Rights group urges sanctions against Australian mining companies in Myanmar

The businesses provide the ruling junta with support and legitimacy, report says.
By RFA Burmese
2024.01.30
Rights group urges sanctions against Australian mining companies in Myanmar The Bawdwin mine project located in Namtu township of Myanmar's northern Shan state, is seen on Nov. 30, 2020.
RFA

Australian companies engaged in Myanmar’s junta-controlled mining sector are tacitly supporting the ruling military regime, which is approaching its third year in power, the rights group Justice For Myanmar said in a report issued Tuesday.

The companies, their executives and investors have provided the junta, which seized power in a February 2021 coup d'état and has attacked protesters, civilians and resistance groups ever since, with support and legitimacy so that the mining sector stays open for business, said Justice For Myanmar, or JFM.

The 155-page report documents 10 company networks that have remained active in Myanmar following the power grab and highlights six others not currently active in the mining sector but still registered in Myanmar. 

Among the companies are Valentis, Cornerstone Resources, Knight Piésold, PanAust, Asia Pacific Mining Limited, Access Resources Asia and Australian Laboratory Services, all of which are engaged in extraction, exploration and services that finance the Myanmar junta, according to the report titled “Mines Against Humanity.”  

“The exploitation of natural resources is the biggest source of foreign revenue for the military junta, and mining is a highly lucrative part of that trade,” the report says. “Funds from the mining sector flows to the junta through revenue sharing, rent and tax, helping to fund its ongoing atrocities.”

In a media release, Justice For Myanmar — a covert group of activists campaigning for justice and accountability for the people of Myanmar — called on Australia to impose sanctions on mining enterprises controlled by the junta, and to widen sanctions against its sources of funds, arms and jet fuel, in coordination with its allies. 

Funding terror

The group also demanded an investigation of sanctions-busting activity and penalizing or prosecuting companies and individuals.

“It is unacceptable that three years after the military’s illegal coup attempt, Australia is still failing to take necessary action to block the junta’s sources of funds from mining and other lucrative sectors,” spokesperson Yadanar Maung said in the news release.

“The Myanmar military operates as a cartel that is stealing the wealth of the people of Myanmar on a massive scale to fund its war of terror and enrich war criminals,” she said. 

“Yet, there are Australian companies, executives and investors in the mining sector that are continuing business as usual, financing the illegitimate junta and helping to keep a corrupt and destructive mining sector open for business,” she said.

The Bawdwin mine project, located in Namtu township of Myanmar's northern Shan state, is seen in 2018. (RFA)
The Bawdwin mine project, located in Namtu township of Myanmar's northern Shan state, is seen in 2018. (RFA)

Providing financial support to the military council is like encouraging and abetting crimes committed against the Burmese people, said Nan Lin, a Myanmar activist who leads the University Students’ Unions Alumni Force, which has organized peaceful protests against the junta. 

“We see it as if they are helping the military council to kill the people,” he said. “That’s why we condemn it.

Nan Lin also urged international companies and governments to impose immediate sanctions against the junta and to not engage with it.

An official from the Blood Money Campaign, a collective of Myanmar activists campaigning to stop revenues from reaching the junta, told RFA that the companies named in the report were violating various international norms and principles, including the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

The Australian government must heed the demands of civil society organizations and Myanmar citizens by taking action against the companies doing business with the junta, he said.

Nay Phone Latt, spokesman of the shadow National Unity Government’s Prime Minister Office, has urged international companies, including Australian ones, not to cooperate with the military council but rather to support the Burmese people.

“You have to see that the junta is using the funds they get to kill their own people,” he said. “That’s why we keep asking for this.” 

The National Unity Government, or NUG — made up of former civilian leaders — has been making efforts to cut off the flow of funds to the junta.  

RFA could not reach junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment, but in June 2023 he said that the regime was not worried about economic sanctions against it.

Australian response 

Responding to the JFM’s report, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said all Australian multinational businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights in their operations and related activities.

The Australian government is not promoting Myanmar as a market for new entrants, and it continues to remind existing investors of their obligations under Australian law, the spokesperson said. The government also strongly condemns the repression and violence by the junta, but will not speculate on potential sanctions listings, the official said.

Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a Burmese political analyst, said JFM’s report may cause the Australian government to take action on the issue.

“The more we know about [these] collaborations, the more tangible they are,” he said. “If so, Australia will be more aware that it needs to take more accountability and responsibility for the Myanmar issue.”

On Feb. 1, 2023, Australia imposed targeted sanctions and travel bans on 16 military regime members of the State Administration Council and targeted financial sanctions on two Myanmar military-controlled entities — Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation Ltd.

These sanctions were in addition to those imposed in 2018 against five members of the Myanmar military linked to atrocities in Rakhine state. Australia also maintains a longstanding arms embargo on Myanmar. 

Switzerland and the European Union imposed sanctions against the military-controlled No. 2 Mining Enterprise in 2023, which produces and sells gold, tin and copper. The company also has joint ventures with six other firms involved in large-scale gold mining.

Myanmar's mining industry generate revenue of US$116 million in fiscal year 2023-2024, and US$123 million in fiscal year 2022-2023, according to the junta's Ministry of Commerce. 

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw for RFA Burmese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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