Seminar on Business and Human Rights jointly organized by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Park Royal Hotel (Nay Pyi Taw)                                                            27 September 2018  

Welcome address by the Chair of MNHRC

 It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be given this opportunity to deliver the welcoming address at the Seminar on Business and Human Rights jointly organized by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

          I would also like to wish “auspiciousness” to all the distinguished participants. May you enjoy peace of mind and good health.

Legislative changes as well as changes in the political, economic and social sectors have been carried out as part of building a democratic system in Myanmar. For the development of the nation, both domestic and overseas investments are necessary and in the course of business sector development, adherence to the laws enacted by the State as well as adherence to human rights standards needs to be fulfilled. Foreign investment is an important aspect of national development but the business sector must also realize the importance of non-violation of human rights of people.

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, during her working goodwill visit to Singapore at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, gave an address titled “Democratic Transition in Myanmar: Challenges and the Way Forward” on 21 August 2018. During her address, the State Counsellor spoke about business ventures, saying that Myanmar wants to be business friendly, an environment where investors can be comfortable and secure and where their interest can match harmoniously with Myanmar’s development aims. She added that the new Investment and Company Law has been carefully crafted to promote best business practices as well as good governance. Procedures have been streamlined to remove bottlenecks and to accelerate the implementation process. The State Counsellor added that the new Chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission is ready to assure those who are interested that he is willing to facilitate business ventures.

          It is learnt that at the present moment in time, Myanmar is being faced with the decline in land areas such as arable land, vacant land, virgin land, farm land and garden land throughout the country. Development plans not designed systematically have negative environmental impacts, and with the exorbitant increase in the price of land, small and medium size entrepreneurs, have very little opportunity to make investments. There are views and comments that the State needs to amend the government’s land utilization policy as well as corresponding laws to be in line with the changing times.

          In October of 2016, the State enacted the new Myanmar Investment Law as part of the amendment of laws. In accordance with the law, the new Myanmar Investment Commission was formed on 16 June 2018 under the Union Government Directive No. 61/2018 and the new Chairman of the Commission has also been appointed.

          The Myanmar Companies Act (1914) was repealed and replaced by the new Myanmar Companies Law in December 2017 and the Myanmar Companies by-law was enacted in July 2018. Myanmar Companies Act came into force on 1 August 2018.

          On 3 August 2018, the Directorate of Investments and Companies under the Planning and Finance Ministry issued the Anti-corruption Code of Ethics for Companies and Body Corporates and urged all the companies and body corporates to respect and adhere to the Code of Ethics for the development of the Myanmar business environment.

          In a likewise manner on 11 September 2018, the Pyi Taung Hsu Hluttaw amended the existing vacant, fallow and virgin land administration law (2012) to be more in conformity with the present times. Also on 17 September 2017, the Amyotha Hluttaw adopted the 2017 bill on land confiscation. The bill on farm land is also one of the many laws that has been amended to conform to the changing times.

Distinguished Guests and Participants,

 

        Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has conducted seminars for stakeholders with a view to widely disseminate information on business and human rights. Although these seminars have contributed towards better understanding of the basic principles, there are still gaps in implementing them in practice. Among the seminars I would like to cite the “Fourth Regional Workshop on Human Rights and Agribusiness in Southeast Asia” held in Yangon in December 2014 and the “Multi-Stakeholders Forum on Implementing UN Guiding Principles” jointly organized by Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, UMFCCI and ASEAN-CSR Networks held in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw as notable. “Yangon Statement on Human Rights and Agribusiness in Southeast Asia” was issued at the conclusion of the “Seminar on Human Rights and Agribusiness in Southeast Asia”. The Seminar by MNHRC, UMFCCI and ASEAN-CSR Networks Forum has great benefit towards implementing the UN Guiding Principles as it was attended by both domestic and regional actors from ASEAN.

          As Myanmar is an agri-based country, the Commission has regularly attended all the “Seminars on Human Rights and Agribusiness” held on a rotational basis among the regional countries. The Commission intends to hold the next seminar in Myanmar.

Land disputes cases number the most among the complaints received by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. It was found that the cases ranged from farm land confiscation by the government, to grabbing of lands by private companies. It was also found that the complaints arose because of the delay in the application procedures for ownership of the land, and the alleged bias on the part of the authorities concerned in dealing with the cases.

The Commission made field inspections and put up recommendations to the Ministries concerned for the return of the land to the owners resulting in some farm lands being handed back to the owners. The distribution of Shwe Kyun Thar alluvial land in Labutta Township, Ayeyarwady Region is a success story involving the State cooperation. The Office of the President gave instructions that 4160.19 acres of forest reserve be cancelled and permission to work on the land be given to the original farmers according to procedures.

Also in the case of farm land confiscated from the farmers in Myay Pon Village of Kanbalu Township, Sagaing Region, the President upon the recommendation of the Commission directed that 88.28 acres of relinquished land be handed over to the original farmers at the soonest possible time.

It is also learnt that the Ministry of Defense will be handing over unused, vacant and fallow lands totaling 5160.72 acres in Kanbalu, Monya, Katha and Shwe Bo Districts to the State.

The Chairman of the Committee to monitor land disputes and oversee return of land to rightful owners Vice President U Henry Van Thio, attended the handing over ceremony of 481.93 acres of relinquished land to the rightful farmers and granting of form (3) in Taungoo District, and delivered an address at the ceremony. On 22 September a total of 332 acres of farm land released by the Myanmar Pharmaceutical Industrial Enterprise of the Ministry of Industry were returned to farmers in Thandaungyi Township, Kayin State with a ceremony. I am citing some examples regarding the restoration of land to the farmers. As these are good practices it is hoped that the good trend will continue.

The UN has laid down Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights on non-violation and respect for human rights in doing business. These guidelines include the State’s obligations to protect human rights, to collectively respect human rights and to provide remedial measures. The UN Guiding Principles forms the basis for business and human rights. I would also like to state the need to protect woman’s rights in line with these Guiding Principles in businesses.

Businesses should respect human rights and the State’s vital role in laying down policies, rules, regulations and taking action and passing judgment on protection for violation of human rights by business enterprises will pave the way for good results.

In conclusion, I am confident that discussions at this “Seminar on UN Guiding Principles” with regard to the implementation and its correlated experiences and good practices, discussions on businesses and labour related problems and its challenges, confiscation of land, utilization of land and its problems, will greatly assist in better understanding the business and human rights and its related problems in Myanmar.

Thank You