Myanmar’s government stands accused of putting profits before human rights at the Letpadaung copper mine, with continued detention of activists and continued refusal to investigate use of white phosphorous against peaceful protestors, said Amnesty International today.
Three years ago, on 29 November 2012, security forces used white phosphorous, a highly toxic explosive substance, in a deliberate attack on villagers and monks who were protesting the negative impacts of the Letpadaung mine, part of the Monywa copper mining project in the Sagaing region of North-West Myanmar. Between 110 and 150 people were injured, with some suffering horrific burns and lifelong disability.
The authorities are yet to investigate either the police or mining company Myanmar Wanbao (a subsidiary of Chinese mining company Wanbao), from whose compound part of the attack was launched.
“Far from opening an independent investigation, the police have refused to even register an initial criminal complaint about the attack and victims have faced barrier after barrier when trying to get justice. Through its failure to hold the police and officials involved accountable for such a brutal attack, the government continues to flagrantly breach international law and enable security forces to violate human rights with impunity,” said Meghna Abraham, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
“The Letpadaung copper mining project has come to represent all that is wrong with the Myanmar government’s approach of prioritizing profits and foreign investment over human rights. Once in power the new government must put in place safeguards to protect people from corporate human rights abuses and hold officials and companies to account.”
Abuses around mining operations remain unaddressed
Villagers and monks in Monywa in northwest Myanmar have held several protests against pollution, forced evictions of tens of thousands of people and police violence linked to copper mining operations, with large demonstrations held in November 2012 and December 2014. The authorities have yet to address the human rights abuses that the communities have experienced, blocking attempts to see justice done.
In March 2015, Monywa police refused to register a first information report (initial criminal complaint) by Tikha Nyana, one of the monks who was most severely injured in the attack. The Chief of the police station said they needed the permission of the President’s office to do so. Efforts by victims, supported by Justice Trust, an international legal non-profit organization, to file a civil case against the Minister of Home Affairs and the Chief of Police have also faced barriers. The most basic procedural requirements such as notarisation of documents have been blocked because of notaries’ and court officials fears about the ‘politically sensitive’ nature of the case.
Risk of yet more evictions
Villagers living in and around the area which has been earmarked for mining operations but not yet taken over by Myanmar Wanbao, who operate the mining complex, continue to live under the threat of forced eviction. Myanmar Wanbao has been given the go-ahead to construct the Letpadaung mine, despite adequately failing to address critical risks for local communities, such as management of waste generated by the mining operations, in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment commissioned by the company for the project.
The government has also failed to address community concerns about the pollution caused by the mining operations and the nearby sulphuric acid factory run by the military-owned conglomerate, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, which is located about 200 metres from Kankone village.
Myanmar authorities continue to use draconian laws against peaceful protesters and activists opposing the Letpadaung mine. On 17 October 2015, only weeks ahead of Myanmar’s general elections, police arrested election candidate Myat Nu Khaing for participating in a peaceful protest outside the Chinese Embassy in December 2014. She had been calling for an investigation into the police’s excessive use of force against people protesting against the Letpadaung mine. She has been charged with a series of offences under the Penal Code and faces more than nine years’ imprisonment.
In addition, Naw Ohn Hla and five other activists have been jailed for politically motivated offences, including “rioting” and inciting people to commit offences “against the State or against the public tranquillity” for organizing and participating in the December protest. Myanmar authorities have continued to bring charges against villagers who have tried to protest.
Background: Open for Business?
Amnesty International documented police use of white phosphorous, among other serious human rights abuses and illegal activity related to the Monywa copper mine project, in a report published in February 2015.
The Monywa project comprises the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) and the Letpadaung copper mines. S&K has been operational since the 1980s. Letpadaung is under construction. Subsidiaries of Wanbao Mining Ltd, owned by China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), operate both mines.