event Published at: 2015-02-13

Civil society members of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative’s International Board have slammed the government over the death of a protester at the Letpadaung copper mine in December, as well as subsequent charges filed against civil society leaders.

Daw Khin Win was killed on December 22 when police opened fire on residents protesting against the fencing of land confiscated for an expansion of the China-backed mine. A number of civil society activists have since been arrested for allegedly staging illegal protests and defaming the state.

The 10 civil society members of the International Board said urgent action was needed to “ensure that the opportunity for effective reform is not undermined by the limitations on civil society expression and operation displayed in the Letpadaung case”.

They called on Myanmar’s Multi-Stakeholder Group – a body comprising representatives of the government, private sector and civil society – to take steps to ensure “that civil society has the freedom to operate and speak freely on transparency and natural resource governance issues, in line with the requirements of the EITI”.

“The combination of physical violence at Letpadaung and subsequent legal charges could lead to self-censorship by civil society representatives for fear of possible retribution if they engage in public debate or raise concerns over natural resource sector opacity or mismanagement,” they said in the February 11 statement.

They recommended that donors supporting Myanmar’s EITI application provide assistance for a review that would lead to an action plan aimed at ensuring the civil society environment is up to EITI standards, while the government review laws that restrict civil society space. The EITI International Board should monitor progress toward these targets, they said.

“Unfortunately, the Letpadaung case is an extreme, but not isolated, example of restrictions on and reprisals against civil society members attempting to express views on issues of natural resource governance.”

In December, Myanmar-based civil society groups accused the government of breaching its EITI commitments as a result of the clashes at Letpadaung, which also left nine demonstrators injured.

The Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability said its members would submit the case to the EITI Board, which is considering the government's applications for membership to the initiative.

In a statement on December 24, MATA said the government had violated its promise to guarantee freedom of speech on natural resource-related issues. Articles in state-run media blaming the protesters for the violence before an investigation had been conducted also breached the EITI code of conduct, said MATA, which was formed earlier this year to coordinate civil society involvement in the EITI process.

For its part, the government has accused civil society activists of stoking violence at Letpadaung.

Following the December clashes, the Letpadaung Report Implementation Committee said in a January 6 report that activists were to blame for inciting violence “behind the curtain”.

“We have already charged those who are trying to stimulate the conflict,” U Tin Myint, secretary of the implementing committee, told reporters at the President’s Office.

Myanmar announced its intention to join EITI in 2012 and was accepted as a candidate country in July 2014. To become EITI compliant, Myanmar must convince the EITI Board that it has met seven criteria by January 2017, including one on civil society participation.

Source: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/13109-eiti-board-members-rap-govt-over-mine-death.html