( HRW ) - Chinese, Indian, Thai, and other companies doing business in Burma should ensure their operations do not contribute to or benefit from human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The military government in Burma has launched a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators that so far has led to many deaths, enforced disappearances, and mass arbitrary arrests.
Companies doing business in Burma argue their presence is constructive and will benefit the Burmese people, but they have yet to condemn the governments abuses against its own citizens, said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. ?Keeping quiet while monks and other peaceful protesters are murdered and jailed is not evidence of constructive engagement.
Human Rights Watch said that companies operating in Burma should use their influence with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to put an end to ongoing human rights abuses. In the current environment, companies should urge the SPDC to halt the crackdown, release all political prisoners, and open a real dialogue with opposition and ethnic groups. If the situation does not improve, companies should be prepared to reconsider their operations in the country.
Human Rights Watch said that there is no transparency in Burma about how much the government receives in oil and gas payments, nor clarity about how the funds are spent. The military receives the largest share of the official budget and the SPDC allocates only a pittance to social programs including health and education.
Foreign investment in Burmas oil and natural gas sector is especially significant. Sales of natural gas account for the single largest source of revenue to the military government. Gas exports accounted for fully half of the countrys exports in 2006. Burmas gas business brought in revenue of US$2.16 billion in 2006 from sales to its main buyer, Thailand. These funds flow directly to the government and provide the junta with a major source of financing that is completely independent of its citizens.
Current investors in Burmas oil and gas industry include companies from Australia, the British Virgin Islands, China, France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Russia, and the United States.
The SPDC has greatly expanded investment in Burmas oil and natural gas industry in recent years. Allowing foreign investment in oil and gas is apparently aimed at bringing in more revenue to keep the government afloat at a time when economic mismanagement and profligate spending on the military and the building of a new capital at Nay Pyi Taw have drained government finances. Natural gas exploration, development and production projects are under way in approximately 30 different gas fields. These projects are organized as joint ventures with the Burmese governments Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
Outside investment in Burmas oil and gas industry has thrown a lifeline to the countrys brutal rulers, added Ganesan. The businesses that help finance the military shouldnt argue that the governments crackdown is not their problem.