The Heinda mine is among the oldest tin mines in Myanmar. Established during British colonial rule, the mine has been continuously operated for about 100 years. During World War II, much of Burma’s tin industry was destroyed and the mine entered a period of low operations for several decades. The mine gained importance again in 1999, when the Thai-owned company Myanmar Pongpipat Ltd. (MPC) took over operations (see project details). Since then, production has substantially increased. Around 10 villages are located close to the mine that, according to villagers, civil society groups, and journalists, have suffered from severe socio-environmental impacts. Myaung Pyo village has been among the most affected villages [1,2,3,4,5].
Controversies date back at least to 1983, when Myaung Pyo village had to be relocated to make way for the mining development. According to a report from the Dawei Pro Bono Lawyers Network (DPLN) , no compensation or funds to support the relocation were provided to the villagers. The replacement land they received was smaller than the land they originally occupied. The relocation happened without formal documentation and was never recognized by the Ministry of Home Affairs, probably due to administrative mistakes. Despite that villagers - after their relocation - have resided for more than 30 years in the village, the current mine operators have claimed that Myaung Pyo village is illegal and that the area forms part of their concession area. Villagers have been excluded from adequate consultation during the mine development and the renewal of investment permits in 2009 and 2014 .
Severe environmental impacts have been reported that changed the economy of Myaung Pyo villagers, who relied on cultivation of durian, betelnut, rubber, coconut, cashew and other crops . The mine was reported to have encroached their lands, watersheds and homes, while jeopardizing their health and livelihoods. Artisanal tin miners, who have been panning for tin in the river without significant environmental impacts for decades, have also been affected. Water pollution was observed to increase with growing tin extraction . Since 2005, the Myaung Pyo creek has been periodically flooded with polluted water from the mine. The mine’s impacts became severe in 2008, when heavy rainfalls hit the mine. Sediments washed down and accumulated in the watershed upon which thousands of households relied. The worst flooding occurred between August and November 2012, when 27 houses were destroyed and villagers’ crops were ruined. The Myaung Pyo river was the villagers’ most important source of drinking water that was then lost due to pollution. According to the DPLN report, water tests conducted during 2013 and 2014 found that lead and arsenic toxicity levels were substantially higher than the limits set by the World Health Organization for drinking water standards (35-190 times higher for lead and 8 times for arsenic toxicity). Significant health impacts, particularly on children, were reported . Following the livelihood losses, several villagers had to migrate to Thailand and other places in search for new income sources. Many family members who have stayed in the village depend now on their remittance payments .
The affected villagers from Myaung Pyo sought justice through the juridical system and through protests and advocacy activities. After the 2012 floodings, villagers demanded compensations for the damages caused, however without success. Several complaint letters to government authorities followed. While subsequently, an investigation team was sent to the village to assess the damages, villagers reported that their assessments did not cover all their damages. Compensation was eventually offered; however, it was not enough and villagers refused to accept it. Instead, they sought help from the Dawei Lawyer’s Group and the Dawei Pro Bono Lawyers Network (DPLN) . On May 9, 2014, the villagers filed a lawsuit against the two companies, claiming adequate compensation for the damages caused and the income losses provoked by the destruction of their livelihood assets. The Dawei District court first decided in favor of the plaintiffs, however, the defends appealed on procedural concerns. The decision was then overturned by the Tanintharyi Divisional Court in favor of the defendants . In June 2016, the case went up to the Union government’s High Court. While the court agreed that the plaintiffs had a valid cause of action in negligence, the Court also agreed that the companies cannot be sued due to procedural defects in the notice letter. The plaintiffs lost the case. The villagers took the case then to a special appeal board at the Supreme Court for a final decision, however, the suit was rejected in a final ruling during February 2018 .
Nevertheless, against the backdrop of the growing controversies over the mine, the Tanintharyi Regional Government started to pursue stricter regulations and supervision of mining in the area [1,3]. MPC had to suspend mining operations during 2016 until a valid Environmental Management Plan had been submitted. Mining operations resumed however a few months after suspension [1,4]. Advocacy efforts were also directed to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), through a complaint letter sent in 2015. The letter petitioned the NHRCT to ensure human rights compliance of the Thai-owned company MPC . An investigation was opened by NHRCT during 2017 . The case was also covered by several news articles [e.g. 2,3,4,5,]. One article, written by Thai journalist Pratch Rujivanarom during March 2017, provoked the company to sue the author for defamation. In response, more than 80 NGOs urged the Thai government to immediately withdraw the case over concerns of press freedom .