French energy firm cites worsening human rights for decision in victory for campaigners
The energy firms Chevron and Total have announced they will withdraw from Myanmar, a breakthrough for activists who have campaigned for the companies to cut off what is a major source of revenue for the military junta.
In a statement, Total, which renamed itself TotalEnergies last year, cited the worsening human rights situation in Myanmar, which was plunged into chaos almost a year ago when the military seized power in a coup, ousting the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The French company said the human rights situation and deteriorating rule of law “no longer allows TotalEnergies to make a sufficiently positive contribution in the country”.
The US firm Chevron said it too was planning to leave “in light of circumstances”.
Since the coup, the military has attempted to crush any opposition to its rule, prompting civilians to form armed defence groups. At least 11,651 people have been arrested for opposing the military’s rules, while 1,488 have been killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors military abuses.
On Friday a military tribunal handed down death sentences to two men convicted of terror offences – Phyo Zeyar Thaw, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted National League for Democracy party, and prominent democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as “Jimmy”. The junta has sentenced dozens of anti-coup activists to death as part of its crackdown on dissent but Myanmar has not carried out an execution for decades.
The oil firms’ announcement is a major victory for campaigners, who have called for all companies to cut commercial ties with the state-owned enterprise Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which has deep links with the military.
According to Human Rights Watch, natural gas projects in Myanmar generate more than $1bn in foreign revenue for the junta each year, its single largest source of foreign currency revenue.
TotalEnergies has operated the Yadana gas project off Myanmar’s south-west coast since the 1990s and owns a 31.24% stake. Chevron owns 28.26% of the project, which supplies Myanmar and Thailand. PTTEP, a subsidiary of the Thai national energy company PTT, and MOGE are the remaining shareholders.
Yadanar Maung, a spokesperson for the activist group Justice for Myanmar, welcomed the decision, saying: “TotalEnergies has finally taken heed of the calls of Myanmar people, local and international civil society to stop the flow of funds to the terrorist junta. It is now essential that international governments move ahead with targeted sanctions on oil and gas to deny the junta funds from the remaining oil and gas projects.”
TotalEnergies said it had approached the French authorities to consider putting in place targeted sanctions that would “confine all the financial flows of the various partners to escrow accounts without shutting down the gas production”. The company added it had not identified any means for doing so.
The firm said contractual agreements stated that in the event of withdrawal its interests would be shared between the current partners, unless they object to such allocation, and that the role of operator would be taken over by one of the partners.
A spokesperson for Chevron said: “In light of circumstances in Myanmar, we have reviewed our interest in the Yadana natural gas project to enable a planned and orderly transition that will lead to an exit from the country. As a non-operator with a minority interest in the project, our immediate priority remains the safety and wellbeing of employees, safe operations and the supply of much-needed energy for the people of Myanmar and Thailand.”