JOURNAL ARTICLE: National Human Rights Institutions, Extraterritorial Obligations and Hydropower in Southeast Asia: Implications of the Region’s Authoritarian Turn

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Publication date:
June 2018

Publication: Austrian Journal of Southeast Asia Studies

Authors:
Carl Middleton

Abstract:
This article examines the role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and transnational civil society in pursing Extraterritorial Obligation (ETO) cases in Southeast Asia as a means to investigate human rights threatened by cross-border investment projects. Two large hydropower dams under construction in Laos submitted to NHRIs from Thailand and Malaysia, namely the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam, are detailed as case studies. The article argues that the emergence of ETOs in Southeast Asia, and its future potential, is dependent upon the collaborative relationship between the NHRIs and transnational civil society networks. Whilst NHRIs are in positions of political authority to investigate cases, civil society also enable cases through networking, research, and public advocacy. Further institutionalization of ETOs is significant to emerging regional and global agendas on business and human rights, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that both the Thai and Malaysian governments have expressed commitment to. However, in Thailand and its neighboring countries where investments are located there has been an authoritarian turn. Reflecting this, there are weakening mandates of NHRIs and reduced civil and political freedoms upon which civil society depends that challenges the ability to investigate and pursue cases.

Read the article here.

BOOK CHAPTER: Branding Dams: Nam Theun 2 and its Role in Producing the Discourse of “Sustainable Hydropower”

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Publication date:
June 2018

Publication:
Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos

Author:
Carl Middleton

Editors: Bruce Shoemaker and William Robichaud

For further details on the book please visit the book's website here.

In the 1990s, the global hydropower industry – in particular the industry of Northern countries – was facing a growing crisis of legitimacy. Opponents of large dams grew in numbers and became increasingly vocal, claiming that development benefits were exaggerated. This cumulated in the publication of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) report in 2000, which affirmed many of the opponents’ criticisms.   In this context, the World Bank, seeking a means to once again finance large hydropower, put forward the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) hydropower project as a new, best-practice approach.  Meanwhile, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) sought to counter the WCD with its own sustainability guidelines in 2004 and subsequently a Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP) launched in 2011. From this significant and combined effort of large am proponents emerged the policy discourse of “sustainable hydropower,” the purpose of which was to re-legitimize the industry.

This chapter deconstructs how NT2 has been discursively produced as a “brand” and woven in to the “sustainable hydropower” discourse. The chapter argues that in public the World Bank and the hydropower industry have regularly drawn on the NT2 as a model to legitimize their claim that “sustainable hydropower” can exist. Needless to say, this claim is fiercely disputed. Indeed, behind closed doors amongst the project’s proponents and in specialist hydropower industry conferences, more provisos and nuances are considered that bracket the public claims of success. The chapter also addresses how NT2 has been represented in regional and global debates on “sustainable hydropower,” for example in relation to the Hydropower Sustainabilty Assessment Protocol led by the International Hydropower Association. 

Please contact Dr. Carl Middleton for more information.

Citation: Middleton, C. (2018) "Chapter 13: Branding Dams: Nam Theun 2 and its Role in Producing the Discourse of 'Sustainable Hydropower'" (pp 271-292) in Shoemaker, B. and Robichaud, W. (eds.) Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison.

 

POLICY BRIEF: Thinking Beyond Relocated Villages: Have We Overlooked the Impacts of the Dams on Downstream Communities?

Myanmar is a developing country trying to follow in the footsteps of its neighboring countries, which are rather more developed than itself. The Myanmar Government wants to harness its natural resources and sees the rivers of the country as a national asset in acquiring regular revenue for the government. The decision to build many mega dams on the major rivers of the country such as the Irrawaddy, Salween and Sittaung rivers is considered a natural resource development. With their high energy needs, Myanmar’s two neighboring countries, China and Thailand, want cheap energy by importing hydropower from Myanmar.

Read More

POLICY BRIEF: Gender and Hydropower: Women’s Rights in the Development Discourse

This policy brief provides recommendations for hydropower developments, focusing particularly on the nexus of gender and hydropower development. In recent years, Myanmar has been moving towards market economy development with a tendency to extract natural resources in order to fuel economic growth. Hydropower is an example of how the government is meeting the demands of economic growth through electricity that benefits some at the expense of others. Gender is just one aspect among many that has been undermined in this process. It is recognized in Myanmar that women are important bearers of culture in society, often with a close relationship with the environment, but they have little recognition in society and have little decision making power when it comes to natural resource management

Read More

CONFERENCE PAPER: “Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia

“Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia

By Carl Middleton[1] and Mira Käkönen[2]

Presented at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EURO-SEA) conference,
University of Oxford, 16-18 August, 2017

In the 1990s, the global hydropower industry faced a growing crisis of legitimacy as its contribution towards development was questioned. Southeast Asia was central to this debate. The World Bank’s exit from large hydropower globally was marked by Thailand’s Pak Mun Dam in 1994, and its return by the Nam Theun 2 in Laos in 2006 accompanied by claims of a new best-practice approach. Meanwhile, the International Hydropower Association developed sustainability guidelines in 2004 and subsequently a Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol launched in 2011. From these and other efforts by large dam proponents emerged the discourse of “sustainable hydropower,” which sought to re-legitimize the industry by reinventing hydropower dams as sustainable development projects, rather than electricity infrastructure alone.
 
