Clandestine interviews conducted with civilians close to a major pipeline project that will transport oil and gas across Burma to China have revealed serious abuses that breach domestic and international law, a new report warns.
A striking finding of the report, by environmental group Earth Rights International (ERI), is that not a single one of the 100-plus interviewees was found to be in favour of the Shwe pipeline venture, prompting ERI’s senior consultant, Matthew Smith, to tell DVB that, “If a business project cannot proceed without the violation of human rights it shouldn’t be proceeding”.
The study found that one man in Burma’s western Arakan state, where the pipeline will begin, was blindfolded for four days for holding a community meeting regarding the pipeline. “For four days I couldn’t see anything. I was beaten nonstop, always being questioned, nonstop for four days.”
The report, whilst corroborating earlier allegations from activists, also suggests there have been “numerous instances of land confiscation without adequate compensation,” if any is given at all. ERI alleges to have seen a confidential letter between the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), which is behind the construction and operation, and the Burmese junta which suggests that the seizing of land would be “permanent”.
“Villagers are losing their land,” Smith said. “This is their principle means of subsistence, and it’s causing serious problems to communities affected by the project.”
Meanwhile Arakanese villagers alleged to the report’s authors that when compensation was available it was often subject to corrupt practices whereby people with connections with the local authorities would receive the compensation destined for others.
Forced labour was again found to be used in the constriction pipeline, which is expected to go online in 2013, with a militia being formed of conscriptees. “A man from every house has to attend the militia training. We don’t want to attend the training because we cannot do our work for our family. But they will punish us if we don’t attend the training,” ERI quoted one villager as saying.
CNPC has done a social impact assessment, but Smith notes that the process was flawed: “The impact assessment teams weren’t allowed unfettered access to the pipeline affected areas – they were always accompanied by a member of the [energy] ministry”.
He further alleges: “Documents that we have obtained indicate that CNPC has been put on notice about potential negative impacts,” and that “the hallmark of complicity in human rights abuses is knowing about them and doing nothing about them”.
The report also focuses on the troubled northern Shan state, which the pipeline will traverse en route to southwestern China. Smith said the project “is not good business” for either CNPC or the other major international player, Korea’s Daewoo International, because of “a very serious political situation unfolding right now”, referring to rising tensions between Burmese troops and an ethnic Shan army located close to the pipeline route.
The pipeline will be a strategic imperative for the Chinese as it will be used to import large quantities of oil from the Middle East and Africa. This was recently highlighted by a new deal signed by CNPC for Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, to supply 200,000 barrels of oil a day along the pipeline to a new refinery in China’s Yunnan province.
The pipeline and the Burmese gas are part of China’s long-term energy security policy, with the gas aimed at cutting emissions from domestic power generation and the oil to circumvent the strategically valuable, but congested, Straits of Malacca, that China uses as its current supply route for Middle Eastern or African oil.