UN study finds businesses fund Myanmar army abuses
Jakarta, Indonesia – A United Nations fact-finding mission called Monday for an embargo on arms sales to Myanmar and for targeted sanctions on businesses with connections to the military after finding they are funding human rights abuses.
The mission released a report detailing how businesses run by Myanmar’s army, also known as the Tatmadaw, are engaged in such violations and provide financial support for military operations such as efforts to force Muslim Rohingya out of Rakhine state.
The report focused mainly on the activities of two military-dominated conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corp. It said nearly 60 foreign companies have dealings with at least 120 businesses controlled by the two companies in industries ranging from jade and ruby mining to tourism and pharmaceuticals.
“The revenue that these military businesses generate strengthens the Tatmadaw’s autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provides financial support for the Tatmadaw’s operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law abuses,” Marzuki Darusman, the Indonesian human rights lawyer who chairs the fact-finding mission, said in a statement.
The mission was established in March 2017 by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in reaction to increasing repression of the Rohingya. The violence increased markedly in August 2017, when Myanmar security forces launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 members of the Rohingya minority into neighboring Bangladesh.
A wide array of international groups has documented killings, rapes and the torching of villages carried out on a large scale by Myanmar security forces. Myanmar’s government has denied abuses and said its actions were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
The mission, which also investigated human rights violations against ethnic groups in other parts of the country, documented the abuses in an initial report issued last year.
Military leaders in charge of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corp. are among officials the fact-finding mission earlier said should be investigated for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Monday’s report urged the U.N. and member governments to immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military and suggested carrying out business with firms unaffiliated with the military instead.
“Get out of bed with the military. Cut their access to independent resources. Stop the process of enriching the generals individually and the military,” said Christopher Sidoti, one of the mission’s three experts, at a briefing on the report in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Sidoti is an international human rights lawyer and former Australian human rights commissioner.
The U.S. lifted long-standing economic sanctions against Myanmar in 2016. But it has reimposed some sanctions against members of the military, citing the army’s treatment of the Rohingya.
Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing is already being sanctioned by the U.S. for the Rohingya campaign. In July, Washington barred him, his deputy Soe Win, and two subordinates believed responsible for extrajudicial killings from traveling to the U.S.
Myanmar’s military objected to the sanctions, saying they were a blow against the entire military and the U.S. should respect investigations into the Rakhine situation being conducted by the army.
The U.S. sanctions against the top commander are useful and have a cumulative effect, Sidoti told The Associated Press.
At the same time, he said they are small and symbolic – “only a start” – and more actions such as freezing their bank accounts are needed.
In the past decade, as Myanmar transitioned from a military regime to a civilian government dominated by the military, businesses have poured investment into one of the region’s fastest growing economies. The country of more than 60 million people long was isolated and has huge potential, but the crisis over the treatment of Rohingya and other ethnic minorities has raised the risks for investors.
The report issued Monday alleged that at least 15 foreign companies have joint ventures with military-affiliated businesses.
The report did not suggest the foreign companies have directly violated any laws. But it said such ties pose “a high risk of contributing to or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.”
It pointed to South Korea’s Inno Group, which is building a “skyscraper city” in Yangon in a joint venture with MEHL. Posco Steel Co. also has joint ventures with military-related companies, as does Pan-Pacific, an apparel maker that according to its website began operating in Myanmar in 1991 and is a supplier of shirts and other garments to many fashion brand names.
Some foreign investors in Myanmar have conducted human rights assessments in response to criticism of their activities in the country, including Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd., which has taken stakes in Myanmar Brewery Ltd. and Mandalay Brewery Ltd.
But dozens of companies conduct business with Myanmar partners that have ties to the two big military-linked conglomerates, the report said. Others rent office space from them or operate in industrial zones that are owned by MEHL.
The report also raised concerns over suppliers of arms to the Myanmar military. They include China, Russia and North Korea, but also India, Israel and Ukraine, it said.
The report outlined links between the military and its businesses and jade and ruby mining in northern Myanmar, where the army has been fighting ethnic insurgencies for decades.
The fact-finding mission did not propose sweeping sanctions against Myanmar.
“There is need for economic development. There is need for investment … but not where this involves the military,” Sidoti said at the briefing. “We recommend a positive approach to build up the non-military component of the Myanmar economy. Not no investment, but more investment, more activity, more support for the people but in ways that exclude the further enrichment of the military and the funding of their human rights- violating activities.”