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Ban Chaung coal mine, Karen state, Myanmar


Description:

The Ban Chaung coal mine is a large open-pit mine that, according to civil society reports, has caused severe livelihood loss and environmental degradation, but also strong resistance and mobilizations by locals to stop the unsustainable project [1]. In June 2017, representatives of indigenous Karen filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, alleging human rights violations caused by the activities of the Thai mining companies [2]. According to the complaint, the mine has illegally seized villagers’ land, damaged the livelihood of locals, and polluted water bodies and the air. No less than 16,000 people from 22 villages in the Ban Chaung area are impacted or expected to be affected [1,2,3].

The coal deposits at Ban Chaung were first surveyed under Burma’s past military regime during 2003, 2006 and 2007. Mining permits covering 2,100 acres (ca.850 ha) were granted to the Myanmar Mayflower Mining company during 2010-2011, in an area heavily affected by past fighting between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar Army [1]. In 2011, Thai survey teams arrived at the area to make plans for a road to transport coal out of the area [4] and agreements between the Myanmar and Thai companies to operate in the area were consequently made. Company representatives eventually told villagers about the plans, however, at that stage decisions were already made, documents a report [4]. Mining began on a small area around the time of the preliminary ceasefire agreement in 2012 and brought grave consequences to the villagers. One villager said: “After the ceasefire was signed, I thought I would live peacefully. But I don’t think that anymore […] This mining project is worse than the civil war.” (cited in [4], page 12). (for a detailed Project Timeline, see [1], for an overview of company involvement see Project Details (below) and [2])

The project was pushed forward without Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), with no Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and with severe impacts on people’s traditional culture and their fishing and farming-based livelihoods depending on a healthy environment, document several reports and complaints [1,2,3]. Their land, orchards and gardens were seized without prior notice and permission [2,3]. While a few have received some compensation after their land was taken, others haven’t received anything at all. The mine has also caused an influx of outsiders, both of workers and soldiers protecting the mine. Villagers feel insecure and intimidated [1,2,3]. 

According to the reports, the rivers used by locals for drinking, bathing, fishing and swimming were polluted from toxic mining waste, dumped by the companies into the streams. During rains, mining pits fill up with dirty water that is than pumped out by the companies onto farmland and streams [2,3]. Fish stocks have disappeared and people in the area have fallen ill and suffer from skin diseases [3]. Water quality tests conducted by NGOs in 2014 showed high acidity at dangerous levels for health and the environment [1,2]. People are furthermore constantly exposed to air pollution from noxious fumes [3]. The waste piles, dumped in the village area, burn frequently and smolder and the smoke makes living close to the mine unbearable [2]. In 2015, things got worse, when coal fires started to burn uncontrollably, releasing much toxic fumes that impact people and the environment. While the company, every now and then, has responded to the complains by trying to control the coal burning, uncontrolled fires continue to appear [3]. 

Impacts are expected to further increase, once the mining area is expanded. Currently, only about 64 acres are mined. Despite of agreements with KNU officials in 2014 to not further expand the mine, the company has apparently presented a revised map with an expansion area occupied by villagers’ school, church, playground, houses and plantations [2]. In April 2015, the Ministry of Mines announced to revise the contract to not expand the project beyond 612 of “vacant land”, which however is used by villagers for rotational farming [2]. Furthermore, the mine is developed in a former conflict zone, to which some internally displaced people from the civil war haven’t yet returned. After the mine is fully developed, they may be unable to do so [2,3]. 

Mobilizations against the coal mine have started since the beginning of the mining activities. For instance, villagers blocked the road construction and the company was unable to finish it [1,2]. Civil society organizations have supported them and have conducted detailed research on the project during 2012-2015. Their findings on the mine’s harmful development were published in a report entitled “We used to fear bullets, now we fear bulldozers” [see 1]. Following the pressure of frequent protests, blockades and increased media coverage on the controversial project, the mine was suspended a few times [2]. In January 2014, KNU officers ordered a suspension, which apparently was ignored by the Thai East Star company [2]. In early 2017, the mine was put on hold after Tanintharyi Region’s minister for resources and environmental conservation inspected the mine and found waste water being dumped into the Ban Chaung Creek [5]. According to the civil society group Tarkapaw Youth Dawei, no less than 37 letters were sent to the government before this temporary halt of the mine was achieved [6].

