The French engineering company Razel-Bec should immediately withdraw from the Upper Yeywa dam in northern Shan State or risk being complicit in atrocities committed by Myanmar’s coup regime, a local human rights group has said.
The company has partnered with a military-linked conglomerate to develop the controversial 280-megawatt hydropower dam on the Namtu river near the towns of Hsipaw and Kyaukme.
“It is time now for Razel-Bec to stop siding with the murderous Burmese military regime, and to take a principled stand,” the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) said in a statement last week.
“Since the military coup, there have been many human rights abuses and a lot of killings. This is not the right time to invest in the country,” SHRF spokesperson Sai Hor Hseng told Myanmar Now.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group, 737 people have been murdered by regime forces nationwide since the February 1 coup. Daily protests continue across the country despite the killings.
Workers from the Upper Yeywa dam site joined anti-coup protests in Kyaukme on February 17, SHRF said. They held a banner identifying themselves as the “Upper Yeywa Hydropower Project Civil Disobedience Movement.”
But the workers were not seen at any further public protests against the dictatorship. “I think it was because of some pressure from the authorities and maybe their supervisors,” Sai Hor Hseng said. “But local sources told us that they still bang pans at night to show support for the CDM.”
Construction of the dam started in 2008 “without consultation or consent” from locals, SHRF said. The project’s 60-square-kilometer reservoir would submerge villagers’ homes and farmland, displacing hundreds of people.
The project is in an active conflict zone, where Myanmar military soldiers—who also guard the dam site—have “committed gross human rights violations against local villagers, including extrajudicial killing, torture and use of human shields,” SHRF’s statement said.
The project, one of four hydropower dams planned along the Namtu river, has long been opposed by Shan communities and civil society organisations for the threat it poses to the environment, local livelihoods, and villagers’ security.
Norwegian investor Scatec announced on April 8 it was suspending its involvement in one of the other Namtu river dams, the Middle Yeywa, in the aftermath of the coup.
Last month the French power company EDF suspended its involvement in the Shweli 3 dam, a hydropower project on the Shweli river in northern Shan, citing concerns about rights violations following the coup.
Calls are also growing for French oil and gas giant Total to suspend operations in the country and stop revenue payments to the junta. Some of the company’s employees in Myanmar have said they would support a strike.
“It is as though these companies are helping the military coup regime to commit atrocities,” SHRF’s Sai Hor Hseng said.
The Upper Yeywa dam is a joint operation between Razel-Bec and its local partner, International Power Group (IPG). The companies work together under the name IPGRB.
IPG is a subsidiary of the International Group of Entrepreneurs, which SHRF describes as “one of the leading business conglomerates” in Myanmar. It was founded by the sons of ex-general Aung Thaung, who was targeted by US sanctions in 2014.
China’s Import-Export Bank is financing the dam, SHRF said.
Since 2018, Razel-Bec and its parent company Fayat Group have featured on Burma Campaign UK’s “Dirty List” of companies doing business with Myanmar’s military or otherwise supporting human rights abuses.
Several Chinese and Japanese companies—including Toshiba—were previously said to be backing the project. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asked them in August last year to respond to allegations that they were complicit in Myanmar military abuses. Toshiba replied that it would look into the allegations.
A Swiss company called Stucky SA has said it is no longer involved in the project.
IPGRB appeared to be the primary developer at the dam site, SHRF said, adding that construction seemed to have halted.
Razel-Bec and Fayat Group did not respond to a request for comment.