by Ellinor Häggebrink, Engagement Manager at GES
GES launched its Burma Thematic Engagement in 2012. GES engages proactively on behalf of investor clients with companies involved in high-risk activities in Burma, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The main objective of the dialogue with companies is to encourage them to improve their risk management and enhance transparency. In November 2014, GES representatives and a group of investors travelled to Burma in order to get a first-hand understanding of the real situation in Burma.
During the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed an escalation of violence in the Rakhine state in Burma, labelled by several international organisations as a humanitarian crisis. According to Human Rights Watch, the Burmese security forces are committing crimes including forced deportation, murder, rape, and persecution against Rohingya Muslims. UN officials estimate the number of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 to 500,000 and over 1,000 persons were killed.
After a long silence, and despite pressure from the international community asking her to condemn the violence, Aung San Suu Kyi finally commented on the crisis on 19 September. Her speech was criticised as there was a general perception that she did not address the allegations against the military. She further stated that there had been no clearance operations since early September, a claim disputed, as Amnesty International said new satellite images – taken as recently as 22 September – show smoke rising from Rohingya Muslim villages.
Suu Kyi also declined to attend the UN General Assembly that took place on September 28. The UN Security Council met to discuss the serious human rights violations which the High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked Burma to immediately end military operations, allow unlimited access to humanitarian support and ensure a safe, voluntary and sustainable return of the refugees to their areas of origin.
The Burmese government answered by inviting representatives from several UN agencies to the Rakhine state to participate in a trip and see for themselves what the situation was. However, shortly before the visit was due to take place, it was cancelled by the government due to ‘poor weather conditions’. They provided no further details.
Hanna Roberts, CEO of GES International, a leading service provider of engagement services to institutional investors globally, commented:
“The implications of the violence are vast. This may result in potential sanctions for the country and an unfortunate step back for Burma. This could equally have a major impact on shareholder value”.
As new information emerges over the coming weeks about the situation in Burma, GES will monitor developments and analyse information on any GES universe companies.