THAILAND: Let the Salween flow freely

We, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Peoples’ Network of Salween River, the Hatgyi dam affected communities, and the Foundation for environment and natural resources demand the Salween dam plan to stop immediately. We realise that the planned dam on the Salween River is causing tension between armed groups and slowing down the peace process in Burma. We urge the governments of Thailand, Burma and China to halt the plan to build a dam on the Salween River, the last free-flowing river in Southeast Asia.

Since September 2016, the Burmese military has cracked down on the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, an insurgent group, and communities living inside the area of the Hatgyi dam, right opposite Moei River in Tak province and the south of Sobmoei village, Maehongson province, Thailand. The crackdown has led to the death of 60 people, with 170 people injured. It has also led to the resettlement of 3000 people. Karen community leaders have revealed that the crackdown is intended to take control of the Hatgyi dam project area and allow for the concessions and construction work to happen.

The 1,360 MW Hatgyi dam is approximately 40 km from the Thai-Burma border. The dam is the joint investment of Electricity General Authority of Thailand (EGAT), Sinohydro Corporation, Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power and the International Group of Entrepreneurs. About 90 percent of the electricity generated from this project will be exported to Thailand. The Thai Chulalongkorn University was commissioned by EGAT to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and consultation with the communities on the Thai side to be affected by the Hatgyi dam. However, the Karen affected communities in Ban Sobmeoi, Ta Tafang and Mae Samlab claim the process was broad brushed and not meaningful. Meanwhile, free-prior-and-informed consent of the indigenous communities in Burma was not sought prior to the project approval. The current situation has revealed that the dam project is only exacerbating ongoing conflicts and causing rising tensions between armed groups.

We would like to point out that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has addressed the issue of impacts to the right to housing by large infrastructure projects including dams in its General Comment No. 7, and on the right to water in General Comment No. 15, both relating to Article 11 of the Covenant on the right to an adequate standard of living. In addition, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, has established Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, which reflect on the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to non-discrimination (E.CN.4/2006/41).

Therefore, in comprehensive development projects such as a dam, it is essential to include the participation of all affected parties and keep them informed at all stages. The sustainability of the project also depends on people’s quality of life after the project has been completed.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Peoples’ Network of the Salween River, the Hatgyi dam affected communities and the Foundation for environment and natural resources hence call for the Thai government to halt the dam planned on the Salween immediately, and create a mechanism and plan to protect the Salween River. This will set a good example of best practice in the region.

The People’s Network calls for Aung San Suu Kyi to support the plan to halt the dam, and work for the benefit of the communities. The hydropower plan will merely destroy people’s livelihood, constrain peace building in Burma and affect Indigenous culture.

“We demand for the Salween River to be free flowing and we propose the governments of Thailand to explore potential options of renewable energy and the investment that is community and environmental- friendly”- The Peoples’ Network of the Salween River.