The World of International Organizations Explained

Myanmar’s foreign arms trade fuels abuses

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar trying to survive in Bangladesh (ARÊTE/Netherlands Foreign Ministry)

An independent team of U.N.-sponsored human rights investigators reported on Monday the military-planned campaign of genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya people relied on its arms trade with seven nations.

The U.N.’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged the international community to sever ties with Myanmar’s military and its network of defense contractors in China, Israel, North Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Ukraine.

The three-member U.N. panel said the revenues the military receives from domestic and foreign deals enables operations in which Myanmar soldiers carry out gross violations of human rights with impunity.

Panel members recommended in their 111-page report that the U.N. Security Council and the U.N.’s 193 member nations immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military, and to impose an arms embargo, citing at least 14 foreign firms from seven nations that have supplied fighter jets, armored combat vehicles, warships, missiles and missile launchers to Myanmar since 2016.

Since then the nation’s military, known as Tatmadaw, has forcibly deported more than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh and carried out other extensive and systematic human rights violations against Myanmar civilians in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, the panel said.

“The implementation of the recommendations in this report will erode the economic base of the military, undercut its obstruction of the reform process, impair its ability to carry out military operations without oversight and thus reduce violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and serve as a form of accountability in the short-term,” Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general who chairs the U.N. panel investigating Myanmar, said in a statement.

A little more than a year ago, the three independent experts returned from five days in Bangladesh after meeting newly arrived Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State that fled after suffering a campaign of mass killings, rape and destruction in their villages.

A web of foreign businesses implicated

Now, the panel said it found that Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, both owned and influenced by senior military leaders, operate at least 120 businesses that are involved in everything from construction to pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, insurance, tourism and banking. The panel’s final report goes to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.

Both companies and at least 26 of their subsidiaries hold licenses for jade and ruby mining in Kachin and Shan states where human rights and humanitarian law violations, including forced labour and sexual violence, have been perpetrated by the military in connection with its business.

Another panel member, Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka, a former special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, said given the extent of Myanmar military’s “involvement in jade and ruby mining in northern Myanmar, businesses and consumers should conduct heightened due diligence to ensure that they are not purchasing, selling, trading or otherwise using gems produced or sold by enterprises owned or influenced by the Tatmadaw.”

The report says 45 companies and organizations in Myanmar donated over $10 million to the military in the weeks following the beginning of 2017’s so-called clearance operations in Rakhine State.

“Officials of these companies should be investigated with a view to criminal prosecution for making substantial and direct contributions to the commission of crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity,” said the panel’s third member, Christopher Sidoti, a former Australian human rights commissioner.

Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United States already have imposed sanctions on senior Myanmar military officers, and the E.U. also has been weighing a move to deny Myanmar’s tariff-free access to E.U. markets, which constitute the world’s largest trading bloc.

The world of international organizations explained.


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