A team of Fordham Law School scholars and students returned last week from a field research visit to Myanmar, where they explored human rights challenges raised by developments in the nation’s fast emerging information and communications technology (ICT) field. Led by Joey Lee, Asia Law and Justice Fellow at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, the team engaged with a wide range of local stakeholders, the first phase of an extended project to map human rights risks and opportunities implicated by Myanmar’s historic democratic and technological transformation. The team included Elisabeth Wickeri, Executive Director of the Leitner Center, and Fordham Law students Lauren Melkus (JD ’13), Matthew Solomon (JD ’14), and Jennifer Whitman (JD ’14).
Through a diverse array of perspectives, the team surveyed the potential role of ICT in Myanmar’s transition, not only as a platform for economic growth, but as a catalyst for human rights activism and a tool for social justice. By interviewing dozens of local civil society actors, including social activists, lawyers and rights defenders, journalists, and technology industry firms and observers, as well as international diplomatic and IGO officers working in Myanmar, the team also learned that Myanmar’s ICT opportunities come with the potential for serious human rights risks. For instance, physical construction of ICT infrastructure may implicate land grabs, displacement, and forced labor at a time when these risks are endemic, disproportionately impacting rural farmers and ethnic minorities. Increased Internet connectivity and mobile networking raises high risks of government censorship and user surveillance, implicating freedom of expression and privacy rights in a nation – and a region – with a legacy of authoritarian information control. And as the market for ICT grows, so does the risk of disproportionate distribution of its benefits, and the need to ensure that disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities and the rural poor, share equally in Myanmar’s digital revolution.
Now back in New York, the team is working on a white paper identifying and analyzing the spectrum of human rights risks and opportunities across Myanmar’s ICT landscape, in the hopes of adding to the broader discourse on transparency and accountability in the course of Myanmar’s ongoing transition. As a preliminary output of their field work, the team is also analyzing freedom of expression and right to privacy issues in connection with Myanmar’s proposed Telecommunications Law, currently making its way through the domestic legislative system.
Learn more about the Asia Law and Justice Program at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, as well as previous Leitner Center projects and publications on human rights in Cambodia, China, Nepal, and Malaysia. For more information on the Leitner Center’s work in Myanmar, contact Joey Lee, Asia Law and Justice Fellow, at firstname.lastname@example.org.