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Totla Denial: A Documentary

As the United Nations Security Council condemns the Burmese military
junta, calls are increasing for foreign multinational companies to stop
working with the Burmese military government. In the United States, much
of the criticism has been focused on the California-based oil company
Chevron. Chevron is one of the largest foreign investors in Burma and is
the only remaining major U.S. corporation with a significant presence
there.

Chevron is partners with the French oil company Total in operating a
natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. Chevron became involved in
the project in 2005 when it bought the oil company Unocal, which helped
build the pipeline. Eleven years ago, the group EarthRights
International sued Unocal on behalf of 15 Burmese villagers. The lawsuit
accused Unocal of assisting the Burmese military junta in the torture,
murder and rape of villagers during construction of the pipeline. Unocal
settled the lawsuit out of court. Weeks later, Chevron bought Unocal.
Chevron has been allowed to continue to operate in Burma despite U.S.
sanctions. This is because a loophole exists for companies grandfathered
in. Unocal's exemption from the Burma sanctions was passed on to its new
owner.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As the United Nations Security Council condemns the
Burmese military junta, calls are increasing for foreign multinational
companies to stop working with the Burmese military government. In the
United States, much of the criticism has been focused on the
California-based oil company Chevron. Chevron is one of the largest
foreign investors in Burma and is the only remaining US corporation with
a significant presence there. Chevron is partners with the French oil
company Total in operating a natural gas pipeline from Burma to
Thailand. Chevron became involved in the project in 2005 when it bought
the oil company Unocal, which helped to build the pipeline. Eleven years
ago, the group EarthRights International sued Unocal on behalf of
fifteen Burmese villagers. The lawsuit accused Unocal of assisting the
Burmese military junta in torture, murder and rape of villagers during
construction of the pipeline. Unocal settled the lawsuit out of court.
Weeks later, Chevron bought Unocal.

AMY GOODMAN: Chevron has been allowed to continue to operate in Burma
despite US sanctions. This is because of a loophole that exists for
companies grandfathered in. Unocal's exemption from the Burma sanctions
was passed onto its new owner, Chevron.

In a moment, we'll be joined by Katie Redford, one of the attorneys who
brought the suit against Unocal. But first, I want to turn to excerpts
of a documentary about the lawsuit. It's called Total Denial. The film
features interviews with some of the Burmese villagers who sued Unocal.

BURMESE VILLAGER: 'Til the pipeline came, there were no soldiers in the
area where I lived. In our village, we were planting rice. When the
pipeline arrived, we had to work for the white people more and more. The
soldiers were forcing us to be slaves. If we refused to work, they said
they would kill us. Because of the white people, our village was
destroyed and we had to flee. They shot at my husband, and he ran away
in the jungle. I waited for him with my children. A soldier hit me with
his gun. I fell and hit my head on a stone and lost consciousness. When
I woke up, I saw my baby in the fire. She couldn't even cry. Her body
was so burned and all black.

BURMESE VILLAGER: In 1992, the soldiers came and ordered us to relocate
our village. They said if we do not obey the order, they could kill us.
I was shot and didn't know how deep the bullet had gone. There was lots
of blood, and it was close to the heart. I didn't know whether I would
live or die.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the film Total Denial. Unocal officials
denied the charges and accused the Burmese villagers of fabricating
stories.

UNOCAL OFFICIAL: We believe the claims are fabricated against the
company that involve claims of sexual assault, for example, this tragic
story about the baby who was burned and then later died. We don't know
whether those things happened or not, but what we do know is that they
did not have anything to do with this pipeline project, because we have
documents, including newspaper articles, where these folks were
interviewed, and they themselves said it had to do with the railroad.

This is simply a case of political advocates trying to generate
publicity for their cause, a political cause. They don't want American
companies doing business in Burma. They filed this lawsuit to generate
publicity for their cause. And at the end of the day, they will be
completely unable to prove up these charges, and some of them are not
only false, but some of them are fabricated against the company.

