A UN fact-finding mission yesterday called for an embargo on arms sales to Myanmar and targeted sanctions against businesses with connections to the military after finding they are helping fund 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 main conglomerates dominated by the military — Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and Myanmar Economic Corp.
Nearly 60 foreign companies have dealings with the at least 120 businesses controlled by the two companies in industries ranging from jade and ruby mining to tourism and pharmaceuticals, the report said.
“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 fact-finding mission, empowered by the UN Human Rights Council, was established in the wake of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign begun in 2017 that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.
A wide array of international groups have shown 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 investigated human rights violations against ethnic groups in other parts of the country as well, also 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 UN and member governments to immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military and encourages carrying out business with firms unaffiliated with the military instead.
The US 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.
Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing is already being sanctioned by the US 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 US.
Myanmar’s military objected to the sanctions, saying they were a blow against the country’s entire military and that the US should respect investigations into the Rakhine situation being conducted by the army.
The US sanctions are useful and have a cumulative effect, said Christopher Sidoti, an international human rights lawyer and former Australian human rights commissioner.
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 report alleged that at least 15 foreign companies have joint ventures with military-affiliated businesses.
The report did not suggest the foreign companies have directly contravened 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.”
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