Environment continues to deteriorate under the junta in Myanmar

Aysu Amaha Öztürk

Myanmar and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

Since the start of the coup, the junta has not only impacted the lives of the people living in Myanmar but also the environment in Myanmar. Gold mining has increased, especially in Kachin and Shan States, resulting in significant environmental and social damage. It was also reported that the junta issued mining permits which have increased informal and illegal mining, deforestation, erosion, flooding, and pollution of waterways which damages fisheries (Simpson, Kean and Park, 2023). In Kachin state, there is also the problem of the illicit export of highly polluting rare earth elements to China, which has also increased since the coup. It is suspected that a part of the revenue made through this might be helping the junta (Simpson, Kean and Park, 2023). People close to these sites have reported that they have a hard time accessing clean water and workers have stated their ill condition when interacting with these elements (Myanmar’s poisoned mountains, 2022). 

Environmental activists in Myanmar are not safe or protected if they take action or protest. This is also difficult because many environmental NGOs have been closed since the coup. Coupled with the fact that there are communication and transport problems due to the military regime, taking action and voicing dissent in terms of the environment in Myanmar has become almost impossible. Activists have started using new strategies to continue their work, for example, they work more in rural areas where the military cannot reach them as easily. However, their fear of prosecution and lack of security continues (Simpson, Kean and Park, 2023).

When looking at what the junta is doing in the environment, together with how much effort the environmental activists have put into protecting the environment, it can be said that the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is definitely at risk. This right is given in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) which Myanmar ratified in 2017 (Ratification Status for Myanmar, 2023). Specifically, Article 12(b) states that state parties are to ensure the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene. Creating such damage on the earth and exporting hazardous elements to China for an income largely used on human rights atrocities, and this damage causing health problems for individuals is an action Myanmar should cease immediately. Otherwise, Myanmar will continue violating a right that they have promised to protect. 

Sources and further reading:

Human Rights Bodies. Ratification Status for Myanmar. United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies Database. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=119&Lang=EN

Simpson, A., Kean, T. and Park, S. (2023, February  13). Myanmar’s arrested environmental activism. East Asia Forum. 


Myanmar’s poisoned mountains. (2022, August 9). Global Witness. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/natural-resource-governance/myanmars-poisoned-mountains/