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Too Much Too Soon: US Lifting of Sanctions Risks Perpetuation of Human Rights Violations

By Burma Partnership  •  July 16, 2012

Thein Sein meets with Hillary Clinton © MizzimaOn June 14, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, speaking at the annual ILO conference in Geneva, warned the international community against dealing with the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), “The Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise … with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present.”

Despite this warning, on July 11, the US issued an executive order allowing American companies to invest in Burma’s oil and gas sector, and specifically with MOGE, “Today, the United States is easing restrictions to allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s concerns with MOGE stem from the fact that it is a military controlled, state enterprise that has long been associated with some of the gravest human rights abuses documented in Burma, predominantly in ethnic nationality areas where the country’s natural resources are concentrated. Examples of MOGE’s violations include the Shwe Gas pipeline where, according to the agreement between the state-run enterprise and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, the Burma Army provides security for the construction and maintenance of the pipeline. This is the same Burma Army that provided security for the construction and maintenance of the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines in the 1990’s. The catalogue of human rights violations from this security included forced labor, torture, sexual abuse, land confiscations and murder. It is perhaps fitting that a civil lawsuit was brought against the American corporation, Unocal (now Chevron), which partnered with MOGE in this project. Now the US has opened the door for companies such as Chevron to deal with MOGE and their security practices to gain access to Burma’s lucrative oil and gas sector.

This decision has been widely criticized by human rights groups, based both internationally and locally. Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski summarized the decision succinctly and accurately, “The bottom line here is that you have Aung San Suu Kyi asking the administration to hold up on allowing unfettered investment in Burma, and the administration went with Chevron over Aung San Suu Kyi.”

It is not only American firms with their eye on Burma’s resources. This week also saw executives from BP, British Gas, Shell, and Rolls Royce among others visit Naypyidaw to make sure they are not missing out on any of the action.

Quite simply, the reward for the Thein Sein government’s minimal reform steps has been too much too soon. Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma points out that it is the elites who will benefit from this order, “I am sure Obama will be appreciated by the Burmese generals, cronies and U.S. corporations, but not by the people of Burma.”

There have been no measures put in place to adequately ensure that investments will not undermine reform or further contribute to the violation of human rights. EarthRights International called for American companies to abide by international best practices on human rights, environment and social performance, and international transparency standards, among others, to ensure that the people of Burma will not be at risk.

We urge Western companies to show restraint and realize the history of those they will be dealing with and the current human rights context. Otherwise, the institutions, companies, and individuals who have oppressed the people of Burma for so long will be directly empowered by Western money to continue violating the basic rights of the people.

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