European Dam Specialists Withdraw From Myanmar Amid Rights Concerns

By Hein Htoo Zan 28 April 2023

Swedish-Finnish engineering services supplier AFRY has withdrawn from Myanmar’s hydropower projects, citing the junta’s human rights abuses.

The business cited last month’s UN report recommended that firms operating in Myanmar should study the junta’s rights record.

AFRY has operated in Myanmar for over 20 years, working on 13 hydropower projects, including three incomplete schemes, the company stated on April 21.

The Nordic firm was paid US$4.7 million in service fees for consulting on the Upper Yeywa and Middle Paunglaung projects from February 2021 to September 2022, according to Justice For Myanmar (JFM), based on leaked tax filings from the whistleblower website Distributed Denial of Secrets.

The 280-megawatt Upper Yeywa dam project on the Namtu River was planned under the earlier military dictatorship in 2008 and has been opposed by residents for its devastating social and environmental impacts, lack of transparency, the threat to ancestral lands and for fuelling of conflict.

In 2020 the Shan Human Rights Foundation documented rights violations by the military near the project, including extrajudicial killing and torture.

The group called on foreign companies to withdraw from the project or risk complicity in atrocities.

In December the Namtu River Protectors, a community network, warned that more than 40,000 residents would face flooding because of the project.

The 152MW Middle Paunglaung River dam near Naypyidaw is also due to displace large numbers of villagers.

JFM has called on AFRY and other companies involved to suspend work in Myanmar until the establishment of a federal democracy and called for them to explain their involvement with the regime.

AFRY has been the engineering consultant for 13 hydropower projects in Myanmar and delivered in-house engineering service to the Nancho, Thaythay, Upper Yeywa, Kun and Upper Keng Tawng projects.

Feasibility studies, detailed designs and construction services were also provided for the Deedoke, Shweli, Tamanthi, Middle Yeywa and Upper and Middle Paunglaung projects.

It has also provided geological investigations, construction site supervision and advisory services for the junta’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy on transmission lines and thermal projects.

“The contracts were signed before the military coup in February 2021 and AFRY has not signed any additional contracts after that. We have evaluated our presence in the country, international sanctions, the client with regards to the military regime, safety of our employees, environmental and social impact relating to the ongoing projects,” AFRY’s statement said.

It said it has not contributed to any violations of human rights and it has ensured stronger environmental safeguards through its engineering competence while the hydropower projects have provided cleaner energy.

“Nevertheless, AFRY’s assignments will be ended at the latest by the end of this year due to the negative development in the country, while we continue to monitor the situation closely,” the firm said.