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Myanmar Illegally Displaced Families, Devastating Their Health and Livelihoods

New Report Shows Government Violated Laws When Evicting Residents to Build a Dam in Shan State

For Immediate Release

The Myanmar (also known as Burma) government violated international laws when displacing families as part of a dam project along the Paunglaung River in southern Shan state, pushing them deeper into poverty and devastating their health and livelihoods.

A new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) shows the government did not follow international guidelines on forced relocations when it moved 8,000 people in 23 villages from the valley affected by the dam. The flawed displacement process resulted in loss of jobs and income, increased food insecurity and poverty, and limited access to water.

“Myanmar authorities have, once again, not bothered following international guidelines when evicting families, forcing them deeper into poverty,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “People’s livelihoods and human rights cannot be threatened every time government authorities engage in an economic development project.”

The Upper Paunglaung dam, which supplies electricity to Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital, is located on the Paunglaung River in southern Shan state. Chinese, Swiss, and British firms completed the dam in 2013.

PHR investigators used epidemiological methods to sample 80 of the displaced households and interviewed the heads-of household about the relocation process and its consequences. The methods permit a generalization of the findings to everyone living in relocation sites. The findings include:

  • Sixty-four percent of people said they agreed to move because they felt threatened or afraid of what would happen if they refused.
  • Eighty-four percent of households dropped below the poverty line for Myanmar after the relocation.
  • Ninety-three percent said their overall situation deteriorated since the move.
  • Ninety-one percent said they did not have enough money to meet their needs.
  • Forty-five percent reported that their family had an insufficient amount of drinking water.
  • Depression and suicide are also a concern, as survey results suggested 81 percent of respondents should be referred to consultation for depression.

The report echoes findings from an earlier PHR report on the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, which found that 93 percent of families moved because they were afraid and 61 percent of the families dropped below the poverty line after displacement. Those families also reported higher levels of food insecurity, as well as reduced access to medical treatment after they were relocated.

Land confiscations are widespread in Myanmar and are driven by economic development projects and increased international investment. An unclear land registration system, weak rule-of-law, and a lack of trust between the government and the people, which remains after a half-century of military rule, exacerbate the problems surrounding the land grabs.

PHR said that a solution may lie with the elected civilian government, which should be accountable to civilians and more attentive to forced relocations. Parliament should play a stronger role in monitoring and regulating land confiscations, PHR said.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.