In June 2017, 153 representatives, with support of the local groups Tarkapaw Youth Group, Spirit in Education Movement and the organization Inclusive Development International (IDI), filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT). NHRCT has the power to investigate and intervene into the extra-territorial actions of Thai companies. The village representatives called upon the Commission to investigate the companies associated with the mining activities for human rights violations [2]. Among the alleged violations are the right to self-determination, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health and the right to an effective remedy [2,3]. An initial hearing was conducted by the NHRCT in September, 2017 [5,7]. While the companies have stopped the operations temporarily, the remaining coal piles continue to burn and pollute the environment, locals reported [6].

Meanwhile, several other bottom-up mobilizations have followed. For instance, in May 2018, over 500 villagers urged directly the President to stop the mining operations [6]. Furthermore, following two years of research, the indigenous communities of Bau Chaung presented in 2018 a unique report on the ethnobiological knowledge and diversity of the area. The report demonstrates “the enormous amount of indigenous knowledge that local communities hold over their territories” [8, page 4] and emphasizes the importance of respecting villagers’ indigenous beliefs, customs and practices on their ancestral lands for their livelihoods as well as for the conservation of the unique cultural landscapes and ecosystems in which they live [see 8 for details]. 

Villagers and civil society groups call on the stakeholders involved to stop the harmful mining project, to redress the damages caused, to establish a different development path for Tanintharyi region and to raise awareness about the harmful impacts of coal mining on people and the environment [1]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Ban Chaung coal mine, Karen state, Myanmar
Country:Myanmar
State or province:Karen state
Location of conflict:Dawei township, Tanintharyi Region
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tailings from mines
Land acquisition conflicts
Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Land
Coal

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Ban Chaung Coal Mine is an open pit mine located in Dawei Township, Tanintharyi Region, Myanmar [1,2].

Three companies have been associated with the Ban Chaung Coal Mine Project: Energy Earth PCL, East Star Company and Thai Asset Mining Company. A fourth company, the Myanmar Mayflower Mining Enterprise Co. Ltd., holds the 2,100 acres (ca. 850 ha) mining concessions [1,2,3]. (For more details on the companies involved, see complaint to NHRCT [1] and [4]).

According to the complaint, the Mayflower company received the first concession covering 1,500 acres in 2010, and the second concession, covering 600 acres, in 2011 [2,7]. The company itself is not involved in the operations on the ground [7]. The Thai Asset Mining company has developed transport infrastructure for the mine [2].

The Thai East Star Company became involved in the project in 2011 and was granted permission by the KNU to mine in Mayflower’s concession area [2]. The Thai coal mining and distribution company Energy Earth PCL reportedly entered into a joint agreement with Thai East Star in 2012 to fund the mine and distribute the coal to its network of buyers [3,7]. By now, Energy Earth PCL may have pulled out of the project [2].

According to IDI, it is unclear whether all companies are still involved, or if additional companies have been brought in [3].

For a detailed analysis of the investment chain underlying the companies involved in the Ban Chaung mine, see the report published by IDI in 2017 [4]. The report revealed the hidden and indirect involvement of the Austrian Raiffeisen Bank (holding a 3% share of Energy Earth PCL) and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), which holds a significant equity share of the Raiffeisen Bank [5]. Also the Postal Savings Bank of China is indirectly involved through complex investment chains (for details, see 4. For a response from the IFC, see 9).

According to IDI, the project has been producing about 500 tons of coal per day [3, see also 1].

A report by IDI (2017) mentions that further permits may have been granted to two new companies, covering an additional area of 2,800 acres (ca. 1,133 ha), which would more than double the existing mining area [4].

