Myanmar: Canadian mining company colluding in serious abuses and illegality


Amnesty International news release

Date of publication: 
9 February 2015

Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Limited and Chinese mining interests have profited from, and in some cases colluded with the Myanmar authorities in serious human rights abuses and illegal activity around the Monywa copper mine complex, which includes the notorious Letpadaung mine, Amnesty International said in a report released today.

Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine describes how large-scale forced evictions and serious pollution linked to the mine have destroyed livelihoods and exposed thousands of people to health risks. Community protests have been met with excessive force by police, including, on one occasion, the use of white phosphorous, a highly toxic and explosive substance.

The report presents extensive new evidence uncovered through Amnesty International’s research, including serious allegations of wrongdoing and complicity in human rights abuses by Ivanhoe Mines. Amnesty International has found evidence of illegal activity including possible breaches of economic sanctions by the company, and is calling on the Canadian government to ensure these serious concerns are fully investigated.

“This report is a disturbing reminder that Canadian companies, particularly in the extractive sector, can and do become drawn into serious human rights abuses associated with their operations abroad,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “This is one more shocking wake-up call that underscores the crucial need for meaningful Canadian law and policy reforms to better ensure that Canadian companies uphold their human rights responsibilities, no matter where they explore, dig or drill.”

“Myanmar offers the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system and an economy dominated by military and special interests. The government has forcibly evicted people, crushed all attempts at peaceful protest and displayed a complete unwillingness to hold companies to account,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Researcher.

“Ivanhoe Mines’ Monywa project is a cautionary tale on investment in Myanmar, where corporate projects are too often marked by abuses and communities are ripped apart in the pursuit of profit. Construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until rights issues have been addressed.”

Amnesty International’s report includes evidence of

  • Thousands of people forcibly evicted in the 1990s without any compensation in violation of international law, to make way for investment by Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines (now Turquoise Hill Resources); the company knew their investment would lead to the evictions, yet did nothing. It profited from more than a decade of copper mining, carried out in partnership with Myanmar’s military government, without attempting to address the thousands left destitute.
  • Ivanhoe acquired an older, state-owned mining operation. The mine area had severe pollution from hazardous waste material. Ivanhoe Mines did not clean-up up the area and there was no monitoring of the site. There was no investigation into the effects of the pollution of the highly agricultural area by heavy metal and acid rock drainage. The pollution produced severe health risks. It appears that Ivanhoe Mines used the mining and production facilities of the old operation and benefitted financially from the use of such facilities without managing the environmental risks.
  • Ivanhoe Mines was involved through its Monywa investment, in the sale of copper to a “who’s-who” of the Myanmar military. These sales took place when economic sanctions were still in force. Ivanhoe lied publically about the copper sales, and its subsidiary may have breached UK economic sanctions.
  • When Ivanhoe Mines divested from Myanmar it did so in a highly secretive process involving legal entities in the British Virgin Islands to create the Monywa Trust in 2007. Amnesty International’s investigation found evidence that Ivanhoe Mines and legal entities associated with the company may have breached Canadian and UK economic sanctions during the divestment. The organization is calling on Canada and the UK to initiate criminal investigations into the issue.
  • Thousands more people have been forcibly evicted since 2011 to make way for the Letpadaung mine, which is run by Chinese company Wanbao and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), the economic arm of the Myanmar military. Wanbao directly engaged in forced evictions, and colluded with the authorities, including by providing bulldozers to destroy crops.
  • In November 2012 security forces used white phosphorous, a highly toxic explosive substance, in a deliberate attack on villagers and monks who were protesting the negative impacts of the Letpadaung mine. More than 100 people were injured, with some suffering horrific burns and lifelong disability. Part of the attack was launched from inside the Wanbao company compound. The use of white phosphorous by the security forces against the protestors constituted torture – a crime under international law.
  • In December 2014 one woman died and several other people were injured when police opened fire on protestors at the Letpadaung site. Protests against the mine have repeatedly been met by excessive use of force by police.
  • The military-owned conglomerate UMEHL illegally operated a sulphuric acid factory linked to the Monywa mine for six years. When this was exposed, the factory was approved by the authorities, who made no attempt to take punitive action against UMEHL.

“The people living around Monwya and Letpadaung have suffered more than two decades of abuse linked to the business operations of Canadian, Myanmar and now Chinese corporations. Investment can help Myanmar, but this project benefits the companies while harming the people,” said Alex Neve.

