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Total: French campaign and report

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights
(FIDH), which has national chapters in a large number of
countries, issued a report on 23 October condemning the French
oil company Total for complicity in human rights violations in
Burma (see report on p3 of "Le Monde" of 24/Oct/96: "Human
Rights activists condemn the collusion between Total and the
Burmese dictatorship"). 
The oil company, part-owned by the French State, is involved,
with the US company Unocal, in constructing a gas pipeline
across a narrow stretch of Burma, to carry gas from an
offshore field in Burmese waters to energy-poor Thailand. 
FIDH argues that forced relocations, forced labour and other
human rights violations in the area are directly related to
the pipeline; that "without the pipeline, some or all of the
violations would not have occurred". The human rights 
organisation does not deny that Total has tried to avoid
forced labour on the limited area of the actual pipeline site.
However, Total's partner in the operation, the Burmese
military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council,
appropriately known by its Orwellian acronym, SLORC, is
somewhat less meticulous. Forced labour is an integral part of
its economy, and forced relocation of whole populations its
standard way of dealing with ethnic groups which have the
misfortune to live in the wrong place. SLORC has been
condemned by the United Nations and the International Labour
Organisation among others for its forced labour practices and
most other human rights violations in the book. 
Total cannot claim innocence and protest that it was unaware
of its partner's bad habits: the international condemnations
have not been kept secret; indeed, the French Government,
which sits on the Total board, is the very government which
every year since 1989 has prepared the resolution on Burma at
the UN Commission on Human Rights. In addition,
non-governmental organisations have informed Total many times
since the project was first discussed that human rights
violations were likely in such an operation. It was
predictable, for instance, that SLORC would use forced labour
in carrying out its part of the pipeline agreement, namely to
"guarantee the security" of the pipeline. Forced portering and
other kinds of forced labour have indeed been used by the
extra battalions brought in to "provide security" in this area
of ethnic conflict, as well as forced relocation of villages
near to the route (FIDH quotes a figure of 30,000 relocated
since 1991). 
FIDH also argues that the pipeline project constitutes
"economic support" for the Burmese dictatorship, which
"already benefits financially from the pipeline through loans
guaranteed by future revenues". More than 50% of SLORC's
budget is for the military.
The report supports a campaign launched at the end of
September by Agir Ici and a number of other groups in France,
to get Total to suspend its operations in Burma. 
The groups concerned are: Aide Medicale Internationale,
Federation Artisans du Monde, FIDH, France Libertes, Freres
des Hommes, Justice et Paix-France, Peuples Solidaires, Reseau
Jeunes Solidaires, Reseau Solidarite, Reseau d'information
tiers monde, Survie, and Terre des Hommes-France. These
groups, with a combined membership of approximately 20,000,
will send letters and postcards to the Total officers, among
other forms of action.
The Burma Campaign accompanies a similar campaign on Elf and
Shell for their activities in Nigeria. The information 
brochure is headed "Nigeria, Birmanie: les dictatures
carburent au super!" ("Nigeria, Burma: dictatorships running
on super!"). The Burma section begins with a statement by Aung
San Suu Kyi, quoted in "Le Monde" of 20 July 96: "Total has
become the strongest support of the Burmese military system.
This is not the time to invest here". 
The brochure has a brief outline of recent Burmese history,
the human rights situation, Total's involvement and the
Burmese democracy movement's request for sanctions. The
cartoon on the postcard shows an oil-man with oily hands
preparing to shake hands with a SLORC officer. He says "I'm
sorry, my hands are dirty"  The SLORC officer, with a club in
his pocket, his hands bloody from a body he has been beating,
replies "that doesn't bother me". The text on the opposite
side of the card, addressed to the Chairman of Total, goes:
"Your company is playing a key role in gas exploitation in
Burma.  Considering the political situation in the country and
the appeal made by Nobel Peace Laureate Mme Aung San Suu Kyi
and Burmese democrats for economic sanctions on their country,
military restores civilian rule. Total's presence in this
country is clearly supporting the military regime, a form of
support you should reconsider. Companies like Levi's,
Heineken, Carlsberg and Amoco have already pulled out of Burma
so as not to reinforce the regime. TOTAL should join in the
isolation of the Burmese regime....."
Those wanting further information on the campaign, or campaign
materials, should contact 
Marie-Line Ramackers, Agir Ici, 14, Passage Dubail, F-75010
Paris, France. Tel (+33-1) 40 35 07 00; 
Fax 40 35 06 20; email agirici@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
David Arnott, Burma Peace Foundation, Geneva.
Tel/Fax (+41-22) 733 2040; Email darnott@xxxxxxxxxxx