EarthRights International (ERI) calls on the oil and gas industry to help stop the military’s abuses. The recent protests, in which up to 100,000 people thronged the streets of Rangoon and 26 other cities, were the largest challenge to the military since 1988, when thousands were killed after mass protests were brutally suppressed. According to Ka Hsaw Wa, ERI’s Executive Director, who was a student leader in those protests:
“As someone who experienced this regime’s brutality in 1988, I am glad that this time around, the world is watching. But that is not enough. The international community, including multinational corporations, must a
ct now to prevent further bloodshed in Burma. The people have suffered profoundly for too long—they have already sacrificed so much, and they will not stop.”
The protests began on August 19th, when the military’s decision to sharply increase the price of natural gas and other fuels sent shockwaves through the economy. The military has recently responded with violence, killing at least several protestors (including monks) and arresting hundreds more. But the oil and gas corporations themselves, who are partnered with the military government in gas export projects, have shown no sign of trying to prevent further bloodshed. Instead, Daewoo International and the Thai gas company PTTEP initially announced plans to export more of Burma’s natural gas, and on September 25 PTTEP issued a statement assuring the public that their investment was not jeopardized by the unrest. A third company, India’s ONGC Videsh, along with India’s Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, traveled to Burma amidst the protests to sign three new deals to extract and export natural gas. And Chevron Corporation, the largest remaining U.S. company in Burma, has only issued a statement.
“The corporations who can influence the military junta know who they are. They must pressure the regime to maintain peace, and respect the rights to speech and association of the people of Burma. Instead, however, they are pursuing their business interests while people’s lives are at stake,” added Chana Maung, Director of ERI Southeast Asia. “The regime has resorted to violence against the peaceful protestors, and the companies now also have blood on their hands, but it is not too late for them to act.”
According to ERI Burma Program Coordinator Naing Htoo, “Whether they like it or not, the companies are not socially or politically neutral in the current unrest in Burma. They say that their presence in Burma helps, not hurts, our people. It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is.”
For example, Chevron, through its takeover of Unocal, is a partner with the junta in the notorious Yadana natural gas pipeline project. Unocal's construction of that project involved mass forced labor and other human rights abuses, committed by the army on Unocal's behalf. Moreover, Chevron Corporation is one of the largest foreign investors in Burma. Their Yadana project funnels tens of millions of dollars to the regime, money the military desperately needs to retain its stranglehold on power. Despite Chevron's material support for the regime, and direct complicity in extensive human righ
ts abuses, Chevron claims that it can play a positive role in contributing to the protection of human rights. Read ERI's letter to Chevron CEO Dave O'Reilly.