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Human rights abuses

by Michael last modified 2006-11-14 21:17

As detailed by the UN Commission on Human Rights and other international bodies such as The International Labour Organization (ILO), The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), and Amnesty International, infrastructure development projects in Burma are synonymous with militarisation and human rights abuses.

Yadana experiences of violence and displacementLarge-scale human rights violations already occurred in the context of the construction of the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines during the second half the 1990s, which happened in three clear stages:

  • At an early stage of the project, the region became increasingly militarised, and local villagers had to leave their lands without any compensation.
  • Relocated battalions appropriated agricultural lands and further forced local villagers to provide food for the troops, thus seriously impeding the livelihoods of thousands of villagers.
  • Many locals were conscripted as porters and forced labourers to construct military camps and military infrastructure. Others were forced to clear land and build roads along the pipeline corridor and supply routes.

Moreover, communities in the Yadana/Yetagun pipeline corridor suffered torture, and there are reports of numerous extra judicial killings and the rape of ethnic minority women by the Burmese military. Thousands of refugees took shelter in refugee camps, while others became internally displaced.

According to ILO estimates, more than 800,000 Burmese are currently conscripted in slave-like conditions with little or no pay as army porters or workers in construction and agriculture. The organisation has repeatedly condemned the military’s frequent use of forced labour, much to the deaf ears of the regime.

Increased militarisation has also already been in Arakan and Chin states and. While 15 years ago, the number of battalions stationed in Arakan was less than a dozen, there are today as many as 40 infantry battalions plus another 10 signal, backup, border affairs and intelligence battalions, adding up to an estimated 15,000 SPDC soldiers in Arakan State.

15 years ago, there was only a single battalion in Chin State , compared to the 14 battalions today. Burma already has the highest per capita rate of soldiers in the world, excluding city states.

Forced labour on the Sittwe-Kyauktaw road, at Yotayoke village in 2004 In order to construct and secure the Shwe gas pipeline through Arakan and Chin states, military offensives against Burma’s ethnic pro-democracy opposition would be inevitable, as well as permanent military camps for pipeline security. As a result of militarisation, communities in and around the pipeline corridor can expect:

  • increased extortion of local food supplies and random taxation to feed the new troops, as the regime does not provide central support to its troops
  • land confiscation for new military installations, access roads and the pipeline itself
  • forced relocations of villages along the pipeline route
  • forced labour of villagers to clear land, and build new military installations and access roads for the pipeline
  • increased sexual violence against local women
  • increased restrictions on freedom of movement and the economic activities of local people

    It is expected that these human rights abuses will lead to further internal displacement of civilians in Arakan and Chin states, and new flows of refugees into Bangladesh and India .

    This as the Bangladeshi government is in negotiations with the Burmese junta regarding repatriation of remaining 20,000 Arakan Moslem refugees from Bangladesh , despite outcries from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Refugees International and Forum Asia.

    Road and military infrastructure development for the Shwe gas project has already begun and with it, human rights abuses...

    Among several larger road constructions in Arakan State . Kyaukphyu-Rangoon Road is one of the largest. The Kyaukphyu deep sea port, on Ramree Island , is considerably closer to central Burma than the Arakan capital Sittwe and has become a central part of the regime's planning in recent years.

    In November 2004, it was reported that the Burma Light Infantry Battalion 34 daily forced over 500 labourers from six surrounding villages of Kyaukpyu to work on sections of the road.

A Case Study: Yadana and Yetagun

The Yadana and Yetagun gas pipelines in eastern Burma are currently the largest single source 
of income for the junta. While there are obviously differences with Shwe, this project provides
a valuable case study of the key components of a large natural resource extraction project undertaken
by Burma’s junta together with foreign investors.

In its hallmark study Total Denial Continues, EarthRights International found that human rights abuses
were 1) not isolated occurrences but rather part of a larger predictable pattern of abuse and 2) that
abuses were not incidental but were a direct result of company investment in the Yadana/Yetagun projects.
Abuses, including conscripting thousands of forced labourers and porters for the benefit of the pipelines,
forcibly relocating villages to secure a pipeline corridor, and murdering and raping local civilians, have
led to several lawsuits.

After years of drawn out legal battles, the two corporations involved in the project, Unocal and Total,
both agreed to settle separate multi-million dollar cases in U.S. and French courts. In the early 2006
settlements, the corporations agreed to compensate Burmese plaintiffs as well as set up a fund to benefit
villagers from Burma. A third corporation, Premier Oil, pulled out of the project in 2002 after international pressure.

Excerpts from Total Denial Continues provide a grim forewarning should the Shwe project advance:
  • A mobilization of troops swiftly and fiercely brought the populations of the Yadana/Yetagun project area under control. An area that previously had no permanent army outposts was suddenly flooded with troops, involving at least 16 battalions (p.23).
  • Villages 15 to 20 miles both north and south of the pipeline were forced to move closer to SLORC outposts to create a [free] labour pool…[and]…indicate the creation of a “secure corridor” (p. 43).
  • Villagers from throughout the region, ranging from as young as 13 to over 60 years old, were forced to build and maintain military barracks, working from sunrise to sundown (p. 36).
  • The military conscripted villagers as porters, forcing them to carry heavy loads of supplies and keeping them under prison-like conditions.
  • The military transformed the economy along the pipeline route from self-sufficiency to veritable lord-serf situation, forcing villagers to grow food, hand over crops, and pay for the privilege of surviving on their own lands (p. 119).
  • The environmental impact of the pipelines construction was not analyzed before it went ahead even though they pass through primary evergreen forest and the home of several endangered species. Along with a permanent access road for the pipelines came hunters and loggers (p. 150-52). Reports emerged not only of the regular hunting of wildlife in the area, but also that logging became the main business of soldiers (p. 159).

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