Eco-Living Magazine

Protestor Gets 11 Years for Anti-Mining Actions

Posted on the 16 August 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev
As Myanmar becomes open to foreign investment and development, it faces environmental challenges/Flickr user eguidetravel.com

How would you feel if your government leased your land to a company that would dig it up and use toxic chemicals to extract minerals?

I think you might be pretty angry. You might even go stand on the land, refusing to let the company start digging.

That’s what happened in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where last year activist Aung Soe led a protest against a Chinese mining company authorized by the Myanmar government to extract copper in the Letpadaung mountains. Aung Soe and others alleged the mine would wreak environmental havoc on the rural region, which depends on rice production for food.

Now, someone faced with environmental concerns in his backyard, someone who has lived off the land, who hears people in a nearby village say that mining chemicals in the water have led to children being born blind and with birth defects, someone who tried to speak out, has been sent to prison.

Aung Soe was sentenced to 11-and-a-half years in prison for his actions.

 It can be difficult to know how to process this kind of news.

There are lots of things “we” — the first world community — can do to prevent environmental degradation. We can buy locally, be conscientious of our consumption, support trade agreements that will reduce pollution, and so on. But it’s harder to know how we can help in cases like this.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is calling for an appeal, after Aung Soe was sentenced in July to 11-and-a-half years in prison.

“Aside from the patent violations of human rights arising out of the case—the denial of the rights to peaceful freedom of assembly and expression in particular—the trial also was full of procedural errors typical of the manner in which such political trumped up cases were conducted in Burma over decades of military dictatorship,” the group said in a statement released Monday, asking for people to sign a petition against the government’s actions.

But beyond that, it’s also important to recognize how the world is interconnected. The copper pulled out of a mountain in Myanmar is used in electronics around the world.

In February, Myanmar hero Aung Sun Suu Kyi faced criticism after telling villagers that protesting was “in vain” and good relations with China were more important than stopping the mine. In other words, continued Chinese investment in Myanmar is more valuable than protecting the environment or a couple thousand villagers.

As global markets compete for Southeast Asian resources, consumers and global citizens would do well to pay attention to these kinds of stories. Human rights and environmental concerns will often go hand in hand.

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