AMY GOODMAN: When the lawsuit went to trial, attorneys for the Burmese
villagers argued Unocal should be held accountable.

PAUL HOFFMAN, Counsel for Plaintiffs: They were part of an ongoing
venture, which had a legitimate aim, in the sense of building a
pipeline. We don't claim that building a pipeline is an illegitimate
aim. But part and parcel of building that pipeline was the fact that the
military was going to commit human rights violations in order to do
this. And we don't say that Unocal would be responsible or other
companies would be responsible for doing business in Burma or anyplace
else, per se; what we're saying in this case is that Unocal and Total
entered into an agreement with this government to do a particular
project, that that project included giving to the military the
responsibility to do security, which it could have given to private
companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Unocal claimed the Burmese military junta was not involved
in protecting the pipeline, but the claim was not well received by the
court.

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED, Counsel to Unocal: The contract relating to the
pipeline has no such provision for security to be provided by MOGE or by
the Myanmar military.

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: How did it come about then? I'm just curious,
as a matter of fact, that the SLORC did provide security for the
pipeline itself, right?

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: The pipeline --

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: That's not disputed.

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: The pipeline -- well, with respect to the pipeline
itself, the construction of the pipeline, there is no evidence of any
forced labor, any conscripted labor. The claims relate to areas either
in the vicinity or not so close to the vicinity of the pipeline.

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: What do you mean? Like, for instance, like the
helipads are not part of the pipeline?

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: I believe that's correct.

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: What are they for?

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: Well, let me take a step back and provide the
court with some background in the record of the case.

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: Well, tell me first what the helipads are for.

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: For landing helicopters.

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: To construct the pipeline. To help construct
the pipeline.

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: Well, for any other -- as Judge Lew mentioned in
his opinion, they were there for any purpose that the government wanted
to use them.

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: I know, but why would you build a helipad, you
know, in a remote location right next to the pipeline right away?

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: Well, the location ?

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: Getting back to your statement, there's no
evidence that SLARC provided security for the pipeline, if they provided
security for the helipad, you can infer they provided security for the
pipeline. And my question is, why did they do that if they weren't
obligated to do it under, as you say, under the contract?

JERROLD J. GANZFRIED: Well, I don't have the answer to -- as to --

JUDGE A. WALLACE TASHIMA: You don't know how that came about? Nothing in
the record to show why the SLARC provided security for the pipeline?

AMY GOODMAN: California judge questioning the Unocal lawyer, from
excerpts from the documentary Total Denial by Milena Kaneva. It's
opening here in New York on October 26 at Cinema Village. For more
information, you can go to the website totaldenialfilm.com . In a moment
we'll be joined by Katie Redford, co-founder and co-director of
EarthRights International. Stay with us.

KATHERINE REDFORD:Katie Redford, joining us now in Washington, D.C.,
co-founder and co-director of EarthRights International. She founded the
group with her husband, the Burmese human rights activist Ka Hsaw Wa.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Katie. Talk about the situation right now in
Burma and how Chevron, the US oil company -- what its relationship is
with the Burmese military dictatorship.

KATHERINE REDFORD: Hi. Thank you. The situation in Burma right now is
extremely tense. People who are living in Burma and living under the
rule of this terrible, brutal military dictatorship are suffering, as
they have been for the past twenty years, from brutal human rights
abuses, which have been only exacerbated over the past couple of weeks
in response to the very brave protests and demonstrations led
nonviolently by Burmese monks and other civilians in Burma making simple
demands for peace, democracy and human rights. So what we've seen in the
media has been really par for the course for the majority of the people
of Burma, who live under this regime every single day.

Now, Chevron and many other corporations in the world are complicit in
these abuses, because they are in a business relationship. These
soldiers, these thugs, this junta that we saw shooting protesters are
Chevron's business partners. This is the government or the regime that
they do business with, that they have signed deals with. And all of the
corporations who are in Burma or thinking about being in Burma need to
know that, that they are in partnership with this brutal regime.

