Story highlights

  • Hazardous waste poses threat to Myanmar province
  • Police use white phosphorous munitions at protest
  • Monks and villagers suffer burn injuries

The forcible eviction of rural communities in Myanmar to make way for a copper mine complex led to human rights breaches and environmental damage, according to a report published by Amnesty International.

Entitled 'Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine,' the report by the UK-based rights group is an in-depth investigation into mining operations in Sabetaung and Kyisintaung, and Letpadaung, which is currently being built.

One of the companies criticised in the document, published on Tuesday, is Ivanhoe Mines, now Turquoise Hill Resources.

Speaking to Al Jazeera about the company, Meghan Abraham, Corporate Crimes researcher at Amnesty, said: “The company took over a site which was polluted with hazardous waste when it entered into a joint venture with the Myanmar government, yet spent years trying to disassociate itself from the pollution instead of cleaning it properly.

"The waste, which poses severe health risks, has not been fully cleaned up almost two decades later.”

Large deposits of copper are located in the mountains in the Monywa district in Central Myanmar, where a population of approximately 25,000 people live within 5km of the mining complex.

In 2012, economic sanctions imposed by Western countries on Myanmar were eased following a range of political reforms.

This permitted external investment in the previously underdeveloped oil, gas and mining industries of upper Burma.

Abraham said: "There must be tough legislation in place to protect ordinary people from abuse and the government cannot shy away from holding companies responsible.

"But, crucially, international governments must also hold their own companies to account."

'White phosphorus munition'

The Amnesty report examines the human rights impact on local people, agriculture, and the environment, questionning the role of corporate responsibility in the development of natural resources.

The response of Myanmar police to protests against the excavations also comes under scrutiny.

On November 29, 2012, U Teikkha Nyana, an elderly monk, was one of more than 100 protestors who gathered at the site of the Letpadaung copper mines, near Mandalay.

Myanmar must not become the next example of the resource curse. Respect for human rights can't be left to the companies' discretion

Meghan Abraham, Amnesty International

Nyana has permanant burn-related injuries which inhibit his movement as a result of munitions which he says were used by the police in response to the protest.

The monk told Amnesty: "Suddenly the fire ball fell down. I was sitting cross-legged, the fire bomb hit me on the back on the right hand side.

"I had a blanket and a bag and even though the whole body was wet, the fire started."

Some of the canisters allegedly fired at the community activists were subsequently handed to a laboratory in Bangkok for inspection.

Professor Alastair Hay, of the Environmental Toxicology department of Leeds University in the UK, said that "the laboratory results indicate a high phosphorus content which is consistent with a white phosphorus munition".

White phosphorus is a highly toxic, explosive substance. Its use against civilians is illegal under international law.

Concluding her second official visit to Burma in January 2015, Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, acknowledged that improvements to the human rights situation, whilst slow, are being seen in the region.

"I feel assured that in some areas the government is continuing to progress in its reform programme," she said.

"In the area of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, positive gains risk being lost.

"Indeed, the possible signs of backtracking I noted in my first report have gained momentum in this area."

Abraham said: "Myanmar must not become the next example of the resource curse. Respect for human rights can't be left to the companies' discretion.

"All governments must impose mandatory and enhanced due diligence requirements for companies investing in Myanmar."

Source: Al Jazeera