We must fight bad dams in adjacent states and fishing industry abuses

Key Issues: 

The Nation 2 May 2011


Greedy investors and an indifferent society are a dangerous combination

Money often clouds the minds of investors, preventing them from thinking about other issues, such as moral obligations and a sense of responsibility to the plight of fellow human beings. We have seen such an attitude all over the world - and mainland Southeast Asia is no different.

There never seem to be enough regulations to address the ethical aspects of a corporation's conduct and too often governments have joined the bandwagon in turning a blind eye to such concerns.

Warnings and concerns from civil society are often overlooked, much less becoming part of the decision- making process or consideration.

The planned project to build dams on the Salween River inside Burma is a case in point. A group of environmentalists, the Salween Watch Coalition, among others, have been calling on the Thai government, Chinese investors, as well as the new government of Burma to immediately halt these plans.

The concern here is not just environmental but humanitarian as well. Because of the ongoing battles inside Burma's Shan State after the regime decided to end its 22-year-old ceasefire agreement with the Shan ethnic army - the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) - the sites for these dams are now situated in the conflict zones.

3,500 soldiers committing atrocities to make way for 'thai dam'

According to various accounts, Burma has unleashed more than 3,500 troops in what appears to be a covert attempt to displace thousands of civilians living in the area. Along the way, they committed rape and attacked innocent villagers, forcing many to flee to the Thai side of the border.

"The attack is part of a systematic campaign by the regime to wipe out all ethnic resistance forces, including ceasefire groups, which have refused to come under their control prior to the November 2010 election," Salween Watch Coalition said in a recent statement.

Fighting has spread to Karen, Karenni and the southern region of Shan State - often along pockets of resistance near the Thai border - since the general election that was billed a sham, and just a move to re-install the military government as a supposedly civilian administration.

"It is impossible to adhere to meaningful dam building standards when communities are silenced by violence," the statement said.

In some way, these investments fuel the bloodshed in the same manner as money going to conflict areas in Africa that produce what are commonly referred to as "blood diamonds".

A new survey was carried out in these conflict areas just days after Thailand's EGAT International and China's Three Gorges Group Corporation signed an MOU with Burma's military rulers to develop the Tasang dam in Shan State, increasing the investment to US$10 billion.

our seafood is caught by burmese slaves on thai trawlers

Unfortunately, many of us are indifferent to the abuses committed against people in neighbouring countries, such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

In this respect, a recent documentary by the BBC about the enslavement and abuse of Burmese fishermen on Thai trawlers is a case in point. It talked about how these workers are trafficked, locked up, beaten and sometimes killed. Cheap labour, it seems, becomes even cheaper when a person is thrown into the sea to die like a piece of garbage.

Few Thai consumers ask how the fish and other seafood we eat gets to our table. As far as many of us are concerned it came from the local market or grocery store - as if these places were the actual breeding ground.

The decision to ignore certain notions as moral obligations is, unfortunately, not exclusive to this country and local investors.

Citizens, the ultimate consumers, never seem to pay enough attention to any of these atrocities.

Many of us cherish democracy and value democratic ideals. If this is the case, then we should understand that we are not out of the loop. As consumers of this seafood and power from these dams, we are essentially part of the problem. It is in our utmost interest to be concerned about these atrocities and better yet, to hold our elected representatives accountable for their decisions. Democracy and liberty are not a free ride. They come with a price.