The Military Does Not Belong in the Economy

August 15th, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“Countries wanting to support the peace process in Myanmar should impose these targeted sanctions on military-owned companies and an arms embargo as essential parts of that support.”

The Karen Peace Support Network

On 5 August, 2019, the UN  Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar[1] (IIFFMM) published a report that established the degree to which the web of Myanmar military’s economic interests – businesses, foreign companies and arms deals – has bypassed civilian oversight and accountability, helping to sustain its brutal operations against ethnic communities throughout Myanmar. The IIFFMM’s first report, released last year, called for the top generals of the Myanmar military to be investigated and prosecuted for crimes which they have committed, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The message from this new report was clear – stop doing business with the military-owned or affiliated companies in Myanmar.

The report revealed to the world what some in Myanmar have known for decades – the Myanmar military conglomerates, through their vast range of industries spanning from telecommunications, construction, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, insurance, tourism and banking, bring in huge revenues for the Myanmar military, allowing it to maintain its immense power. The UN report focused particularly on two military-owned conglomerates, The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and their subsidiaries, which generate revenue that dwarfs that of any civilian-owned company in Myanmar. The IIFFMM identified 120 businesses that are owned by MEC and MEHL and a further 27 affiliated businesses that provide the Myanmar military with off-budget sources of revenue. The report also found 15 foreign companies – including from Japan and South Korea – that have joint ventures with MEHL and MEC and at least 44 foreign companies that have other forms of commercial ties with military-owned businesses.

The list of businesses is by no means exhaustive. Civil society organizations such as the Burma Campaign UK – which publishes a “Dirty List” of international companies doing business with the Myanmar military, a source utilized by the IIFFMM – will continue to publish the names of dozens of more businesses in the future.

The report also found that the Myanmar military and its officials, “have a vested interest in armed conflict and violence as a way of maintaining their ability to capitalize on the conflict driven resource economy.” At a significant cost of ethnic peoples’ lives, the Myanmar military continues to benefit from, and supports, extractive industries that operate in conflict-affected areas, particularly in northern Myanmar. Conflict allows the Myanmar military to plunder resources from jade, ruby and timber industries without accountability, providing them with the revenue to buy military equipment and maintain a huge army that commits grave human rights violations in ethnic areas and continues to fuel further conflict. The IIFFMM also called for the imposition of an arms embargo by the UN Security Council, citing at least 14 foreign firms from seven nations that have supplied fighter jets and other weapons to Myanmar.

The report offers recommendations that strike at the heart of democratic governance and reforms by encouraging “the promotion of economic ties and engagement with non-Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] companies and businesses in Myanmar as a means of building and strengthening the non-Tatmadaw sector of the economy.” Therefore, it is disheartening to see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately respond with a statement, which “categorically” rejected the report and its conclusions – while the Myanmar military has yet to publicly comment.

Despite the Myanmar government’s response, ethnic civil society organizations from Myanmar, along with international and regional organizations, have welcomed the report and its findings. The Karen Peace Support Network, a network joined together by over 20 Karen civil society organizations, issued a statement that recalled the Myanmar military’s attacks and repression faced by Karen communities for decades stating, “Countries wanting to support the peace process in Myanmar should impose these targeted sanctions on military-owned companies and an arms embargo as essential parts of that support.” In addition, domestic news outlets such as the Myanmar Now have began reporting on businesses owned or operated by family members of the Commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, who is also the Chairperson of MEHL.

The report has already yielded some impacts. A Belgium company, Newtec, recently announced that it is ending commercial ties with the Myanmar military-owned telecommunications company Mytel, with many more reviewing their associations with Myanmar military-aligned companies. It is high time that businesses and countries act to do more to end the ongoing atrocities taking place in Myanmar. Countries have a responsibility to step up their efforts and change their approach to handling the Rohingya crisis and the ongoing grave crimes taking place in ethnic nationality areas throughout Myanmar. It must follow the recommendations of the IIFFMM – end the impunity of the Myanmar military by holding them accountable for grave crimes committed under international law and sever ties with Myanmar’s military and the companies it controls and relies on. At the same time, investment in the private sector should prioritize supporting the growth of alternative economic actors to the Myanmar military and its vast associate of businesses.  It is clear that as long as the military controls the economy, they will be further emboldened to continue to stay above the law and commit grave crimes with impunity and thus any efforts towards peace and federal democratic governance will be hindered. It is time for the governments and businesses throughout the world to send a loud and clear message to Myanmar – the military does not belong in the economy.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

အမ်ိဳးသားလႊတ္ေတာ္၊ ႏိုင္ငံသားမ်ား၏မူလအခြင့္အေရး၊ ဒီမိုကေရစီအေရးႏွင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ဆိုင္ရာေကာ္မတီႏွင့္ ႏိုင္ငံေရးအက်ဥ္းသ…

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Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”