Amnesty International calls for:

  • Investigations by Canada and China into the activities of Ivanhoe Mines and Wanbao in Myanmar.
  • Canadian and UK authorities to investigate whether Ivanhoe Mines and related legal entities breached Canadian and/or UK economic sanctions.
  • All construction of the Letpadaung mine to be halted until the abuses are addressed.
  • Investigations by the Myanmar authorities into the police response to protests at Letpadaung, including the use of while phosphorous and the role played by Wanbao in allowing the police to use a company compound to launch part of the attack.
  • The Myanmar authorities to provide adequate compensation and resettlement to people who were forcibly evicted and to reform its legal framework to better protect rights of mine-affected communities.


The Monywa project comprises the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) and the Letpadaung copper mines. S&K has been operational since the 1980s. Letpadaung is under construction.

In 1996 Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. Entered into a joint venture with a Myanmar state company, Mining Enterprise No. 1 (ME1), to set up the Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited (MICCL), in which both held a 50 per cent interest. MICCL operated the S&K mine.

In 2007 Ivanhoe Mines decided to divest from Myanmar and established a third-party-Trust to which its Myanmar assets were transferred.

In 2010 it was announced that China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) and UMEHL had entered into an agreement about the Monywa project, which includes both S&K and Letpadaung mines. Subsidiaries of Wanbao Mining Ltd (owned by NORINCO) operate both mines today The process by which the ME1-Ivanhoe Mines assets transferred to the China-Myanmar military partnership of Wanbao-UMHEL has never
been disclosed.

Amnesty International approached the companies named in this report for comments on the allegations against them. Where responses were provided, these have been incorporated in the report.

For more information, please contact: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332 bberton-hunter [at] amnesty [dot] ca

Urgent action available here –

Report: Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine –

Media Contacts

John Tackaberry
Media Relations (Ottawa)
(613) 744-7667 ext 236

Elizabeth Berton-Hunter
Media Relations (Toronto)
(416) 363-9933 ext 332


‘Evidence of Illegal Activity’ by Chinese, Canadian Firms at Monywa: Amnesty

By Sean Gleeson, The Irrawddy –

10 February 2015

RANGOON — Amnesty International has called for an investigation into two international firms over their conduct in three adjoining copper mine projects, including the controversial Letpadaung mine, the site of repeated clashes between villagers and police forces in recent months.

A new report from Amnesty has documented forcible evictions, health impacts and the excessive use of police force in quelling protests. The report also suggested that Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines deliberately circumvented economic sanctions in divesting its stake in the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mines, while accusing Chinese company Wanbao, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned defense manufacturer Norinco, of directly engaging in evictions and crop destruction in collusion with authorities.

“Since its inception and throughout its various changes in ownership the Monywa project has been characterised by serious human rights abuses and a lack of transparency,” said the report, released on Tuesday. “Thousands of people have been forcibly evicted by the government with the knowledge, and in some cases the participation of foreign companies.”

Ivanhoe Mines, currently known as Turquoise Hill Resources, acquired a stake in the Monywa mines in 1996 and announced its decision to divest from the project a decade later through an independent trust. United States diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that Ivanhoe was an active participant in discussions around the sale of its Monywa assets after the trust was established, with Tay Za, a tycoon with close connections to the former Burmese military junta, enlisted to help broker a deal on the sale between Ivanhoe, Wanbao and the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).

An investigation of the circumstances surrounding Ivanhoe’s divestment from Monywa has led Amnesty to conclude the trust was registered in the British Virgin Islands, potentially implicating Ivanhoe in a breach of economic sanctions leveled against UMEHL.

The Letpadaung mine, a joint venture between UMEHL and Wanbao, has been an ongoing source of conflict between local farmers, authorities and project workers for more than two years.

White phosphorous incendiary rounds were used against protesting villagers in Nov. 2012, resulting in severe burns and lifelong injuries to more than 100 people. A group of villagers and activists demanding a halt to the mines briefly abducted three Wanbao contractors in May 2014 before releasing them unharmed 24 hours later. A series of protests in December last year over Letpadaung workers fencing farmland led to the shooting death of Khin Win, a 56-year-old villager, during a police confrontation.

“The Letpadaung mine is increasingly being perceived as a test case of the government’s commitment to its own reform process,” said Meghna Abraham, Amnesty’s deputy director of global thematic issues, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “Despite considerable national and international criticism of the brutal attack on monks and protesters in November 2012, the government has not taken the crucial steps that are necessary to correct past abuses linked to Letpadaung and prevent further abuses.”

