CSOs on EITI Board call for Myanmar to lift restrictions on civil society space

Statement from civil society EITI International Board representatives calling for restrictions on civil society space in Myanmar to be lifted

On 2 July 2014, the International Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) admitted Myanmar as a candidate country following initial progress towards reform. However, we, the civil society members of the EITI International Board, note with concern instances of physical violence and legal measures used to limit public expression since Myanmar’s EITI candidacy, including against individuals demonstrating to express their views about the Letpadaung copper mine. We call on the Myanmar EITI multi-stakeholder group to agree 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.

We recognise and welcome the progress that Myanmar has already made in the management of its valuable natural resources. The government’s engagement in EITI is an important demonstration of its commitment to transparent resource management for the sustainable benefit of the people. As Myanmar starts to prepare its first EITI report, we applaud the strides already made on such critical issues as beneficial ownership and contract disclosure. However, Myanmar’s EITI reporting will have little impact if there is limited space for stakeholders to analyze and debate natural resource governance, or if there are obstacles to monitoring the implementation of agreed commitments. The national EITI multi-stakeholder group provides a precedent-setting forum for civil society to meet and raise concerns directly with representatives of the government and the private sector and, as such, has the scope to create real accountability. Action is 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.

In late December 2014, a police shooting during demonstrations at the Letpadaung mine site resulted in the tragic death of a community member, and injuries to 11 others. Since then, a reported five individuals have been arrested for participating in Letpadaung demonstrations on charges including unauthorized protesting and defaming the state. This follows previous police action against Letpadaung protestors in 2012, which involved the use of smoke bombs containing phosphorus and resulted in injuries to 108 individuals.

Under Section 1.3 of the EITI Standard and Sections 2.1 and 2.2 of the EITI Civil Society Protocol, it is a fundamental requirement that civil society is able to speak and operate freely on issues of natural resource governance, and to express opinions without fear of restraint, coercion or reprisal. 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. The laws and actions that have been applied in the Letpadaung incident also risk undermining the fragile trust that has been built between stakeholders, jeopardizing the continued success of Myanmar’s EITI process. 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 order to ensure that there is a suitable enabling environment for civil society, we therefore urge:

The Myanmar multi-stakeholder group to review the laws and actions impacting civil society in the Letpadaung case and other similar incidents against Section 1.3 of the EITI Standard and Sections 2.1 and 2.2 of the EITI Civil Society Protocol, and agree an action plan to achieve an enabling environment for civil society (with dates for implementing each step).

The international donors supporting Myanmar’s EITI process to provide technical assistance and support for a rigorous and transparent review process, and the development and implementation of an action plan to achieve a civil society enabling environment in line with EITI requirements.

The Myanmar government to review and address legal, regulatory and practical obstacles which restrict space for civil society to speak, operate and express opinions in relation to transparency and natural resource governance.

The EITI International Board to measure Myanmar’s progress towards fulfilling the above measures.

Free and full civil society participation is grounded in the EITI Principles, the EITI Standard and the EITI Civil Society Protocol. It is a cornerstone of the EITI as an engine of progress towards accountable governance in the extractive sector. This is why it is crucial for the EITI International Board to monitor closely the enabling environment for civil society in Myanmar and ensure that the EITI’s standards on civil society engagement are met.

EITI membership is a privilege and an opportunity to deliver transparency and accountability – every stakeholder has a role to play to ensure that Myanmar’s implementation of EITI meets the high standards necessary for the scheme to remain credible and effective. We welcome Myanmar’s pursuit of EITI compliance and look forward to working with them as they continue their progress towards this goal.

For any enquiries, please contact Marinke Van Riet (mvanriet@publishwhatyoupay.org or 00447798737516) or Brendan O’Donnell (bodonnell@globalwitness.org or 00447912517128).

The civil society Board members are:

Gubad Ibadoghlu, Economic Research Center, Azerbaijan

Natalia Yantsen, Oil Revenues under Public Oversight, Kazakhstan

Faith Nwadishi, PWYP Nigeria

Brendan O’Donnell, Global Witness, United Kingdom

Jean-Claude Katende, PWYP-DRC

Ali Idrissa, ROTAB/PWYP Niger

Daniel Kaufman, Natural Resource Governance Institute, USA

Fabby Tumiwa, Institute for Essential Services Reform, Indonesia

Marinke Van Riet, PWYP International, United Kingdom

Matthew Bliss, Cordaid, the Netherlands