AMY GOODMAN: We invited Chevron to join us on the program; they
declined, but they did send a statement to Democracy Now!. In it, the
company said, quote, "Chevron supports the calls for a peaceful
resolution to the current situation in Myanmar in a way that respects
the human rights of the people of Myanmar. Chevron's minority,
non-operated interest in the Yadana Project is a long term commitment
that will help meet the critical energy needs of millions of people in
the region. Our community development programs also help improve the
lives of the people they touch and thereby communicate our values,
including respect for human rights." Your response, Katie Redford?

KATHERINE REDFORD: I have a lot of responses to that statement. First of
all, if your corporate values include a respect for human rights, you do
not hire one of the most abusive militaries in the world to provide
security for your project. And that's exactly what has happened on the
ground in the region of this pipeline that was Unocal's and now belongs
to Chevron. The Burmese military today, as we speak, are providing
security for Chevron's project in Burma. So Chevron's rhetoric about
values and human rights do not play out on the ground for the people who
are living in their pipeline region and who are living with Chevron's
security guards, the Burmese military, in their villages, in their
homes, doing forced labor for them and committing human rights abuses on
Chevron's behalf.

With regard to the broader context of this statement and Chevron's
support for peaceful resolution, this is a company that pours millions
of dollars into the military coffers of the Burmese military junta, and
they should wield some more influence than making a general statement
supporting peace. If they help by being present in Burma, as they say
they do, then now is the time to put their money where their mouth is
and stand up and get in the room with their business partners and do a
little more than generally calling for a peaceful resolution. They say
their presence helps, not hurts. They need to stand up now, when lives
are on the line, and do more than issue a general statement.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Katie, your precedent-setting lawsuit against Unocal has
emerged in a victory for your clients, but has it effected any
substantive change in the policies of Chevron now, in terms of how it's
dealing in Burma?

KATHERINE REDFORD: Well, Chevron, as you mentioned earlier, acquired
Unocal following the settlement of this case. And so, Chevron was bound
by the provisions of the settlement, which included changes to the human
rights situation on the ground and included training for their staff on
human rights. So that definitely has had an impact. However, the fact
remains that Chevron still uses the Burmese military as their security
guards for this pipeline. So, fundamentally, that has not changed, and
Chevron is still partners with this military and therefore complicit in
any human rights abuses that the military carries out on its behalf.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Condoleezza Rice. She has made
strong statements on Burma, as has President Bush, who announced
increased sanctions on Burma at the UN General Assembly speech.
Condoleezza Rice at ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,
said the United States is determined to keep an international focus on
the travesty that is taking place. But she, while putting pressure on
China, can certainly go closer to home. She was on the board of Chevron
for more than a decade during the 1990s, actually had a Chevron oil
tanker named after her, The Condoleezza Rice. What has been her role
here? And is there any documentation of her pressuring Chevron right now?

KATHERINE REDFORD: I have no information about anything regarding her
pressuring or not of Chevron Corporation regarding Burma. But I do
believe that any mention of sanctions and any efforts for sanctions must
include the ASEAN countries and must include China. The sanctions that
have come out of this country have been very strong. We have some of the
strongest sanctions on Burma that we have on any country in the world
right now, but without multilateral sanctions it's really going to be
difficult to bring down this regime in Burma, which is holding on with
all its might. And so, we believe that really no corporation should be
in Burma right now. There should be no investment from any country,
including the United States, and that really needs to remain the focus.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And for our listeners and viewers who are not familiar
with the history, why is Chevron still there?

KATHERINE REDFORD: Well, the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, in which
the United States imposed sanctions on the Burmese regime and created a
ban on investment into Burma, excluded from that all existing investment
and corporate operations at the time of the sanctions. So Unocal at the
time was grandfathered in. Any company that was there at the time of the
sanctions was allowed to stay. And then, when Chevron acquired Unocal,
they acquired the benefit of that grandfather clause.

AMY GOODMAN: So, under President Clinton and Vice President Gore, they
grandfathered the California company in, they grandfathered in Unocal,
and then it was bought by Chevron, and they stayed?