Amnesty has called for an investigation by the Chinese and Canadian governments into the conduct of Ivanhoe Mines and Wanbao in Burma, an investigation of whether Ivanhoe breached economic sanctions in Canada and the UK, and an immediate halt to the construction of the Letpadaung mine until human rights concerns are addressed.

Additional reporting by Saw Yan Naing in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Amnesty says miners in Myanmar profited from state violence

Michael Peel, Bangkok and Lucy Hornby, Beijing

This picture taken on August 31, 2013 shows a worker carrying a basket in a mining waste dump area in Monywa, northwestern Myanmar. Villagers whose lands were grabbed under the former junta in the copper-rich region use discarded soil from nearby mines, mixed with old aluminum cans, water and acid, to retrieve copper from the waste. Working illegally and with no safety equipment, the villagers expose themselves to health hazards to eke out a meager living. AFP PHOTO/Ye Aung THU (Photo credit should read Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP

International mining companies have profited from state violence, forced evictions and possible sanctions breaches in Myanmar, Amnesty International has alleged, calling for a halt to expansion at Myanmar’s biggest copper mine.

The Amnesty report, released on Tuesday, offers a graphic illustration of the challenges facing investors — and residents — as money piles into this fast-opening frontier market but where regulations remain hazy and ownership can be opaque.

It puts the spotlight on the troubled Monywa copper complex, scene of violent clashes, and calls for probes into the roles of miners involved in the project.

These include Turquoise Hill Resources, which developed and operated the mine from the 1990s until 2007 under its former name, Ivanhoe Mines, and the mine’s current owners, China’s state-owned Wanbao, and a Myanmar military-linked company.

Turquoise Hill Resources is now owned by Rio Tinto. Wanbao, a subsidiary of Chinese weapons maker Norinco, now runs the Monywa complex, including the Letpadaung mine, under an agreement with Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, a conglomerate with close links to the country’s ex-junta. The companies mentioned in the report deny any wrongdoing.

“The Monywa project is a cautionary tale on investment in Myanmar, where corporate projects are too often marked by abuses and communities are ripped apart in the pursuit of profit,” said Meghna Abraham, a researcher at Amnesty.

“Construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until rights issues have been addressed.”

Local inhabitants and security forces have repeatedly clashed over plans to relocate villagers to allow the mine’s expansion, with fresh violence in late December around the Letpadaung copper mine in central Myanmar.

Amnesty claims thousands were forcibly evicted from the Monywa area to make way for the mines in the 1990s by Myanmar’s former military junta, part of a flood of land rights disputes that have become more high-profile since the generals handed power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.

Wanbao provided bulldozers to destroy crops as more people were evicted, the report alleges. More than 100 were injured in an incident in 2012, with some suffering severe burns from white phosphorus, the report claims.

An employee at Wanbao’s Beijing headquarters, who identified himself only as Mr Sun, said: “I think their accusations are definitely wrong.”

He said Myanmar’s democratisation had complicated a “smooth start” to the project, but added that an investigation into the mine project led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had concluded that the mine could proceed.

Mine opponents claim that Ms Suu Kyi’s investigation failed to press for punishment of security force members over the 2012 violence. The investigation called for a review of the land dispute and additional compensation, recommendations Ms Suu Kyi says have not been fully carried out.

Amnesty also alleges that Ivanhoe Mines may have breached economic sanctions during the sale of its Myanmar interests in an opaque process involving entities in the British Virgin Islands, as well as by selling copper to a “Who’s who of the Myanmar military”.

Turquoise Hill said it was not aware of any sanctions breaches and that Rio Tinto had put in place measures to ensure compliance with sanctions laws when it sold the Monywa interests in 2011.

“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,” it said.

UMEHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Canadian company that adopted the name Ivanhoe Mines in 2013 said in an email it “is focused on projects in Africa and had nothing whatsoever to do with assets that were held by the original Ivanhoe Mines”.

It added that Amnesty had not showed its allegations in advance to mining entrepreneur Robert Friedland, who was executive chairman of the original Ivanhoe Mines during the early development of the Monywa complex and now holds the same position at the current Ivanhoe Mines.

The original Ivanhoe Mines has in the past rejected similar criticisms by Amnesty and other non-governmental groups. The company said in 2006 that it was running a “model resource development project” that was making a “tremendously positive contribution” to the lives of local residents.

Additional reporting by Owen Guo in Beijing