Press Releases

Questions raised about Telenor complicity in Rohingya massacres

Press Release. 5th December 2018

Norwegian telecom company Telenor questioned over use of mobile phone tower by snipers to fire upon civilians, and as a dumping site for bodies in Rakhine state, Myanmar. Rohingya rights group calls for transparent, independent investigation by Norwegian government.

Norwegian telecom company, Telenor, may be complicit in the shooting deaths of dozens of fleeing Rohingya civilians in Rakhine state in late August of last year, according to a new 70 page report published by the Kaladan Press Network. Snipers from the Myanmar security forces, known as Tatmadaw, reportedly scaled a Telenor mobile phone tower and began indiscriminately shooting fleeing villagers. It is further alleged that Tatmadaw forces also collected the bodies of the sniper victims and dumped the corpses in a ‘hole’ at the base of the tower. It is believed that the ‘hole’ was in fact the partially underground control room for the tower.

The #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign first reached out to Telenor in April 2017, after an initial round of clearance operations had taken place, starting in October 2016 through to January 2017. “We contacted Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke just as we did with Paul Polman of Unilever, and other investors in Myanmar at the time,” says Jamila Hanan, who heads the Rohingya human rights campaign. “We urged them to stand up for the rights of the Rohingya, to read the recent UN flash report documenting many horrific crimes carried out by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya and to publicly oppose the ethnic cleansing. We warned that failure to oppose this genocide would lead to controversy and argued that it was their ethical responsibility to use their influence to help bring a positive solution to the matter. We called on Telenor to put out a statement of concern, calling for the protection of the Rohingya and the return of their citizenship.”

Hanan says that Telenor ignored their correspondence, phone calls and appeals made over social media. “The response from Telenor was a stark contrast to that of Unilever who did respond positively. Telenor never replied to us, despite repeated calls to do so, and some of our activists were blocked on social media by Telenor executives. It wasn’t until September 2017 that we observed them voice any concern at all on the matter, just a few weeks after their facility had allegedly been used as a sniper tower and whilst they were apparently barred from accessing the area. They put out a public statement, but instead of condemning the military response, they instead reiterated their commitment to rolling out their mobile network across the country, including in Rakhine. Now we are wondering if this was a green light for the military to continue its clearance operations: this was business as usual. There was no mention of the Rohingya in their statement.”

Telenor has claimed that the tower in question was not operational at the time, and that Telenor staff were not allowed into the area, based on their own staff’s judgment. They stated that between August and December 2017 their entry into the area was prohibited ‘based on Telenor Myanmar’s assessment of the safety and security situation’. The attacks broke out suddenly across Rakhine on 25th August; so Hanan questions what prompted the site closure prior to the military crackdown.

She has therefore written to Telenor to ask if they had received any prewarning of the military operation. “It sounds like Telenor vacated their facility in advance of the attacks and returned very late. These actions suggest the possibility that Telenor may have been coordinating with the armed forces regarding their sites’ security.”

In addition, Hanan argues that Telenor cannot evade responsibility by simply passing blame to one of its vendors; “According to the company’s own standards, stated on their website, Telenor will ‘monitor…our Business Partners to conduct their activities in accordance with Telenor’s standards for responsible business conduct’. We would like to know more about what form this monitoring took. As a telecoms company, did they not install CCTV to watch over their facilities that were located in Rakhine? They claim to respect the rights of the people in the countries where they operate ‘by not violating the rights of others, nor being complicit in violations by others’. Whether the tower was operational or not, the vendor was under contract with Telenor; the vendor, and by extension, Telenor, was responsible to ensure that the tower was not misused. Telenor’s responsibility is crystal clear according to their own internal protocols.”

The #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign is seeking clarification regarding who are Telenor’s business partners in Myanmar, and what due diligence had been completed to ensure those partners were not involved in the persecution of the Rohingya.

Telenor has stated that Telenor Myanmar have ‘initiated dialogue’ with relevant authorities to express concern and seek further facts. The #WeAreAllRohingyaNow campaign believes this response is insufficient. They are calling on Telenor and the Norwegian government to conduct a thorough and transparent independent investigation into what happened, including a detailed forensic examination of all Telenor facilities, and to call for the same in the areas surrounding their facilities including the investigation of water wells where bodies are alleged to have been dumped. In addition, they are calling for Telenor to halt all operations in Myanmar until such an investigation has been completed and they can be certain that neither their staff nor their business partners are colluding with the Myanmar military in acts of genocide.

For more information, please contact:

Jamila Hanan: @jamilahanan

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