Protests to Condemn France’s Protection of Total Oil Deal with Burma’s Dictator (click to view PDF)

For Immediate Release
May 16th, 2005

As Total Shareholders Meet In Paris, Rallies At French Missions Across USA Decry Chirac’s “Blood for Gas” Policy

(Washington, DC; New York; San Francisco; Chicago; Los Angeles; Boston) While shareholders meet in Paris, France at the annual meeting of the world’s fourth-largest oil company, hundreds of protestors will rally in front of the embassy of France and five French consulates across the United States on Tuesday, May 17th to protest the French government’s policy of placing the interests of Total Oil company over human rights in the Southeast Asian country of Burma.

“France has repeatedly fought, diluted, and otherwise tried in every possible way to undermine support for human rights in Burma solely to protect the interests of Total Oil’s operations in the country,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and co-founder of US Campaign for Burma. “It is time for France to change its Burma policy, which is nothing short of blood for gas.” 

USCB is a member of the newly-formed Total Oil coalition, a group of 53 organizations based in 18 countries around the world pressuring the company to cut ties to Burma’s brutal military dictatorship. The organization will hold protests at the French embassy in Washington, DC as well as at consulates in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Total’s operations in Burma have been horrific. Beginning in 1992, Total helped build and develop a natural gas pipeline from Burma’s Andaman Sea across the country and into Thailand, in partnership with Burma’s ruling military regime. While Total and others provided the technologies and know-how to extract the natural gas, the Burmese military regime provided security for the pipeline region. According to a recent, groundbreaking report from the Burma Campaign United Kingdom, villages 15-20 miles north and south of the pipeline route were forced to move by troops of the ruling military regime. Bullets enclosed with written relocation orders were sometimes sent to village heads as a stark reminder of what would happen to those who refused to leave. The relocations and evictions devastated communities. 

Forced labor in Burma–what the International Labor Organization (a United Nations agency) has called a “crime against humanity”–was also heavily used by the troops. Said one of many villagers interviewed by the US- based organization Earthrights International about the forced labor practices, “Before our village was relocated, the soldiers killed many villagers in my village. Even though they were civilians, the soldiers did not trust them, so they were killed. One person from every house had to go to clear mines. The villagers had to go all over the place to find out whether the land mines were set up or not.” Said another, “When he came [home], he had lost his left eye, and his arms and legs were wounded and swollen. His back was bruised and swollen severely. I saw the scar from the rope on both of his arms and legs.”

Amnesty International reported in June 2001 serious human rights abuses committed by two of the regime’s battalions who provided security for the pipeline which were known to local villagers as “Total battalions.” Amnesty reported testimony of one villager: “I was tied with a rope… beaten on my back, hit with a rifle butt and cane stick… I was forced to lie on my stomach while they put two wooden rods on my back while a soldier stood on each side of the rods. They dug a hole and put me in it… I was kept under the hot sun all day.”

In addition to abuses committed in the pipeline region, Total has helped the ruling military regime cement its hold on power. It is estimated that the regime receives between $200 and $450 million per year from the gas, its single largest export. According to Robert Karniol, Asia editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, Russia sold Burma’s military regime 10 MiG-29 fighter jets the same week the regime received $100 million in royalties from the pipeline project.

It is likely that no significant proceeds from the pipeline will ever reach local populations. Over the past fifteen years the regime has doubled its number of troops from an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 while likely spending less on health care than any other country in the world. The regime continues to lock up over 1,400 political prisoners, including the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi. This year, Burma was one of only a handful of countries to be condemned by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. 

Tragically, the government of France has repeatedly gone out of its way to deflect support for human rights and democracy in Burma. The friendship between French president Jacque Chirac and Total CEO Thierry Desmarest is widely known and reported throughout Europe. In June 2004 Chirac awarded Desmarest one of France’s highest accolades, the Legion of Honour, and the two traveled together recently to Algeria and Libya. When Total was threatened with a lawsuit in the United States over the Burma pipeline, the French government filed an amicus curiae with the US court, arguing that the suit would “conflict with France’s foreign policy interests.” 

France and Chirac have consequently stood firmly against stronger action on Burma. It led the charge in preventing an EU boycott of a major European-Asian summit in 2004 over Burma’s prospective attendance and prevented a groundbreaking effort by the EU to consider a ban on all EU investments in Burma. By the end of the negotiations over the ban, France had successfully emasculated the effort, allowing the most profitable industry for Burma’s military regime, oil and gas, to be entirely omitted. Said the Financial Times, “After pressure from France, EU Ambassadors have now decided to make clear that the ban on such investments does not refer to arrangements already in place, which can even be extended or prolonged. Paris was particularly concerned about investment in Burma’s oil and gas sector.” It is also widely presumed that France would veto any resolution at the UN Security Council.

While demonstrators rally at French diplomatic missions in the United States, investors and shareholders will be raising their concerns at Total’s annual meeting in Paris. In Paris, representatives of the ‘Total Pollutes Democracy: Stop the TOTALitarism in Burma’ campaign (established by a coalition of French and international non-governmental organizations and trade unions) will attend the TOTAL General Assembly to question the company about its activities in Burma. On behalf of the coalition, French and European parliamentarians will question TOTAL executives on the company’s investments in Burma and the coalition’s demands that the company withdraw. The coalition has also submitted written questions that will be answered at the meeting and will distribute an open letter to shareholders and a leaflet providing information on the campaign.

DEMONSTRATION CONTACTS:

Boston Contact, Location, and Time
Ohnmar Khin
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484-432-2216
11:30 am-12:30 pm Eastern Time
French Consulate
31 Saint James Avenue, Park Square Building - Suite 750 Boston, MA 02116 (corner of St. James Ave. and Arlington St.) 

Chicago Contact, Location, and Time 
Cristina Moon

(773) 732-4365
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11:00 am – 12:30 pm
205 N Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60601

Washington, DC Contact, Location, and Time

Jeremy Woodrum
202-223-0300
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12:30-1:30 pm Eastern Time
4101 Reservoir Rd, NW
Washington, DC 20007

San Francisco Contact, Location, and Time

Heidi Quante
415-845-6330
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12:00-1:00 Pacific TimeFrench Consul General
540 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94108, USA

New York Contact, Location, and Time

Moe Chan or Mick Schommer
718-812-0736
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12:30-1:30 Eastern Time
French Consulate
One Dag Hammarskjld Plaza
245 East 47th Street
New York, NY

Los Angeles Contact, Time, and Location
Khin Maung Shwe
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323 839-5431 or 310 859-4694
9:00-10:30 am Pacific Time
French Consulate
10990 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024

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