Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Burma Crisis Update: Human Rights Watch Names Corporate Names, Calls for Targeted Sanctions Needed on Petroleum Industry

Image: An activist holds a poster of pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Ky during protests in Rangoon (Reuters)

Burma Crisis Update: Human Rights Watch Names Corporate Names, Calls for Targeted Sanctions Needed on Petroleum Industry

The United Nations Security Council should act to prohibit any new investment in Burma’s oil and gas fields and block company payments that help sustain Burma’s brutal military rule, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that until the Security Council imposes sanctions, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, India, the European Union, the United States and other countries that have economic ties to Burma should act to suspend any further development of Burma’s oil and gas sector. To encourage an end to ongoing repression, Human Rights Watch also called for targeted financial sanctions on companies owned and controlled by the Burmese military or whose revenues substantially benefit the military.

“Burma’s generals act as if they are immune from worldwide condemnation because they’re still getting cash from foreign-financed oil and gas projects,” said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time to cut them off.”

In a detailed new compilation of information on foreign investment in oil and gas released today, Human Rights Watch identified 27 companies based in 13 countries as having investment interests in Burma’s oil and gas fields. Thirteen of those companies are wholly or partially owned by foreign governments, and these state-controlled companies are invested in 20 of the 30 projects currently underway. ...

In the absence of Security Council-imposed sanctions, Human Rights Watch called on governments to take unilateral and multilateral action to freeze bank accounts belonging to military-controlled companies and to block their financial transactions. In addition, it urged governments to require companies headquartered in their jurisdictions that have business ties to Burma to publicly and fully disclose all payments made to the Burmese military, directly or through the entities it controls, and where those payments are made.

Human Rights Watch pushed for robust banking sanctions as the centerpiece of an effort to cut off funds that are used to finance repression by Burma’s military. ...

Human Rights Watch also issued a selection of company statements about events in Burma. The companies typically said their investments would remain unaffected, irrespective of events in Burma. In several cases, they claimed it would be inappropriate to raise human-rights concerns or claimed that their projects brought benefits to the people of Burma. ...

“The companies have made it clear they won’t stand up for human rights on their own,” said Ganesan. “That's why their home governments need to step in and halt the flow of petrodollars that help prop up Burma’s military.”

The companies’ comments do not address the serious concerns that, so long as investments in this sector directly benefit Burma’s military leadership, they provide crucial financing that helps underwrite its abusive governance, or that revenues from oil and gas payments are currently used directly by the military and do not support social spending to meet Burma’s critical human needs.

For example:

Daewoo International of South Korea is the lead company in a consortium exploring and developing the lucrative offshore Shwe gas fields that are expected to greatly boost revenue to the SPDC. On September 28, 2007, Daewoo International said: “[These] are all long-time investments. They can’t be easily changed because of domestic issues. Politics is politics. Economics is economics.” On November 15, a Seoul court convicted the former CEO of Daewoo International and one of his colleagues, along with 12 executives from other companies, on charges that from 2002 to 2006 they illegally exported arms-manufacturing equipment and technology used to build a munitions factory in Burma.

PTT Public Company Ltd. of Thailand, which in addition to its ownership and operating interests in several fields is also the purchaser of the bulk of Burma’s gas, for export to Thailand, said on October 8, 2007: “We have invested in Burma over the past decade. Despite the political conflict, the benefits from the projects will go to people of both countries.”

Total of France, which is the lead company in a consortium for the Yadana project that generates significant revenues for the SPDC, said on September 26, 2007: “We are convinced that through our presence we are helping to improve the daily lives of tens of thousands of people who benefit from our social and economic initiatives.”

Chevron of the United States, which holds a minority interest in the Yadana project, said on October 2, 2007: “Our community development programs also help improve the lives of the people they touch and thereby communicate our values, including respect for human rights.”

Nippon Oil of Japan, a partner in the Yetagun project, which brings in major revenues, said on September 29, 2007: “We see the political situation and energy business as separate matters.”

Human Rights Watch, 11-19-07

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