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Myanmar: Serious risk of further human rights abuses at controversial Letpadaung mine

    Myanmar activists resident in India hold placards as they shout slogans during a 2012 protest © SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images
    Myanmar activists resident in India hold placards as they shout slogans during a 2012 protest © SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images
    November 27, 2014

    Two years after police used incendiary weapons against monks and villagers protesting a mining project in central Myanmar, no one has been held accountable, Amnesty International said ahead of the anniversary of the attack. 

    The organization also highlights ongoing problems with the way the Letpadaung mine is being developed and the risk of further abuses. Construction is proceeding without resolving ongoing environmental and human rights concerns. Thousands of farmers remain under the threat of forced evictions since their lands were acquired for the mine in a flawed process characterized by misinformation.

    On 29 November 2012, police used white phosphorous munitions in their attack on a peaceful protest against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region, injuring at least 99 monks and nine other protesters. Many suffered extremely painful burns and some have been left with lifelong injuries and scarring.

    “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,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. 

    “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.” 

    The mining project is being developed by a subsidiary of the Chinese mining company Wanbao Mining Ltd and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), the economic arm of the Myanmar military. 

    The underlying human rights and environmental issues have also yet to be resolved. Protests in the region continue as hundreds of families resist forced evictions from their land to make room for the Letpadaung mine. 

    Four villages, made up of 441 households, are supposed to be completely relocated for the Letpadaung mining project. Of these, 245 have been moved to resettlement sites, while the remaining 196 have refused to leave their homes.
      
    Land largely used for farming, has also been acquired from 26 other villages for the project. According to the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the project, as of May 2014 almost half of the villagers (44 per cent) had refused to relinquish their lands. 

    The authorities misinformed the villagers about the acquisition process – making it appear that they were compensating them for damage to their crops – while in reality using this process to permanently acquire their land.

    “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,” said Audrey Gaughran. 

    “The construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until a thorough environmental and social impact assessment has been carried out, which genuinely consults all the people affected.” 

    The ESIA – commissioned by Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited (a subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Ltd.) – for the project has critical gaps, including the failure to include the final designs of waste storage and other environmentally sensitive infrastructure. 

    The assessment also ignores community concerns about the nearby, existing Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine, operated by another subsidiary of Wanbao, and the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory, owned by UMEHL, which supplies acid to the mine. 

    “More than 25,000 people live in 26 villages in the five kilometre 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 Audrey Gaughran. 

    Amnesty International is investigating past and current human rights issues around the Letpadaung mine, and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine as well as the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory. The findings will be presented in a report due to be released early in 2015.

    Background

    Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Ltd.) started operating the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine from 2011.

    Under the current production sharing contract for the Letpadaung mine, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited retain 49 per cent of the profits and the remaining 51 per cent are given to the Government of Myanmar.

     

    For further information contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations
    (416)363-9933 #332 bberton-hunter@amnesty.ca