Group protesting for peace and no dams

March 30, 2021

We stand with our partners and friends in Myanmar. We mourn the tragic loss of life and condemn the brutal violence and unimaginable terror they are facing. We applaud their incredible courage. 

We urge the international and business community to take immediate action to support the brave people of Myanmar in their struggle against this deadly military coup.

Since seizing power in a coup on the first of February, Myanmar’s military junta has waged a campaign of lethal and horrific violence against its citizens in an effort to quell the massive and vibrant street protests of the anti-coup, pro-democracy movement. Last Saturday, amidst celebrations for ‘Armed Forces Day’ in the capital city of Naypyidaw, military personnel killed over a hundred people across the country in the deadliest day of violence since seizing power. Shamefully, representatives of eight countries – Russia, China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – reportedly attended the 27 March celebratory event.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), as of 30 March, a total of 521 people have been killed by the junta in peaceful protests for democracy. 2608 people have been detained or sentenced since the February coup. Crackdowns on the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) have escalated into a campaign of terror that has seen people shot dead in their homes, the brutal murder of children, and the killing of peaceful protestors and medical personnel. These are gross violations of human rights.

International Rivers has worked for years with community and civil society partners in Myanmar and along the Thai-Myanmar border. We know that for many, the events of the last two months are the latest iterations of violence and human rights abuses that have been ongoing for decades.

Military attacks in the Salween Basin

In the Salween Basin, we have been working for close to twenty years to support local movements to protect rivers and oppose dams that will have extensive impacts on their livelihoods, cultures, and identity. Planned dams are located in areas where there has been human rights abuses and mass displacement of thousands of people due to current and historical conflict between the Myanmar army and ethnic armed groups. While a nationwide ceasefire agreement was instituted in 2015, tensions and skirmishes have continued.

The latest military campaign by the junta threatens community-driven efforts to secure peace, environmental protection, and Indigenous self-determination. During the weekend, in its show of military power and brutality across the country, the Myanmar army carried out airstrikes on villages in the Salween Basin. The deadly weekend strikes in Mutraw District, Karen State, killed at least 3 people and displaced thousands. An estimated 2500-3000 people fled their homes for the Thai border seeking refuge. As of today, reports state that thousands of people have been prevented from entering Thailand and turned back to displacement camps inside Myanmar or to search for safety in the jungle.

Salween Peace Park. Photo by Pai Deetes

Villages targeted in the attacks are located within the acclaimed ‘Salween Peace Park’ in Karen State, a critically important initiative to promote peace alongside conservation and Indigenous governance. The Salween Peace Park is a community-owned and managed protected area that aims to safeguard natural and cultural heritage and a free-flowing Salween River. Paul Sein Twa, co-founder of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2020 for his work with local communities to establish the park.

International businesses and investors need to take action

Following the military coup and the gross human rights violations occurring now across Myanmar, countries around the world are imposing economic sanctions on the nation and barring business dealing with the regime. Investors must take immediate steps to halt activities that may support or further human rights abuses.   

Our recently published report, Powering Conflict, examines the responsibilities of business actors and investors under international business and human rights frameworks, with specific reference to conflict and human rights risks. The report can provide guidance for investors in applying standards to ensure the protection of those most vulnerable to human rights violations in the Salween basin and other conflicted-affected areas.

Last month, we joined over 200 civil society organizations from Myanmar and globally in urging international financial institutions like the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and Asian Development Bank to immediately freeze loans and other financial assistance to Myanmar in light of the military coup.

Together with our partners at the Thai ETO Watch coalition, we are calling on Thai state agencies and enterprises to refrain from providing financial assistance and intergovernmental investment to Myanmar until the situation improves and a democratically elected government is restored.

We join others in calling on the international and business community to take immediate action to support the brave people of Myanmar by halting activities that support human rights abuses and the deadly military coup.

Please contact International Rivers for information on how to lend your support to the people of Myanmar.

Featured Image: International Day of Action for Rivers in the Salween Peace Park, Karen State, Myanmar, 2018