With large hydropower dams high on government and business actors’ agendas in Southeast Asia, this paper shows how the region has been a material testing ground of “sustainable hydropower” and central to the production of its discourse. Taking the case of Nam Theun 2 in particular, and the performative role it has played in producing ‘the sustainability’ that is required to make the sustainable hydropower discourse credible, as well as more recent projects and plans in Laos and Myanmar, we assess that the industry has mildly reformed rather than fundamentally transformed. This takes particular salience given that the proponents of “sustainable hydropower” are seeking to take leadership in defining hydropower’s future role within global-level debates on climate mitigation, including seeking to define criteria for eligibility to access Green Climate Funds. Throwing doubt on claims that processes of ecological modernization and “green economy” are actually occurring as claimed by some, we argue that hydropower as a global industry are part of the forces that may inhibit work towards a social-ecological transformation of society.

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Cite this article as: Middleton, C. and Käkönen, M. (2017) "“Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia" Paper presented at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EURO-SEA) conference, University of Oxford, 16-18 August, 2017

[1] Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. (Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com)
[2] Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland. (mira.kakonen@helsinki.fi)

CONFERENCE PAPER: National Human Rights Institutions as Arenas of Transboundary Water Justice: Evaluating case studies from the Mekong River

National Human Rights Institutions as Arenas of Transboundary Water Justice: Evaluating case studies from the Mekong River

By Carl Middleton[1]

Presented at International Conference on National Human Rights Mechanisms in Southeast Asia: Challenges of Protection, Asia Center, Bangkok, Thailand, 13 - 14 July 2017

In Southeast Asia, major transboundary rivers such as the Mekong River are central to the food security, livelihoods and culture of millions of people. An increasingly extensive program of large hydropower dam construction is underway in Laos and Cambodia to meet domestic electricity demand and for power export to neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and China.  How the concept of justice in water governance should be understood and applied to transboundary rivers is increasingly the subject of critical analysis, including with regard to human rights-based approaches.
 
This paper examines how claims for justice on the Mekong Rivers around large hydropower dams have been made and framed within “arenas of water justice” in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on mechanisms for extra-territorial obligations (ETOs) and the role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in Thailand. The research draws upon in-depth interviews and participatory observation with community representatives, civil society groups, NHRIs, government agencies and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) conducted during 2015 and 2016.
 
This paper discusses the roles, opportunities and challenges for public interest law and national/ regional human rights institutions to protect and promote human rights on transboundary rivers. It also discusses the strategies communities and civil society undertake in seeking to ensure their human rights are respected, including through national and regional human rights institutions. Overall, the paper argues that in recent years NHRIs have become important arenas of water justice in Southeast Asia for transboundary rivers, although also face limitations in particular regarding their authority to investigate cross-border cases and ultimately to hold domestic actors to account.

Download full paper click here.
Download Power Point of this paper click here.

Cite this article as: Middleton, C. (2017) "National Human Rights Institutions as Arenas of Transboundary Water Justice: Evaluating case studies from the Mekong River" Paper presented at the International Conference on National Human Rights Mechanisms in Southeast Asia: Challenges of Protection, Asia Center, Bangkok, Thailand, 13 - 14 July 2017

[1] Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. (Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com)

CONFERENCE PAPER: Private Dams, Public Interest in mainland Southeast Asia

Private Dams, Public Interest in mainland Southeast Asia: Hydropower Governance in a Beyond-Aid Political Economy

By Carl Middleton

Presented at Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia (TRaNS) Conference on: Exploring 'beyond aid' agenda through Southeast Asia's rapidly changing development landscape, Sogang Institute for East Asian Studies, 27-28 May 2016

The paper shows how whilst Build Operate Transfer (BOT) hydropower dams, framed under the concept of Public Private Partnerships (PPP), were first introduced into mainland Southeast Asia by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and Western donors, as geopolitical and domestic politics of the region has shifted, the model is now utilized by new or “non-traditional” aid providers, including from China, Thailand and Vietnam. However, the concept of BOT is not transferred wholesale. The paper argues that in contrast to the earlier claims of the IFIs and Western donors that BOT hydropower projects could also be vehicles of direct poverty reduction and ‘development’, the “non-traditional” aid providers view these projects principally as economic infrastructure; if a claim for poverty reduction exists at all, then it is enfolded within broader objectives of national or regional economic growth. Thus, it will be argued that the “public interest” has largely been reduced to the interest of the private developers.

Download full paper click here.

Cite this article as: Middleton, C. (2016) “Private Dams, Public Interest in mainland Southeast Asia: Hydropower Governance in a Beyond-Aid Political Economy” Paper presented at Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia (TRaNS) Conference on: Exploring 'beyond aid' agenda through Southeast Asia's rapidly changing development landscape, Sogang Institute for East Asian Studies, 27-28 May 2016