Amnesty International is calling on the Canadian and UK governments to investigate an alleged breach of trade sanctions by a Vancouver miner related to a mine it owned in Myanmar in the 1990s.
Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. (TSX:IVN), which became Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. (TSX:TRQ) in 2012, was founded by Canadian mining mogul Robert Friedland. He is no longer involved in Turquoise Hill, whose majority owner is now Rio Tinto PLC ADS (NYSE:RIO).
Ivanhoe owned the Monywa copper mine in Myanmar, before divesting the property to a trust involving legal entities in the British Virgin Islands, according to Amnesty International.
That divestment may have breached both Canadian and UK trade sanctions against Myanmar, the international human rights organization suggests, following an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses in Myanmar by various mining companies and their partners in the Myanmar military at the time.
Amnesty International also alleges copper from the mine was sold to members of Myanmar’s military junta, in violation of trade sanctions.
“Based on our evaluation of the evidence and materials, we believe Ivanhoe Mines and its related entities may have breached Canadian sanctions that were applicable at that time,” said Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights for Amnesty’s UK secretariat, who was in Canada to submit Amnesty’s report to Canada’s Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs.
Joshi said that the company had indicated that all of its copper was being sold to a Japanese company, “when in fact it’s clear that there was a portion that was sold directly Myanmar intelligence.”
The human rights organization also feels that Turquoise Hill should be held responsible for environmental cleanup and compensating farmers who were forcibly removed in the 1990s to make way for the Monywa mine, in violation of international law.
According to Amnesty International “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.”
The organization is also calling on China to investigate Chinese mining operations in Myanmar as well.
Amnesty’s report focuses on another mining operation in Myanmar – the Letpadaung mine. The more serious allegations of human rights abuses centre on that mine, and include claims that security forces used white phosphorous on protestors who were protesting the Letpadaung mine in 2012.
Friedland, who now lives in Singapore, takes exception to Ivanhoe being linked to the Letpadaung mine in the Amnesty report.
Friedland, who resigned as CEO of Turquoise Hill in 2012, said that the company had “severed” all connections to its Myanmar assets four years ago, when its interests were sold to a trust that had been set up in 2007.
Although the company did some exploration of Letpadaung deposit, it never obtained any development or mining rights to it, Friedland writes. It was developed by a joint partnership involving a Chinese mining company and the economic wing of the Myanmar military.
“It would be misleading and unfair for Amnesty to omit to state this fact in the context of any discussion of Letpadaung in your report,” Friedland writes in a letter to Amnesty International.
In a response to Amnesty’s allegations, Turquoise Hill released the following statement:
“It remains our understanding that the measures proposed by Rio Tinto and put in place by Ivanhoe Mines on the disposal of the Myanmar asset were fully compliant with all applicable laws giving effect to sanctions.
“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.
“Since Rio Tinto moved to majority ownership of Turquoise Hill in January 2012, and assumed management of the company in April 2012, the new Turquoise Hill management team has not become aware of any such facts or circumstances that would suggest any non-compliance.”
In addition to calling for an investigation into possible trade sanctions violations by Turquoise Hill, Amnesty International is calling on the federal government to investigate the company’s obligations to address contamination from copper tailings from the Monywa mine.
It also feels the company should be held to account for people who were forcibly evicted from land around the mine site.
“Ivanhoe knew, or should have known, that people would be forcibly evicted from areas in order to provide access to land under the lease,” Joshi said.
In addition to submitting its report to Trade and Foreign Affairs, Amnesty International asked for meetings with both federal Liberals and Conservatives. The organization met with Liberal politicians Tuesday (February 10) but not Conservatives.
“We have requested a meeting with the Conservatives but were not given a meeting with the Conservatives,” Joshi said.