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25 Oct 2021

Aung Myo Min, The Diplomat

Telenor in Myanmar: Norway’s Human Rights Reputation Is On the Line

25 October 2021


Both Telenor and Norway have spoken out against these atrocities. And, to its credit, Telenor acted in principled ways following the attempted coup. It pushed back against the military junta’s illegal directives, including its demands that Telenor and other telecoms operators install invasive intercept technology. In so doing, Telenor earned the respect of the international community, of Myanmar civil society, and of its millions of users.

Sadly, the same cannot now be said of its shoddily planned exit. [...]

Telenor says that its decision to sell “was not motivated by financial or strategic objectives,” but guided by its “commitment to its values and standards.” This commitment requires scrutiny. The potential sale of Telenor requires assessment of any adverse human rights impact and prevention or mitigation where they present. On this basis alone, the military junta’s demands for the installation of intercept technology may make the sale altogether untenable. This must be accompanied by rigorous human rights due diligence informed by the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as well as the OECD Guidelines.

Furthermore, Telenor must hold potential buyers to these same standards, a condition being a blanket refusal to transfer the personal data of users to the military junta. And finally, as SOMO adds, there needs to be meaningful engagement with Myanmar stakeholders, including the Ministry of Communications, Information and Technology of the National Unity Government and Myanmar civil society.

These proposed steps are entirely in keeping with Telenor’s professed compliance with the U.N. Guiding Principles and international law and human rights. They are also consonant with the Norwegian government’s strong commitment to defending human rights, to transparency, and to listening to important voices before taking decisions.