000 people residing in six villages. The second phase of the joint investment between the Myanmar and Japanese governments will be implemented in the next few months. HBS Myanmar went on site in order to gather information about the current state of the project and related human rights violations.


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