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Foreign firms and human rights abuses in Myanmar

Canadian and Chinese mining companies profited from human rights abuses at copper

mines in Myanmar, according to a human rights group’s report released on Tuesday.

Foreign companies turned a blind eye to rights abuses and other illegal activity around

the Monywa copper mine complex in the Southeast Asian nation, said Amnesty

International, detailing numerous incidents spanning two decades including mass

evictions, the use of “excessive force” by security forces, and “serious” pollution linked

to the project.

Now under local and Chinese company control, the Monywa mine complex in northern

Myanmar continues to draw protests – and violence.

Villagers, activists and Buddhist monks have been demonstrating for years at the mine,

angry over repeated forced evictions and strong-arm tactics used by security forces. In

December, a female protester was killed when security forces opened fire at the mine, the

report said.

In 2012, the incendiary chemical weapon white phosphorus was allegedly used during a

crackdown on demonstrators. The attack led to more than 100 wounded, including some

with “horrific” burns.

U Teikkha Nyana, an elderly monk who was at the protest, suffered severe second and

third degree burns. The monk recounted his experience to Amnesty in an interview last

year.

“I saw fire all around. I tried to stand up and put out the fire. Another firebomb fell

between my legs. I was on fire on my back and one arm, also my legs. It was very

painful. There was a burning smell from the body like a barbecue,” U Teikkha Nyana

said.

‘Open for business’

The 200-page report – titled “Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at

Myanmar Copper Mines” – described evidence alleging Canadian mining company

Ivanhoe Mines, now Turquoise Hill Resources, knew its investment in the mine would

lead to the eviction of thousands of people in the 1990s. Yet, according to Amnesty,

Ivanhoe did nothing to stop this.

“It profited from more than a decade of copper mining, carried out in partnership with

Myanmar’s military government, without attempting to address the thousands left

destitute,” the report said.

A Turquoise Hill Resources spokesman contacted by Al Jazeera did not address the

accusations, and instead highlighted previous company statements related to the mine.

The Chinese firm Wanbao Mining, which continues to operate the mine with a military-
owned local conglomerate, is “directly engaged in forced evictions, and colluded with the

authorities”, Amnesty said.

The report comes at a time of the much-lauded opening up of Myanmar, which for

decades had been a pariah state accused of large-scale human rights abuses that drew

heavy international sanctions. The country, also known as Burma, moved towards

democratic and economic reform in 2010, but those appear to be stalling.

Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi warned late last

year against “over-optimism”, and said no real reforms had taken place over the last two

years.

“Myanmar offers the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system,

and an economy dominated by military and special interests,” said Meghna Abraham, a

corporate crimes researcher at Amnesty.

“The Monywa project is a cautionary tale on investment in Myanmar, where corporate

projects are too often marked by abuses and communities are ripped apart in the pursuit

of profit.”

Myanmar’s government did not respond to comment on the report.

Forced eviction business plan?

Although it was the government that carried out the evictions, Ivanhoe Mines and its

local partner at the time should also be held responsible, the rights group said.

 

Canadian and Chinese mining companies profited from human rights abuses at copper

mines in Myanmar, according to a human rights group’s report released on Tuesday.

Foreign companies turned a blind eye to rights abuses and other illegal activity around

the Monywa copper mine complex in the Southeast Asian nation, said Amnesty

International, detailing numerous incidents spanning two decades including mass

evictions, the use of “excessive force” by security forces, and “serious” pollution linked

to the project.

Now under local and Chinese company control, the Monywa mine complex in northern

Myanmar continues to draw protests – and violence.

Villagers, activists and Buddhist monks have been demonstrating for years at the mine,

angry over repeated forced evictions and strong-arm tactics used by security forces. In

December, a female protester was killed when security forces opened fire at the mine, the

report said.

In 2012, the incendiary chemical weapon white phosphorus was allegedly used during a

crackdown on demonstrators. The attack led to more than 100 wounded, including some

with “horrific” burns.

U Teikkha Nyana, an elderly monk who was at the protest, suffered severe second and

third degree burns. The monk recounted his experience to Amnesty in an interview last

year.

“I saw fire all around. I tried to stand up and put out the fire. Another firebomb fell

between my legs. I was on fire on my back and one arm, also my legs. It was very

painful. There was a burning smell from the body like a barbecue,” U Teikkha Nyana

said.

‘Open for business’

The 200-page report – titled “Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at

Myanmar Copper Mines” – described evidence alleging Canadian mining company

Ivanhoe Mines, now Turquoise Hill Resources, knew its investment in the mine would

lead to the eviction of thousands of people in the 1990s. Yet, according to Amnesty,

Ivanhoe did nothing to stop this.

“It profited from more than a decade of copper mining, carried out in partnership with

Myanmar’s military government, without attempting to address the thousands left

destitute,” the report said.

A Turquoise Hill Resources spokesman contacted by Al Jazeera did not address the

accusations, and instead highlighted previous company statements related to the mine.

The Chinese firm Wanbao Mining, which continues to operate the mine with a military-
owned local conglomerate, is “directly engaged in forced evictions, and colluded with the

authorities”, Amnesty said.

The report comes at a time of the much-lauded opening up of Myanmar, which for

decades had been a pariah state accused of large-scale human rights abuses that drew

heavy international sanctions. The country, also known as Burma, moved towards

democratic and economic reform in 2010, but those appear to be stalling.

Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi warned late last

year against “over-optimism”, and said no real reforms had taken place over the last two

years.

“Myanmar offers the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system,

and an economy dominated by military and special interests,” said Meghna Abraham, a

corporate crimes researcher at Amnesty.

“The Monywa project is a cautionary tale on investment in Myanmar, where corporate

projects are too often marked by abuses and communities are ripped apart in the pursuit

of profit.”

Myanmar’s government did not respond to comment on the report.

Forced eviction business plan?

Although it was the government that carried out the evictions, Ivanhoe Mines and its

local partner at the time should also be held responsible, the rights group said.

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