KATHERINE REDFORD: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN: Right before that law, in December of 1996, I had a chance
to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader. She had
just been put under house arrest, and I asked her about Unocal's role in
Burma.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Well, Unocal is one of those companies which are not
interested in justice or freedom or human rights. They are just
interested in making a profit where they think they can do so. And I do
not think there is any justification for Unocal supporting a military
regime just because it thinks that it can make good profits. What we are
suffering from in Burma is not lack of investment. What we are suffering
from is good government -- lack of good government.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you like all corporations to withdraw from Burma
right now until SLORC is forced out?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Yes. Well, until SLORC understands that the way
forward for the country is not through repression, but through
reconciliation, and I do not think that all these corporations can do
anything to help the country.

AMY GOODMAN: What other corporations are there?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: There is Total, which is working with Unocal, and
there are also other companies doing business here.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Aung San Suu Kyi in 1996. She remains under house
arrest today. SLORC was the old name for the Burmese military
dictatorship, the country that the dictatorship now calls Myanmar;
Rangoon now called, by the military dictatorship, Yangon.

Katie Redford, what has happened to the thousands of monks who were
marching in the streets?

KATHERINE REDFORD: It's very difficult to broadly say what has happened
to all of those people. The information coming out of the country, as
you know, has been restricted. There are many different accounts of what
has happened to them. Many have been killed. Many have been imprisoned.
The regime and the military police were going door-to-door in Rangoon
and other places where the protests were happening, just searching for
people, not only the monks, but also students and civilians who had
either participated or had just been accused of participating in these
demonstrations.

And so, we at EarthRights are very concerned about the safety, about the
human rights, about the rights to any kind of due process, which does
not exist in Burma. And we're very concerned about the people who have
to live under this military dictatorship. It is not a safe or secure
situation in Burma right now. And we need to keep the international
focus on this regime and know that there will be accountability for
these kinds of violations of fundamental human rights of monks and also
other civilians of Burma.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Katie, how is it possible, given the enormous
advances in communications of our day now, for the Burmese junta to so
totally shut out the flow of information in and out of the country?

KATHERINE REDFORD: Well, this is something that they have mastered over
the years. I mean, the Burmese junta has long controlled all forms of
communication in the country, from opening people's mail to listening to
people's telephones to making it very difficult for normal average
people to own TVs, to own radios and to have access to the internet.
Everything in that country, including communications, is controlled by
the military. And so, they control virtually everything, and with a
flick of a switch, they can turn it off. And it doesn't hurt for them
that people are terrified and are absolutely afraid to do anything to
oppose their will.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I wanted to turn back to the words of the Burmese
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. A decade ago, filmmaker John
Pilger interviewed her in Rangoon while she was under house arrest. The
interview appeared in John Pilger's documentary Inside Burma: Land of Fear.

JOHN PILGER: What were the most difficult times to you personally during
your house arrest?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: There were times when I was worried for my colleagues,
and there were times when I worried for our people out there, when they
seemed to be undergoing a lot of repression. And then I worry about my
sons very much, because the young one was only twelve, and he had to be
put into boarding school. So, of course, naturally I worried about these
things. But then I would always remind myself that the families of my
colleagues were far worse off, because those of my colleagues who were
put in prison in Burma, their families were also insecure.

JOHN PILGER: Were you able to stay in touch with Michael during that time?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Not throughout that time. There were times when we
were out of touch.

JOHN PILGER: For how long? Was there --

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: I think the longest period was for about two years and
four months or five months, something like that.

JOHN PILGER: No letters or anything during that time?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: No.

JOHN PILGER: No letters from the children got through?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: No.

JOHN PILGER: I would try to imagine being you and surrounded by hostile
force, cut off from your family, your colleagues and comrades and
friends. Weren't there times when you were actually terrified?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: No, because I didn't feel hostile towards them. This
is what people don't seem to understand. They say, "Well, you must have
been terrified." But why? I didn't feel hostile towards the guards or
the soldiers surrounding me, and I think fear comes out of hostility.

