Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Korea Rejects Charge of Rights Abuse in Burma

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — The South Korean government has rejected a complaint that two Korean companies have condoned human rights abuses and failed to meet international standards in Burma in pursuit of gas exploration.

The complaint alleged that industrial conglomerate Daewoo International and government-owned Korea Gas Corporation had failed to comply with guidelines on corporate responsibility and investment laid down by the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD).

The Block A-1 gas field off the northwestern coast of Burma. Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation have a 70 percent stake in three Burmese offshore gas wells including A-1. (Source: The Chosun Ilbo)
South Korea is a member of the OECD, which is made up of the world’s leading industrialized countries.

The allegation was lodged by the U.S.-based group EarthRights International (ERI) and backed by several other organizations including South Korea’s two biggest labor union federations.

Daewoo and Korea Gas are partners in a consortium developing the huge Shwe gas field off the west coast of Burma close to Bangladesh.

ERI contends that “human rights abuses have been perpetrated against local people opposing Daewoo’s Shwe Gas Project.”

It also says Daewoo’s plan to construct a trans-Burma gas pipeline to China from the Shwe field “poses an unreasonably high risk of more serious and widespread human rights and environmental impacts.”

South Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy has rejected the complaint “on all counts,” ERI said on Wednesday.

“Moreover, the [ministry] opined that the general situation in Burma and specifically around the Shwe Project does not merit an investigation or arbitration between the companies and the complainants,” ERI said in a statement. “[It] flies in the face of evidence from groups and communities from within the proposed pipeline area in Burma.”

ERI alleged in its October complaint to the South Korean government that Daewoo and Korea Gas—also known as KOGAS—are in breach of at least six OECD guidelines “by failing to respect human rights, contributing to forced labor, failing to promote sustainable development, failing to disclose information about the project, failing to consult with local populations and by failing to conduct an environmental impact assessment according to international standards.”

ERI says it was only informed of the complaint rejection indirectly and unofficially via a co-complainant in South Korea.

“If Daewoo and KOGAS were to genuinely conform to the (OECD) guidelines, the Shwe Project would have to be postponed, which evidently is against the priorities of both the companies and the ministry,” said Matthew Smith, Burma Project Coordinator at ERI.

“These companies and the Korean government are now on notice that negative social and environmental impacts from this project have begun, and are likely to continue and accelerate if this project moves forward. These companies bear responsibility for these abuses, and the Korean government is failing in its obligations under the OECD guidelines to prevent these harms. The blood of the people of Burma will be on their hands.”

ERI and its supporters complained that Daewoo and Korea Gas are in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Daewoo is the main developer in the Shwe consortium with a 51 percent stake. Korea Gas holds 8.5 percent.

The field has recoverable reserves of at least 6 trillion cubic feet of gas, all of which is being purchased by China.

ERI says its research indicates that the 1,100-mile gas pipeline through Burma will pass through at least 24 townships and close by several large population centers in Arakan State and four other regions including Shan State.

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