Marking two years since Buddhist monks and activists were brutally attacked by riot police at the Latpadaung copper mine site, Amnesty International (AI) has issued a press release highlighting ongoing problems associated with the project.
Amnesty said the mine is likely to causes further human rights abuses and is calling for the project to be halted until a proper environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) is carried out.
AI’s director of global issues, Audrey Gaughran, said the ESIA commissioned by the local subsidiary of China’s Wanbao Mining Ltd has “critical gaps”, particularly relating to environmental issues.
“The construction of the Latpadaung mine must be halted immediately until a thorough environmental and social impact assessment has been carried out, which genuinely consults all the people affected,” she said.
AI said the initial ESIA ignores local concerns about the existing Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mines nearby, which are operated by other Wanbao subsidiaries, as well as the nearby Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory which supplies acid to the mine. The acid factory is owned by the Burmese military’s business entity, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).
“More than 25,000 people live in 26 villages in the 5km distance between the two mines, with the sulphuric acid factory also in close proximity. People who may be affected by pollution need more information on how cumulative risks from all three projects will be managed,” said Gaughran.
The AI statement also emphasised that the project is proceeding without resolving several important environmental and human rights concerns. In particular, nobody has been held accountable for the abuses committed by Burmese riot police officers who forcibly dispersed a peaceful protest against the Latpadaung copper mine—allegedly using, among other weapons, white phosphorous.
In addition, Amnesty said that thousands of farmers who refuse to leave their homes remain under threat of forced eviction because their lands were acquired for the mine in a flawed process characterised by misinformation.
According to the press statement, government authorities misled villagers by indicating that their compensation was being provided in respect to damage to their crops, but in reality the authorities intended to provide compensation as a pretext for acquiring their land.
On account of such misinformation and other issues, protests in the region continue regularly as hundreds of families resist forced evictions to make room for the mine, which is situated near Monywa in central Burma’s Sagaing Region.
Four villages made up of 441 households are supposed to be relocated for the project. Among these households, Amnesty says, 245 have been moved to resettlement sites, but the remaining 196 refuse to leave their homes. In addition, land from 26 other villages—most of which is farmland—has been acquired for the project.
AI’s Gaughran has called on Burmese authorities to engage in meaningful consultations with communities that have been affected by the project or will be in the future.
“The authorities should urgently set up a genuine consultation with the affected villages on the land acquisition and proposed evictions. They must guarantee that no one will be forcibly evicted,” she said.
As to the injuries sustained by 99 monks and nine other protesters during the crackdown on 29 November 2012, the Amnesty statement said many individuals suffered “extremely painful burns” and that “some have been left with lifelong injuries and scarring.”
In this regard, Gaughran said, “Two years after this brutal attack, it is completely unacceptable that the scores of people injured while protesting are still waiting for justice and reparations. White phosphorus munitions should never be used by the police – the use of such weapons against peaceful protesters is a flagrant violation of international law.
No police officer or official who was involved in the attack has been investigated, prosecuted or sanctioned, while the government has failed to provide victims with effective remedies and adequate reparation.”
AI issued the statement ahead of the two-year anniversary of the violent crackdown, and the NGO said it currently investigating past and current human rights issues relating to: the Latpadaung mine; the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung mines; and the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory. Amnesty said it will present its findings in a report due to be released in early 2015.
The Latpadaung copper mine is a joint venture between UMEH and Wanbao Mining’s Burmese subsidiary. According to the project’s production sharing agreement, the joint venture partners will retain 49 percent of the profits, while the remaining 51 percent will be given to the Burmese government.
A commission led by Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate the impact of the mine as well as the crackdown recommended that an environmental and social impact assessment be carried out. The resulting ESIA stated that members of the four communities to be relocated are “potentially highly impacted” and acknowledges the process could “threaten their ability to survive”.
Key to the ESIA proposed mitigation plan is the market-value compensation for land lost to the project. This follows the previous earmarking of funds for regional development projects, which have had some success in the supply of electricity and potable water.
However, local residents have refused to accept compensation en masse, as continual protests calling for the complete abandonment of the mining project have been staged.
The website of Wanbao’s local subsidiary says: “Being responsible for shareholders, employees, clients and the society, Wanbao Mining adheres to the corporate culture of ‘human-orientation, collaboration and win-win; enterprising and innovation, pursuing excellence’ in order to make contribution for the construction of harmonious society.”
Although China’s current president, Xi Jinping, has championed the “Chinese Dream” slogan, the Latpadaung project was launched under China’s former president, Hu Jintao, whose catch phrase encouraged China to build a “harmonious society.”
The “history” section of the subsidiary’s website concludes by saying: “We should not forget that the core of sustainable development is human development and progress. By improving the quality of life, by using local and natural resources and by promoting a healthy environment, we will succeed in preserving the Earth’s life-support systems for present and future generations.”
In March 2014, an article published by Eleven Daily News said that another ESIA compiled by Knight Piésold Consulting found that “acid and metals generation arising from waste rock have posed extremely high environmental risk to surface and groundwater.”
Eleven Daily News also quoted an article written by scientist Nyo Hmainn Wai in the Myanmar Environmental & Economic Review which warned about the potential dangers posed by the Latpadaung project. In the article, Nyo Hmainn Wai said the area might become “an open pit with toxic water that could cause serious environmental damage if the acidic water produced by the copper mine flows into the Ayeyawady [Irrawaddy] River.”