myanmar sunset

Myanmar

Myanmar is so closely identified with natural resources such as jade, rubies and teak that its name is a brand in itself. But so far its people have not benefited. Read more

For decades Myanmar has been run by a military dictatorship that ruled with one iron fist and stole with the other. Resources like gas, gems, and timber were shackled to a war economy and treated as the private businesses of elite military families.  Indigenous groups have been systematically and brutally driven from their homes, their ancestral lands and forests turned over to crony tycoons. Exports feed consumption in the rich world and generate vast revenues for the elite, yet one-third of children under five are stunted from long-term malnutrition.

Since 2011, a new government under former general Thein Sein has promised reform and change, specifically pledging to clean up the natural resource sector. Most international sanctions have been lifted and the country is open for business, with new overseas investors coming into play. 

Myanmar’s valuable resources could help the country build a peaceful and prosperous future, but only if real lessons are learned from the mistakes of the past. Global Witness’ current investigations highlight ongoing problems with natural resource management, while our advocacy makes recommendations for reforms. 

In 2014, we asked who is behind the companies buying up the country’s fledgling oil and gas sector, and revealed a worrying lack of information about the people controlling the industry. We also highlighted corruption, human rights and cronyism concerns in the multi-billion dollar jade industry. These revelations pose serious questions for the reform process and Myanmar’s candidacy for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global effort to clean up the world’s oil, gas and mining trades. 

The management of land in Myanmar is similarly opaque, and fraught with conflict. We have investigated a spate of land seizures in the north of the country, where farmland owned by ethnic minorities was grabbed in military operations and transformed into plantations for rubber. As the country designs its first national land policy and law, we are pushing the government to halt the current wave of large-scale land investments and protect the rights of smallholder farmers, who make up 70 per cent of the population. 

Much has changed in Myanmar in recent years. There is now a real opportunity to help millions of people benefit from their resources, but only if the international community and Myanmar government work together to deliver on the reformist rhetoric.