Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A new report by the human and legal rights group Earth Rights International alleges frequent and severe abuses have been inflicted on civilians living in the path of twin oil and gas pipelines currently under construction in Burma.
According to the Washington, D.C-based ERI, the building of the pipelines which will carry both oil and gas from Burma’s west coast to China’s Yunnan region has led to widespread land confiscation, forced labour, arbitrary arrest, detention and torture.
The controversial project which is by far the largest and most expensive project in Burma’s booming oil and gas sector is led by a consortium that includes Daewoo International, KOGAS, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), ONGC Videsh, the Gas Authority of India (GAIL), and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), Burma’s state-owned energy firm.
In addition to two 800 km pipelines built on Burmese soil the multibillion dollar project includes the development of deepwater wells in the Shwe Natural Gas field linked to the Arakan coast with a sub-sea pipeline and a corresponding onshore gas terminal. Also currently under construction is an onshore oil terminal that will enable Yunnan and surrounding regions to obtain the fast delivery of Middle East crude.
According to ERI, the pipeline is extremely unpopular with local residents affected by the project. Matthew Smith, a senior researcher with ERI and one of the co-authors of the report, told Mizzima: ‘Villagers are already bearing the brunt of the projects and are likely to see none of the benefits, and that's the first reason why there's opposition to it. Villagers have lost their land, they've had no effective input into these projects, and most villagers feel completely powerless to the companies and the Burmese authorities’.
ERI said that to make way for the project scores of villagers living along the planned pipeline route have had their land confiscated, receiving little if any compensation. ERI obtained a March 2010 letter sent by Burma’s state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to residents living in the path of the pipeline in Arakan state in which MOGE ordered the villagers to leave their land in just five days.
The letter specifically made reference to a contract MOGE signed with Daewoo International for the pipeline project and commanded the villagers to leave all of their crops behind. The letter made no reference to the villagers receiving compensation for their loss.
Daewoo International, recently purchased by Korean Steel maker Posco, has sought to defend its involvement in the project by pointing to their much vaunted Corporate Social Responsibility program which includes the building of health clinics. ERI noted, however, that a health clinic funded by Daewoo was built in Central Burma in 2009 by local villagers who were ordered by the Burmese Army to assist in the clinic’s constriction. Local residents were not consulted about the health clinic and those forced to build the facility were not compensated.
Smith told Mizzima: ‘Daewoo was initially put on notice years ago about the risk of human rights abuses connected to its presence in Burma. Those warnings, and warnings ever since, appear to have fallen on deaf ears. In 2008, senior executives were told in person by representatives of the Shwe Gas Movement and ERI of the risks involved. There is no evidence the companies involved in these pipelines are taking human rights impacts seriously’.
Smith added, ‘Neither Daewoo nor CNPC have conducted a Human Rights Impact Assessment and to our knowledge neither company has procedures or systems in place to deal with human rights issues’.
The report warns that the pipeline project could lead to violence in Shan State.
According to ERI, there are least 28 battalions already stationed along the pipeline route and the soldiers are likely being financed by the project. ERI reported that contracts between MOGE and the foreign firms state the Burmese Army will be responsible for providing security for the project. The report’s authors are also concerned that the pipeline project will lead the Burmese armed forces to commit further acts of violence in Shan State.
The projected pipeline route in Shan State has recently been the location of fierce fighting between the Burmese armed forces and the 1st Brigade of the Shan State Army North, an ethnic rebel group in a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese regime. The 1st Brigade, unlike its comrades in the 3rd and 7th brigades, has refused to join the Burmese government’s proposed Border Guard force.
Smith told Mizzima that if the firms involved in the pipeline project were concerned about human rights and the pipeline’s impact on civilians, ‘They'd postpone the projects immediately and mitigate harm rather than advance into a conflict zone in Shan State’.
A senior figure in the Kachin Independence Army, an armed rebel group currently in a tenuous cease-fire with the Burmese regime, told ERI that in areas along the pipeline route in which the rebel group has territory, the Burmese armed forces have forcibly conscripted villagers to join local militias. ERI said that clandestine interviews it conducted confirmed that villagers have been forced to join what are likely pipeline defense militias, an ominous sign that more potential conflict could come.