(Hong Kong, October 18, 2012) The Asian Human Rights Commission on Wednesday sent a message of support to farmers and their allies gathering for a “people’s conference” to opposed land confiscation and degradation for a copper mining project.
In the message to farmers and others gathering for the inaugural Letpadaung Mountain region people’s conference, the AHRC said that the farmers’ struggle set “an important example and signals the determination of people … to resist dispossession, repression and the use of violence and illegal tactics by powerful interests”.
The farmers around the Letpadaung Mountain, which is in Sagaing Region, have since June conducted an increasingly high profile and determined campaign against attempts by an army-owned company and a Chinese partner firm to push them off their farmland.
They have posted signs warning “no trespassing” onto agricultural lands, and in October conducted a funeral march to a local cemetery where while praying, they insisted that the spirits of deceased ancestors are also rising up against the new copper mining project — one of a string of such projects conducted in the region over decades.
The AHRC in September issued a statement on the protests (AHRC-STM-184-2012), in which it iterated an eight-point list of demands from the farmers, including that the mining project be halted and further consultations conducted, that no further villages be demolished — to date, four have been relocated — and that farmlands not be used for the dumping of pollution from the mining project.
In its message to the people’s conference being convened on Thursday, the Hong Kong-based regional human rights group again voiced concerns about the dangers of a “land-grabbing epidemic” in Burma, and said that it would be through actions such as those of the farmers in the Letpadaung Mountain region that such an epidemic might be avoided.
The group added that the dimensions of the struggle for land in the region went beyond questions of land tenure and farmers’ rights, writing that it “encompasses all dimensions of the struggle for political, legal and social change in Myanmar today, including fundamental rights to freedom of speech and assembly, to organize and hold opinions, and to participate fully in public life without fear of persecution or violence”.
The full text of the message to the farmers follows.
STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY FOR THE LETPADAUNG MOUNTAIN REGION PEOPLE’S CONFERENCE FROM THE ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, HONG KONG, 17 October 2012
The Asian Human Rights Commission has for the past two months been following closely the struggle of farmers in Sarlingyi Township of Sagaing Region, Myanmar, against the forcible dispossession of their land for the Letpadaung Mountain copper mining operation of Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and its Chinese partner.
On the occasion of the first people’s conference of the Letpadaung Mountain region, the AHRC expresses its support and solidarity for the struggle against land grabbing and injustice being waged by villagers and their allies through this movement. The AHRC is aware of, and has documented, many such cases of land expropriation in Myanmar, or Burma, over recent years and is very concerned that the country at present is in danger of a land-grabbing epidemic. As such, the struggle of the farmers and their allies in Sarlingyi sets an important example and signals the determination of people who already occupy and earn their livelihoods from land to resist dispossession, repression and the use of violence and illegal tactics by powerful interests.
But the struggle in the Letpadaung Mountain region is not only about land, and it is for this reason that it is of especial importance. The struggle encompasses all dimensions of the struggle for political, legal and social change in Myanmar today, including fundamental rights to freedom of speech and assembly, to organize and hold opinions, and to participate fully in public life without fear of persecution or violence. These are rights of no small significance, and they are rights that not only are the people of this region clearly not taking for granted, but furthermore they are rights that they are fully prepared to exercise in pursuit of their goals.
The Asian Human Rights Commission applauds the people of Letpadaung Mountain region for their determination and perseverance; for their willingness to fight when a fight must be had for their rights, and for the example that they are setting as citizens of Myanmar. Furthermore,the AHRC can assure the people struggling for their rights of land ownership and usage in the Letpadaung Mountains that they are not alone: others around the world are aware of their struggle and are joining in it through advocacy and public actions. Therefore, the AHRC again endorses and iterates its solidarity for the first people’s conference to be convened in the Letpadaung Mountains region, and wishes the organizers and participants every success.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.