(Hong Kong, April 10, 2013) A Burma-based lawyers group has released its findings on the Letpadaung land struggle in English.
The 39-page illustrated report was submitted by the Lawyers Network (Myanmar) and the Justice Trust in February to the government’s investigation commission into events at Letpadaung, recounts the land struggle and subsequent crackdown on protestors.
The Asian Human Rights Commission said that the report offered further evidence to support arguments that the mining operation ought to be halted, and criminal actions brought against police and other officials responsible for orders to disperse protestors through the use of incendiary weapons.
“It is alarming that despite having such evidence available to it, not only did the investigation commission endorse the continuation of the mining project, but also said literally nothing about the criminal responsibility of the police and other authorities involved in the brutal attack on peaceful demonstrators,” Bijo Francis, acting executive director of the Hong Kong-based regional rights group, said.
The AHRC previously released a statement on the findings of the official inquiry commission, contrasting them with another report issued in Burmese by the Lawyers Network and another co-author, the 88 Students Generation group. The statement is available online at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-073-2013.
Francis said that what is at stake in the struggle at Letpadaung is not only the land occupied by the mining companies but the very conception of rule of law in a democracy.
“Whereas government officials and investors want a so-called rule of law that enables them to make a tidy profit but keep the interests and voices of farmers and other ordinary people repressed, the protestors understand rule of law to mean that their rights are respected and voices are heard,” he observed.
“It’s obvious to us that the only genuine rule of law is the latter variety, and it’s a shame that the official investigation commission seems to have misconstrued the concept in emphasizing the importance of foreign investment over and above the rights of citizens,” Francis concluded.
The AHRC has called on the government to reject the findings of the official commission, and rather than proceeding with compensation payouts for expropriated land, reenter discussions with local people.
It has also called for criminal prosecutions of police officers and other personnel responsible for the attack on encamped protestors.
Extracts from the lawyers’ report follow. Full text of the report is available on the AHRC website, at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/press-releases/pdf/2013/AHRC-PRL-007-2013.pdf/view.
EXTRACTS FROM THE SUBMISSION OF EVIDENCE BY LAWYERS NETWORK & JUSTICE TRUST TO THE LETPADAUNG INVESTIGATION COMMISSION
FROM THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The evidence submitted in this report covers two main issues: 1) the circumstances and validity of contracts signed by local villagers in April 2011 to allow their farmlands to be used by a copper mining joint venture between Wanbao, a Chinese military-owned company, and U Paing, a Burmese military-owned company, and 2) the circumstances and validity of the police action used to disperse peaceful protesters at the copper mine site during the early morning hours of 29 November, 2013.
The evidence indicates that local government authorities, acting on behalf of the joint venture companies, used fraudulent means to coerce villagers to sign contracts against their will, and then refused to allow villagers and monks to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and protest.
The evidence also indicates that police used military-issue white-phosphorus (WP) grenades (misleadingly termed smoke bombs) combined with water cannons to destroy the protest camps and injure well over 100 monks with severe, deep chemical burns. White phosphorus spontaneously ignites in air to produce burning phosphorous pentoxide particles and, when combined with water, super-heated phosphoric acid.
FROM THE SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE
The investigation into the contract negotiations with villagers revealed numerous irregularities:
• The interests of the Wanbao-U Paing joint venture were represented by local government officials from Mon Ywar district and Sar Lin Gyi township, in breach of their duties as civil servants mandated to act in the public interest.
• These officials misused their powers to punish people who held out against the deal, for example, unlawfully arresting a villager who refused to sell his land and relocate, and replacing an independent village chief with an active supporter of the mine.
• They shut down the local monastery and primary school, refusing to register children in a nearby school unless their parents agreed to sign the contract.
• They coerced and intimidated villagers by various means to sign the contract without allowing them to read its contents.
• They misrepresented essential materials terms of the contract by falsely promising villagers that the land would be returned to them in three years, undamaged and in the same condition.
The investigation also found that police rejected repeated requests by protesters, including local villagers and monks, for permission to hold peaceful assemblies to voice opposition to the copper mine operation. Moreover, the police selectively arrested and detained people for demonstrating without a permit.
Furthermore, it was found that local police deployed at Wanbao company compound used excessive force to disperse the protestors. Interviews with injured protesters in hospitals at Mandalay and Bangkok and photographic evidence suggested the use of white phosphorus munitions, an extremely volatile military-grade incendiary agent. Analysis by an independent laboratory of residue from an exploded grenade canister confirmed its phosphorus content. WP munition are used by militaries in armed conflict primary as a smokescreen to hide troop movements. To use such weapons deliberately against peaceful protestors in a standard law enforcement procedure is unheard of and raises questions of senior-level command responsibility.
The police action was planned, deliberate, and systematic. The same tactics were used at all of the camps, including: deploying large numbers of police in riot gear, warning protesters with loudspeakers and citing the written order from the Ministry of Home Affairs, spraying camps with water hoses from fire trucks, firing multiple incendiary phosphorus grenades that set the camps and protesters on fire, and conducting baton charges to chase remaining protesters away from the copper mine site.
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