Protesters in Seoul call for greater respect for human rights in BurmaEarthRights International joined activists around the world in protest at Daewoo International offices and South Korean embassies yesterday, calling for greater respect for human rights and the environment in Burma.

The third such day of its kind since October 2005, protestors called for Daewoo International and the Government of South Korea to stop its investment in the controversial Shwe gas project, and to stop propping up the Burmese military dictatorship with gas dollars.

 Protests were held in Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Australia, USA, Netherlands, and the UK, while numerous groups in other locations lodged letters of protest with embassies and company offices. In a letter to Daewoo International, Swedish Burma Committee chairperson, Roger Haddad, expressed fear “that these plans to exploit the gas fields will lead to more human rights abuses, destruction of nature and further entrenchment of the military regime.”

The project is dubbed Shwe, meaning “gold” in Burmese, which is the name of the most profitable well in the newly discovered offshore gas field, said to contain at least ten trillion cubic feet of gas worth tens of billions of dollars.

Protesters in Kuala Lumpur

The project is led by the South Korean company Daewoo International, the state-owned Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS), the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India Videsh Ltd. (OVL), and the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL). Daewoo holds the largest stake, at 60 percent. 

Activists had a clear message for the South Korean consortium partners: “As lead investors in this development, Daewoo International has a clear responsibility to avoid the inevitable human rights abuses that are already occurring around the project,” said Shwe Gas Movement spokesperson Wong Aung in Bangkok today, referring to numerous reports of violence, forced labor, and restrictions imposed as a result of militarization in Arakan state, said to be connected to the project. “The project must be halted” he added.

The Shwe Gas project will likely result in the construction of two overland natural gas pipelines from the Shwe gas deposits in Burma’s Bay of Bengal: one to India and the other to China. The pipeline to India will pass Burma’s Arakan and Chin States, and through India’s northeast states of Mizoram and Assam, landing in Bihar, India. The pipeline to China’s Yunnan province will pass through Shan State and central Burma’s “dry zone,” where approximately 25 per cent of Burma’s population resides amid a deep and worsening humanitarian crisis. 

Both of these pipelines will have direct and adverse impacts on the people and environment along the pipeline routes, and indirectly impact the entire country’s population by virtue of the billions in revenue it will generate for the military regime. Well documented human rights abuses directly resulting from gas pipeline construction in Burma include forced labor, land confiscation, forced relocation and displacement, rape, torture, and extrajudicial killings. For private and state owned corporations that partner with the military regime in these projects, complicity in these crimes is an issue.

But alongside complicity is also direct military support. “Daewoo International is now being dubbed by activists as ‘Dirty Daewoo’ in response to their investment, but also because of a Korean official investigation of the company over allegations of illegal arms sales to Burma’s military junta,” continued Wong Aung. The investigation he cites involves Daewoo International supplying military hardware to the military regime in Burma without necessary permits from the Government of Korea. Possible repercussions are pending.  

Burmese protesters in TokyoRegardless, Burma’s notorious military junta could earn up to US$17 billion from the Shwe gas, and Daewoo International stands to earn US$190 million annually for twenty years. 

While Daewoo leads the project and therefore bears the brunt of responsibility, the Government of India will also develop the gas and intends to be an end user, as well, having submitted a detailed feasibility report for the above mentioned overland pipeline from Burma’s Arakan state to Bihar. In sequence with this, the Government of India has also stepped up its own supplies of military hardware to the military regime in Burma, including anything from costly surveillance aircraft to field rifles and mortars.

Kim, coordinator of the Shwe Gas Campaign Committee India, asserted at a protest in New Delhi that “not only will local people living along the pipeline routes not benefit from this project; they will be irreversibly impacted, suffering displacement and other imminent human rights abuses.” Walking the picket line, he stated bluntly, “India must stop its involvement in the Shwe Gas Project and stop supplying arms to the Burmese military junta.”

But the international focus remains tightly on Daewoo International and the Government of South Korea, who between them share a seventy percent stake in the project. In a letter submitted to the Daewoo International office in Sydney, the Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma issued a moral plea to Daewoo International, “Please do not put profits before the lives of innocent people.”

In Bangladesh, Soe Lunn, from the Shwe Gas Movement Bangladesh, stated today that “the Korean Government and Daewoo International should be very concerned about Burma’s’ deteriorating political crisis and the long term viability of their investment with the regime, one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous business partners.” He added, “I know that the people of western Burma are very concerned about it”. 

To learn more about past human rights abuses connected to the notorious Yadana and Yetagun gas project in Burma, see EarthRights International report Total Denial.