Amnesty International released Open for business? Corporate crimes and abuses at Myanmar copper mine on 10 February 2015. Our findings reveal serious human rights abuses by the range of actors involved in the Monywa copper mining project, including the government of Myanmar [Burma], Myanmar’s Mining Enterprise No 1, Chinese mining company Wanbao Mining Ltd, Canadian Ivanhoe Mines (now Turquoise Hill Resources), and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.
The abuses documented include: forced evictions to make way for mining operations; violent repression of protests by authorities; environmental pollution posing a threat to people’s health; and potential criminal offences by the companies in Myanmar, UK and Canada. The corporate actors involved have profited from and in some cases colluded with the Myanmar authorities in these abuses – yet the governments of Myanmar, China and Canada have failed to carry out investigations and hold the companies to account.
Our findings are based on a year-long investigation into the Monywa project in Sagaing region. As part of this investigation, Amnesty International researchers interviewed people affected, reviewed numerous documents, searched corporate registries in more than five countries, and consulted weapons, health and environmental experts. We shared a draft of the report with the companies involved, offered them an opportunity to meet and to respond, and have included all responses received in full in our report.
Since the publication of our report, both Wanbao and Turquoise Hill Resources have responded and denied any wrongdoing, as reported by DVB and others. The responses from both companies are, however, seriously lacking, and neither has engaged substantively with our findings. This is disappointing – simply denying an overwhelming body of evidence will not make it go away.
Wanbao has repeatedly claimed that 71 percent of people who are losing land for the Latpadaung mine support the project, but without providing any proof to substantiate this claim. It denies colluding with the police to use force against protestors, but has failed to provide any explanation of how police were able to use its premises on 29 November 2012 to launch an attack on protestors in which the police used white phosphorus.
In its letter to Amnesty International, Wanbao said that it had “consistently asked the police to comply with international standards on the use of force”, but does not provide any details of guarantees sought from the police. Wanbao should take urgent steps to prevent the situation around Latpadaung getting worse and address the negative impacts its operations have already had on local people. It needs to stop pretending that there is no problem.
Turquoise Hill Resources’ response (which came via Rio Tinto, the company with management control over Turquoise Hill Resources) does not address the evidence that Amnesty International has uncovered about its so-called “independent third party” trust and possible breaches of economic sanctions. Amnesty International’s findings that Ivanhoe Mines benefited from forced evictions and failed to clean up environmental pollution have simply been ignored.
It is high time that all the companies involved took responsibility for the abuses they have committed or benefitted from, and that the Canadian, Chinese and Myanmar governments hold them to account. Many of the victims of these abuses have been waiting for justice for close to 20 years. A well-oiled PR machine and corporate responses that ignore key facts will not change this reality. The people of Myanmar deserve investment and economic development that they genuinely benefit from, not corporate projects that lead to abuses.
Meghna Abraham is Senior Corporate Crimes Researcher at Amnesty International.