Select this search icon to access the search form

Main menu

Facebook Share

Myanmar: Canadian mining company colluding in serious abuses and illegality

    February 09, 2015

    In December 2014 one woman died and several other people were injured when police opened fire on protestors at the Letpadaung site.© AP/Press Association Images

    Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Limited and Chinese mining interests have profited from, and in some cases colluded with the Myanmar authorities in serious human rights abuses and illegal activity around the Monywa copper mine complex, which includes the notorious Letpadaung mine, Amnesty International said in a report released today.


    Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine describes how large-scale forced evictions and serious pollution linked to the mine have destroyed livelihoods and exposed thousands of people to health risks. Community protests have been met with excessive force by police, including, on one occasion, the use of white phosphorous, a highly toxic and explosive substance.

    The report presents extensive new evidence uncovered through Amnesty International’s research, including serious allegations of wrongdoing and complicity in human rights abuses by  Ivanhoe Mines.  Amnesty International has found evidence of illegal activity including possible breaches of economic sanctions by the company, and is calling on the Canadian government to ensure these serious concerns are fully investigated.

    “This report is a disturbing reminder that Canadian companies, particularly in the extractive sector, can and do become drawn into serious human rights abuses associated with their operations abroad,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “This is one more shocking wake-up call that underscores the crucial need for meaningful Canadian law and policy reforms to better ensure that Canadian companies uphold their human rights responsibilities, no matter where they explore, dig or drill.”

    “Myanmar offers the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system and an economy dominated by military and special interests. The government has forcibly evicted people, crushed all attempts at peaceful protest and displayed a complete unwillingness to hold companies to account,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Researcher.

    “Ivanhoe Mines’ Monywa project is a cautionary tale on investment in Myanmar, where corporate projects are too often marked by abuses and communities are ripped apart in the pursuit of profit. Construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until rights issues have been addressed.”

    Amnesty International’s report includes evidence of

    • Thousands of people forcibly evicted in the 1990s without any compensation in violation of international law, to make way for investment by Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines (now Turquoise Hill Resources); the company knew their investment would lead to the evictions, yet did nothing. It profited from more than a decade of copper mining, carried out in partnership with Myanmar’s military government, without attempting to address the thousands left destitute.
    • Ivanhoe acquired an older, state-owned mining operation. The mine area had severe pollution from hazardous waste material. Ivanhoe Mines did not clean-up up the area and there was no monitoring of the site. There was no investigation into the effects of the pollution of the highly agricultural area by heavy metal and acid rock drainage.  The pollution produced severe health risks. It appears that Ivanhoe Mines used the mining and production facilities of the old operation and benefitted financially from the use of such facilities without managing the environmental risks. 
    • Ivanhoe Mines was involved through its Monywa investment, in the sale of copper to a “who’s-who” of the Myanmar military. These sales took place when economic sanctions were still in force. Ivanhoe lied publically about the copper sales, and its subsidiary may have breached UK economic sanctions.
    • When Ivanhoe Mines divested from Myanmar it did so in a highly secretive process involving legal entities in the British Virgin Islands to create the Monywa Trust in 2007. Amnesty International’s investigation found evidence that Ivanhoe Mines and legal entities associated with the company may have breached Canadian and UK economic sanctions during the divestment. The organization is calling on Canada and the UK to initiate criminal investigations into the issue.
    • Thousands more people have been forcibly evicted since 2011 to make way for the Letpadaung mine, which is run by Chinese company Wanbao and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), the economic arm of the Myanmar military. Wanbao directly engaged in forced evictions, and colluded with the authorities, including by providing bulldozers to destroy crops.
    • In 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. More than 100 people were injured, with some suffering horrific burns and lifelong disability. Part of the attack was launched from inside the Wanbao company compound. The use of white phosphorous by the security forces against the protestors constituted torture – a crime under international law.
    • In December 2014 one woman died and several other people were injured when police opened fire on protestors at the Letpadaung site. Protests against the mine have repeatedly been met by excessive use of force by police.
    • The military-owned conglomerate UMEHL illegally operated a sulphuric acid factory linked to the Monywa mine for six years. When this was exposed, the factory was approved by the authorities, who made no attempt to take punitive action against UMEHL.

    “The people living around Monwya and Letpadaung have suffered more than two decades of abuse linked to the business operations of Canadian, Myanmar and now Chinese corporations. Investment can help Myanmar, but this project benefits the companies while harming the people,” said Alex Neve.

    Amnesty International calls for:

    • Investigations by Canada and China into the activities of Ivanhoe Mines and Wanbao in Myanmar.
    • Canadian and UK authorities to investigate whether Ivanhoe Mines and related legal entities breached Canadian and/or UK economic sanctions.
    • All construction of the Letpadaung mine to be halted until the abuses are addressed.
    • Investigations by the Myanmar authorities into the police response to protests at Letpadaung, including the use of while phosphorous and the role played by Wanbao in allowing the police to use a company compound to launch part of the attack.
    • The Myanmar authorities to provide adequate compensation and resettlement to people who were forcibly evicted and to reform its legal framework to better protect rights of mine-affected communities.


    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.

    In 1996 Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. Entered into a joint venture with a Myanmar state company, Mining Enterprise No. 1 (ME1), to set up the Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited (MICCL), in which both held a 50 per cent interest. MICCL operated the S&K mine.

    In 2007 Ivanhoe Mines decided to divest from Myanmar and established a third-party-Trust to which its Myanmar assets were transferred.

    In 2010 it was announced that China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) and UMEHL had entered into an agreement about the Monywa project, which includes both S&K and Letpadaung mines. Subsidiaries of Wanbao Mining Ltd (owned by NORINCO) operate both mines today The process by which the ME1-Ivanhoe Mines assets transferred to the China-Myanmar military partnership of Wanbao-UMHEL has never
    been disclosed.

    Amnesty International approached the companies named in this report for comments on the allegations against them. Where responses were provided, these have been incorporated in the report.

    For more information, please contact: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332


    Report: Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine