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Myanmar Urged to Consider Revising Draft Investment Law

FILE - People walk under a huge advertising billboard of Coca-Cola in downtown Yangon, Myanmar.
FILE - People walk under a huge advertising billboard of Coca-Cola in downtown Yangon, Myanmar.

A leading human rights group is urging Myanmar, also known as Burma, to consider revising a proposed investment law to ensure better protection against social and environmental dangers.

Myanmar has "failed to engage in a meaningful public consultation" on the draft investment law that "could have a profound impact on human rights," Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

A nominally civilian government is rapidly opening up the country to trade and foreign investment as it emerges from five decades of a direct military dictatorship that formally ended in 2011.

"The new investment law will be a legal cornerstone of Burma's efforts to reengage with the global economy and international investors, yet the government's public consultations have been deeply inadequate," said HRW's Jessica Evans.

"If not carefully crafted, the law could make it difficult for the government to pass regulations to protect human rights and prevent environmental harm," she added.

The New York-based rights group wants Myanmar to extend a March 26 deadline for public input and consultations with civil society groups. "It's much more important for Burma to get this right than to do it quickly," the group said.

Some critics say the draft investment law will not allow locals to issue challenges against or be compensated for investments that go wrong. There are also concerns over whether it will provide enough protection against public health and environmental harm.

The draft, which is being formed with the help of the World Bank-run International Finance Corporation, attempts to combine the Foreign Investment Law and the Myanmar Citizens Investment law, which many say are ineffective and outdated.

Myanmar's leaders are trying to attract foreign investment to help improve an economy that has suffered under decades of Western sanctions that have only recently begun to be loosened.

Western governments have praised Myanmar's military-dominated government for opening up its economy and political system, though there are concerns the country has begun to backtrack on some democratic reforms.

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