A Canadian mining company allegedly evicted thousands of Burmese villagers from their homes

A copper mine in the  Sarlingyi township in Myanmar.
A copper mine in the Sarlingyi township in Myanmar.
Image: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
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Canadian mining firm Turquoise Hill Resources knew that its investment in a controversial mining project in Myanmar would lead to the eviction of thousands of villagers, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Amnesty also alleges that the the company may have violated international sanctions against the former military state when it sold its 50% stake in the Monywa copper complex. It was later sold to a military-controlled conglomerate and a Chinese weapons maker.

“Myanmar offers the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system and an economy dominated by military and special interests,” said Amnesty’s Meghna Abraham in the report. “The government has forcibly evicted people, crushed all attempts at peaceful protest and displayed a complete unwillingness to hold companies accountable.”

The report claims the government uprooted thousands of villagers in northwestern Myanmar (also known as Burma) in the late 1990s, and that mass evictions have continued for the construction of the Letpadaung mine, which is also part of the Monywa project. “The company knew their investment would lead to the evictions—this was included in the original agreement—yet it took no action to ensure the evictions did not lead to human rights violations,” the report concludes.

Turquoise Hill, formerly known as Ivanhoe Mines until it changed its name in 2012, denied Amnesty’s claims, saying in a statement: ”We are not aware of any facts or circumstances that would suggest any non-compliance with those laws at the time of, or prior to, the apparent divestment of the interest in mid-2011.” The company was not immediately available for further comment.

Over half of the world’s largest mining companies are listed in Canada, a country that has long prided itself on its human rights record. Recently that record is starting to look a little tarnished. Three Eritrean refugees have filed a lawsuit against Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources for human rights abuses, claiming they were forced to work long hours a copper mine without enough pay or food. A series of lawsuits over shootings, gang rapes and other abuses at mines in Guatemala with ties to Canadian companies has put more scrutiny on Canadian mining firms operating in developing countries.