JOHN PILGER: You and your people are at present up against quite
uncompromising and brute power. How can you reclaim the democracy that
you won at the ballot box with that power confronting you?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: I don't think we are the first people who have had to
face an uncompromising and brutal power in the quest for --

JOHN PILGER: No. But the question is, is the most difficult one, isn't it?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: -- in the quest for freedom and basic human rights. I
think we depend chiefly on our own people, on the will of our own people
for democracy.

JOHN PILGER: But it still comes down to, on one side, there is a power
that has all the guns.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: But increasingly, I think it is getting more difficult
in this world to resolve problems through military means. It is no
longer acceptable. I do not think the ASEAN countries themselves would
accept a military solution to the problem in Burma. And the fact that
the authorities themselves are so keen on attacking us in their papers
seem to indicate that they also are not depending on guns alone.

AMY GOODMAN: Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi remains under
house arrest. She was interviewed there by John Pilger in his film
Inside Burma: Land of Fear, courtesy of Bullfrog Films.

Katie Redford, I want to play for you an excerpt of the documentary
Total Denial, this part featuring your husband, Ka Hsaw Wa, talking
about the student protests in Burma in 1988.

KA HSAW WA: Right after that, after, I would say, about three weeks, the
student uprising started. I was so determined to participate in the
student uprising to ask for freedom and democracy in Burma. We're going
around, school to school, talking to students to participate with us.
The whole country participated with us. Even navy and police,
government, you know, services, they joined with us. We heard everywhere
they were shooting, but we still wanted to do our student peaceful
demonstration. Many students were killed, many of my friends shot in the
street. When they shot people, some people were just injured. In order
for them to hide those atrocities, what they have done, they put all the
people they just injured on the car together with other dead bodies, and
then they buried them alive.

AMY GOODMAN: Burmese human rights activist Ka Hsaw Wa, the husband of
Katie Redford, co-founder and co-director of EarthRights International,
describing 1988, when the Burmese regime gunned down more than 3,000
Burmese.

Katie, your last comment, and if you could also explain Laura Bush's
interest in this. She has spoken out in a very rare political comment,
saying that her cousin is a Burma activist, and that's why she is
decrying the violence and criticizing the Burmese regime. Who is her
cousin?

KATHERINE REDFORD: I actually have no idea who her cousin is, but I feel
like, whether you're Laura Bush or whether you're an average American
citizen, it's really impossible not to feel sympathy and compassion for
the people of Burma. This is not a situation that has any grey area.
This is a situation of black and white, where you have monks and
students and innocent peaceful civilians simply marching in the streets,
demanding human rights, democracy and an end to military rule on one
side, and on the other side you have a brutal pariah regime, a military
junta, gunning people down. So everyone in the world should care about
Burma, should stand up and do something right now about Burma, with
solidarity and with hope, so that their hope for freedom and democracy
doesn't die, because now is the time. It's critical that we do something
right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Katie Redford, thanks for being with us, co-director,
co-founder of EarthRights International, just back from the Burmese-Thai
border.

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Burma update from BPF, and films and books November 1, 2007 4:34 AM Tom L.
Situation 'murky' in Myanmar (from pbs) October 27, 2007 10:14 AM Tom L.
Recent Petitions from Burma October 26, 2007 11:54 PM Tom L.
Steep decline in oil production brings risk of war October 22, 2007 11:45 PM Tom L.
full horror of Burmese junta's repression October 15, 2007 12:35 AM Tom L.
Totla Denial: A Documentary October 13, 2007 7:46 AM Tom L.
How China Got Religion October 11, 2007 11:05 PM Tom L.
Satements by Countries October 7, 2007 11:47 PM Tom L.
Security Council 10-5-7 October 8, 2007 12:00 AM Tom L.
Scot Marciel's Senate Statement on Burma October 4, 2007 11:49 PM Tom L.
U.S. Policy Regarding Burma October 5, 2007 1:03 AM Tom L.
Comment's on Senate Hearing on Burma October 5, 2007 6:55 PM Tom L.

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