Thursday, July 28, 2005

Human Rights Abuses on the Burma Road

In 2001 the Asian Development Bank laid out plans for a road linking Mawlamyine (Moulmein), the capital of Mon State in Burma, to Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot on the Thai border. The Bank claimed,

By 2004, you will be able to travel an all-weather road from Mawlamyine in Myanmar, through Lao PDR and Thailand, to Da Nang in Viet Nam, made possible because of the GMS East-West Economic Corridor.

The Bank claimed the road would increase mobility and reduce rural poverty by creating a range of economic opportunities, especially for women, along the new highway. The ADB has also proposed a toll system to recover construction costs and to cover road maintenance. Other infrastructure, such as a deep-sea port, industrial estates, and special economic zones are planned in connection with the highway for the near future as well.

The main problem for the road is the Burmese military’s ongoing counter-insurgency campaigns against civilian populations in Mon and Karen States. According to recent figures compiled by the Burma Border Consortium, there are over 31,000 and 135,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in these two states respectively due to ongoing state-sponsored violence in the region. The proposed highway bisects this region, which means that it will facilitate not only trade but also the rapid movement of troops and supplies to army bases along the heavily militarized border.

The NGO Earth Rights Institute has gathered hundreds of testimonies from victims of human rights abuses, especially forced labor and portering, in contested areas of eastern Burma. Given the continuing levels of violence, including the pervasive use of forced labor, ERI remains deeply skeptical that the ADB’s projects will encourage sustainable and equitable forms of development in the region without the use of forced labor. This is especially worrying since the recent International Labor Organization annual meeting indicated that the Burmese government is fundamentally unable to control the use of forced labor by its military much less eradicate the practice. After several years of discussion, the SPDC has again repeatedly failed to take meaningful steps towards decreasing the use of forced labor in Burma.

Similar to the World Bank, the ADB is a multilateral development finance institution established in 1966 and dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific. Like the World Bank, it's projects have often gone awry dealing with corrupt and brutal governments. This never seems to slow down bank lending, however. The Burma Road is just the lastest in a series of mega projects gone wrong.


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