Global Witness welcomes a groundbreaking report released today by the United Nations-authorized Independent Fact Finding-Mission on Myanmar (FFM). The report exposes in detail the economic networks providing financial support to the Myanmar military, and calls for targeted economic sanctions on all military-owned companies.
The UN investigators focus in particular on the two major military-owned conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holding Corporation (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and their subsidiaries.
The report details how the 120 businesses owned by MEC and MEHL, together with the 27 affiliated with them, provide the military (known as the Tatmadaw) with huge off-budget sources of revenue.
“These funds sustain the military’s grip on power, allowing it to operate outside of civilian oversight, while supporting its abusive conduct against the Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups,” said Paul Donowitz, Myanmar Campaign Leader at Global Witness. “The military’s economic control is directly hindering Myanmar’s transition towards peace and democratic governance.”
The report exposes 59 foreign companies from around the world that it alleges have close business ties to military companies, with the majority from China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore. Of these foreign companies, 15 are said to be in joint ventures and 44 are said to have other forms of commercial ties. The report also identifies 14 foreign companies that it says have provided arms and related equipment to the Tatmadaw since 2016, hailing from seven states including China, Russia, and Israel.
The report finds that “through such joint venture and commercial relationships …foreign business activity involving the Tatmadaw and its conglomerates MEHL and MEC poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.”
“The message of the UN report is crystal clear – doing business with military-owned or affiliated companies in Myanmar should stop,” stated Donowitz.
The report also details the prominent role of the Tatmadaw in the jade and ruby sectors in Kachin and Shan States. It describes how the military’s commercial interests are fueling the conflicts in these regions and are linked to human rights and international humanitarian law violations that the Tatmadaw are committing in these and other mining areas. These findings add to Global Witness’s 2015 report, Jade: Myanmar’s “Big State Secret”, which exposed the military’s domination of the jade and gemstone sector, and provide new examples of how the military’s desire to control natural resources is driving the ongoing conflict.
The UN report’s conclusions provide the international community with a crucial opportunity to change the way in which they respond to the Rohingya crisis and other abuses within Myanmar by acting to isolate the military economically. To do this, the FFM calls on foreign governments, the United Nations and companies to impose economic sanctions against military companies and the severing of business relationships by private businesses, along with the enactment of a comprehensive arms embargo. The report also serves as a warning for companies considering doing business with the military, either directly or indirectly, in the extractive sector in Kachin and Shan States that should they work with or source from the military, they could be exposing themselves to criminal and civil liability.
As well as providing international actors with the rationale for cutting off all economic ties with the Myanmar military, the UN report also provides them with the tools to do so, by mapping out the networks of all military-owned and affiliated companies in detail.
“Global governments and companies who find themselves connected to a military company can therefore no longer plead ignorance as the FFM has shone a spotlight on the Tatmadaw’s economic interests,” said Donowitz.
“This detailed mapping of the military’s economic networks also allows sanctions to be targeted, thus limiting impacts on the broader economy that would harm ordinary citizens’ livelihoods.”
The UN investigators recommend that governments promote ties with non-Tatmadaw companies, and that businesses actively seek out partners in the private sector. Targeted sanctions thus have the dual benefit of reducing the military’s economic power whilst, in the long run, helping to expand the legitimate private sector and promoting economic development.
Today’s UN report should serve as a rallying cry for governments, the United Nations, the private sector, and Myanmar’s National League for Democracy government to advance efforts that cut off the economic foundations of the Tatmadaw’s power.