AMNESTY International is calling for investigations into potential human rights abuses and illegal activity relating to the Monywa copper mining operation. The human rights advocate claims large-scale forced evictions and serious pollution linked to the operation have destroyed livelihoods and exposed thousands to health risks.
Monywa complex comprises the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung, or S&K, and the Letpadaung copper mines and is jointly owned by China’s Wanbao Mining and the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. The former Canadian miner Ivanhoe Mines and Myanmar government-owned Mining Enterprise No 1 were original partners in the project from 1996 until March 2007, when Ivanhoe divested its 50% stake into the third-party Monywa Trust. In 2010, Wanbao parent China North Industries Corp and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings entered into an agreement over the Monywa project.
Amnesty alleges that thousands of people in the 1990s were evicted to make way for mining investment. It claims thousands more have been evicted since 2011 to make way for the Letpadaung mine that is under construction but continually delayed due to protests.
Most of the sulphuric acid needed for the S&K mine is supplied by a factory operated by Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and located about 200 metres from Kankone village. Villagers told Amnesty they suffer respiratory, skin and eye problems that they believe are caused by the factory. They also described damage to crops.
Amnesty says Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings set up the factory in 2007 without approval and operated it without permits until July 2013, when the Ministry of Industry gave permission for continued operation.
The Letpadaung mine and associated factory are the focus of a parliamentary commission and the government has established an implementation committee to address recommendations put forward by the commission.
In a letter to Amnesty, Ivanhoe Mines’ founder Robert Friedland ‘set the record straight’ by emphasizing that Ivanhoe was never involved in the development or mining of Letpadaung deposit during the time that the company was a partner in the project. He also stated that Ivanhoe was never secretive about its ownership of the project and disputed Amnesty’s claim that the Monywa Trust was created solely as a means to obfuscate the ownership of the assets.
“The company retained no interest in the Myanmar assets nor had any interest in any other assets in Myanmar. The company had no right to oversee or otherwise involve itself in the trustee’s efforts to dispose of the Myanmar assets,” he said.