Press release | July 2, 2020

Jade mining disaster should be wake-up call for Myanmar government

Today’s devastating landslide that claimed over 100 lives in Hpakant, northern Myanmar is a damning indictment of the government’s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state’s jade mines, Global Witness said today.

Five years after taking office and pledging to reform the corrupt sector, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has yet to implement desperately-needed reforms, allowing deadly mining practices to continue and gambling the lives of vulnerable workers in the country’s jade mines. Neither a promised new Gemstone law, passed by parliament in 2019, nor a Gemstone policy that has been in production for several years have yet been implemented.

“The government has turned a blind eye to continued illicit and rapacious mining practices in Hpakant despite vowing to reform the hazardous sector,” said Paul Donowitz, Campaign Leader at Global Witness.

“The longer the government waits to introduce rigorous reforms of the jade sector, the more lives will be lost. This was an entirely preventable tragedy that should serve as an urgent wake-up call for the government,” he added.

The multi-billion dollar sector is dominated by powerful military-linked companies, armed groups and cronies that have been allowed to operate without effective social and environmental controls for years. Landslides are believed to kill dozens of people in Hpakant every year mostly during the rainy season, many of them informal miners known locally as yemase, who eke out a living by going through the rubble along the perilous slopes of the mining pits companies leave behind.

“Companies who abuse environmental and safety standards, endangering the lives of yemase miners and workers, must be pushed from the sector,” said Donowitz.

The government should immediately suspend large-scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure companies that engage in these practices are no longer able to operate.

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