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Burma: Natural Gas Project Threatens Human Rights

Proposed pipeline construction from gas fields off the coast of Burma is expected to exacerbate serious human rights abuses in Burma, Human Rights Watch said today. Based on experience from previous oil and gas projects in Burma, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the proposed construction of overland pipelines to transport the gas will involve the use of forced labor, and result in illegal land confiscation, forced displacement, and unnecessary use of force against villagers. Revenue from gas sales would also serve to entrench the brutal military rule in the country. Because of these well-founded concerns, Human Rights Watch urged companies with interests in Burma’s oil and gas deposits to suspend activity until they can credibly demonstrate that their projects can be carried out without abusing human rights.
“The Burmese army is notorious for using violence and coercion to secure areas slated for major investment projects and commonly demands forced labor to build associated infrastructure,” said Arvind Ganesan, director of Human Rights Watch’s business and human rights program. “The construction of more gas pipelines across Burma is likely to line the pockets of the country’s leaders while causing suffering for thousands of people.”

Human Rights Watch issued its statement in advance of the March 26 “Global Day of Action” when activists will mobilize to raise awareness of the effects this major energy investment will have on the people of Burma.

Human rights conditions inside Burma are dismal. A recent report by the UN special rapporteur on Burma documented that the Burmese military continues to unlawfully confiscate land, displace villagers, demand forced labor, and use violence against those who protest such brutality. The military’s use of forced labor is so widespread and persistent that the International Labor Organization has previously threatened to take the matter to the International Court of Justice. Areas of Burma that are subject to major development projects experience some of the most pervasive abuses. Independent monitoring there is nearly impossible. There is virtually no fiscal transparency and accountability over the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) use of funds, which enables widespread corruption by the military junta and deprives the population of the benefit of the country’s wealth.

Major deposits of natural gas have been discovered off the coast of Arakan State in western Burma. One of the gas fields, known as Shwe (golden), is being developed by a consortium of South Korean and Indian firms, in partnership with the Burmese military government, the SPDC. Energy analysts estimate that Burma may have the largest natural gas deposits in Southeast Asia. Natural gas exports are now Burma’s main source of foreign exchange.


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