Project area:850
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:ca. 16,000
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:East Star Company from Thailand - mine developer
Myanmar Mayflower Mining Enterprise Co. Ltd from Myanmar - concession holder
Energy Earth Public Company Limited from Thailand - joint venture partner
Thai Asset Mining Company from Thailand - transport infrastructure developer
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Mines, Union government of Myanmar
Tanintharyi Regional Government
Karen National Union (KNU)
and others
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Tarkapaw Youth Group
Dawei Development Association (DDA),
Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net)
Spirit in Education Movement
KESAN, Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, http://www.kesan.asia/
Inclusive Development International (IDI), https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/campaign/myanmar-coal-mine/
Banchaung community’s sustainable environmental conservation committee
and others

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
ethnic Karen
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsExposure to toxic fumes
Skin diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsInternally displaced people (IDPs) will be unable to return, if the mine further expands

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
compensation was reportedly insufficient and unequal
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The mine is currently suspended and an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand is ongoing.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

2015 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Procedure
http://www.myanmar-responsiblebusiness.org/resources/environmental-impact-assessment-procedures.html

2012 Environmental Conservation Law
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs15/2012-environmental_conservation_law-PH_law-09-2012-en.pdf

1994 Myanmar Mines Law
https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/73051/74522/F234335194/MMR73051.pdf

2014 Environmental Conservation Rules
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/2014-06-Environmental_Conservation_Rules-en.pdf

2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law
https://www.lift-fund.org/sites/lift-fund.org/files/uploads/Vacant,%20Fallow%20.....%20Land%20Law.pdf

2012 Foreign Investment Law
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs15/Foreign_Investment_Law-21-2012-en.pdf

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[8] Tarkapaw Youth Group and the Ban Chaung Commuity Sustainable Environmental Conservation Committee, 2018. "The Wisdom, Knowledge and Customs of Indigenous Communities in Ban Chaung". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://progressivevoicemyanmar.org/2018/05/08/the-wisdom-knowledge-and-customs-of-indigenous-communities-in-ban-chaung/

[1] Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers: Dirty coal mining by military cronies & Thai companies, Ban Chaung, Dawei District, Myanmar". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

[3] Inclusive Development International (IDI), MYANMAR: BAN CHAUNG COAL MINE. (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/campaign/myanmar-coal-mine/

[4] Inclusive Development International (IDI), 3 March 2017. "Reckless Development: The IFC’s Dodgy Deals in Southeast Asia". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Outsourcing-Development-Part-3-1.pdf

[5] The Irrawaddy, 15 September 2017. "Thai Human Rights Body Hears Complaints Against Tanintharyi Coal Mine". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/thai-human-rights-body-hears-complaints-tanintharyi-coal-mine.html

[6] Myanmar Times, 09 May 2018 "Dawei villagers seek president’s help to stop Banchaung coal mine". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.mmtimes.com/news/dawei-villagers-seek-presidents-help-stop-banchaung-coal-mine.html

[9] The Irrawaddy, 30 March 2017. "World Bank Financing Arm Under Fire Over Burmese Coal Mine Link". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/world-bank-financing-arm-under-fire-over-burmese-coal-mine-link.html

[2] Formal complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, June 9, 2017. "Human rights violations connected to Thai companies’ operations at the Ban Chaung coal mine in Thanintharyi Region, Myanmar". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2017.06.09-NHRCT-Ban-Chaung-coal-mine-complaint-for-upload.pdf

[7] Press Release, Inclusive Development International (IDI), 12 September 12 2017. "National Human Rights Commission of Thailand Holds Initial Hearing for Ban Chaung Coal Mine Project". (accessed online 02.10.2018).
https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Ban-Chaung-NHRCT-Initial-Hearing-Press-Release-ENG-.pdf

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Ban Chaung - impacts of coal mining
https://youtu.be/Vbs-IHd2BHo

Other comments:"we used to fear bullets, now we fear bulldozers" (slogan of Tarpawak Your Group)

Meta information

Contributor:EJatlas Southeast Asia Team (ejatlas.asia"at"gmail.com)
Last update18/08/2019

Images

 

Burning coal in Ban Chaung

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Skin diseases

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

Dumped mining waste

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

Road blockades

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

Company signboard

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

indigenous knowledge research in Ban Chaung

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

Cover of the civil society report

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf

Villagers travel by boat

Source: Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association, (DDA), and Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015 "We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers". http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/TRIPN-2015-10-We_Used_to_Fear_Bullets-Now_We_Fear_Bulldozers-en-red.pdf