As we fast approach the one year anniversary since the coup d’état attempt by the Myanmar military, the devastation on the ground in Myanmar continues including increased targeting of civilians, massacres, airstrikes, burning of villages, extrajudicial killings and the murder of children. One ray of hope amidst the ongoing turmoil inside Myanmar, alongside the people’s determination for democracy and staunch resistance to the junta, is the increasing financial pressure on the military junta, which has lost $1 billion USD due to Myanmar people’s electricity boycott according to the National Unity Government, and now lucrative oil and gas revenues are at risk as a result of the planned withdrawal of Total and Chevron. Relentless calls by civil society organizations have successfully forced the hand of Total, followed by Chevron, who are initiating a process of withdrawal from the Yadana joint venture gas project which paid millions to Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). These are funds which the Myanmar military illegally funnelled to themselves and used to fuel its atrocity crimes against the people. While the decision to exit and call for sanctions is positive and should be welcomed, it is vital that Total and Chevron’s disengagement is a responsible one that is based on human rights due diligence. Meanwhile, governments must immediately move ahead and sanction all oil and gas revenues. Presidents Biden and Macron must ensure sanctions are applied to oil and gas revenues, to solidify these actions.
Ethnic groups have long suffered from atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military, including Karen and Rohingya. Earlier this month in an open letter, 67 Karen civil society organizations from 17 countries called on Presidents Biden and Macron to sanction gas revenues, strongly stating “It is not a credible option to continue to condemn airstrikes, massacres and other human rights violations which your companies have helped to fund.” This can be applied by analogy to all countries who allow their companies to conduct business with the junta. Also, 21 Rohingya civil society organizations called on Presidents Biden and Macron to impose targeted sanctions on oil and gas revenues, which are funding atrocity crimes, echoing those committed against Rohingya. Also, over 170,000 people have signed a petition calling on the governments of US and France to sanction Myanmar’s oil and gas revenues. Calls from the ground for these sanctions are loud and clear. Last week at a webinar hosted by Bloody Money Campaign, a group of activists aimed at cutting funds to the military junta, Ko Ye, a natural resource activist from Blood Money Campaign, called out oil and gas companies in Myanmar saying that the natural resources do not belong to the military junta but to the people of Myanmar. Furthermore, international businesses have blood on their hands and are severely undercutting democracy.
Despite France and US’s lack of action, the exit of Total and Chevron is a massive win for Myanmar’s Spring Revolution and their regional and international solidarity allies, who have tirelessly campaigned for the oil and gas sector to stop financing the terrorist military junta. Oil and gas revenue payments to MOGE are the most significant official foreign-based revenue for the junta, constituting $1.54 billion USD per annum. Total reportedly paid $257 million USD to Myanmar in taxes and gas revenues in 2019. Myanmar civil society organizations and campaign groups, through the reports, statements, petitions, webinars, online and in-person protests from groups like Blood Money Campaign, Justice For Myanmar, Info Birmanie and Earth Rights International, and ethnic coalitions of Karen, Rohingya and other ethnic communities, all contributed to this decision by Total and Chevron. Now, as ever, it is crucial that the international community hear the people of Myanmar and intensifies efforts to impose targeted sanctions on all oil and gas revenues to the military junta.
Additionally, the international community must impose a global arms embargo, cut aviation fuel for junta fighter jets, and cease their business ties with military, military affiliated businesses and their cronies as well as with their network of arms dealers. Yet shamefully, so called democracies, like Japan, Australia, India, Malaysia and South Korea, continue to allow businesses, banks and pension funds in their countries to conduct business with the military junta in violation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These countries are in full knowledge that profits from these dealings fund the military purchase of arms to inflict atrocity crimes, including the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Other countries, such as China and Thailand, must also end their involvement in oil and gas projects.
One of the gravest offenders is POSCO, a South Korean conglomerate, that has historically strong ties to the military junta through joint ventures and profit-sharing agreements for steel and gas. POSCO’s offshore Shwe gas project reportedly paid out $194 million to MOGE in 2017/2018. POSCO has been linked to business dealings with the Myanmar military-owned conglomerate, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), and a real estate deal with the Quartermaster General of the Myanmar military, the office tasked with the purchase of weapons. POSCO’s links with the military are evidenced in a report by the UN International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and through investigations by Myanmar and international civil society organizations, such as Justice For Myanmar and Amnesty International. Even with solidarity from a network of 106 Korean Civil Society Organizations in Support of Democracy in Myanmar, and complaints to South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission and the Organisation Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the South Korea government has failed to act on these complaints and have not sanctioned MOGE, MEHL or other key business linked to the Myanmar military. After considerable pressure from civil society, POSCO C&C announced cutting its steel business with MEHL but there has been no transparency on actions taken to this end and continues its other business, including the Shwe gas project. POSCO, and other South Korean businesses, including Samsung and LG, met with military junta at the military-linked and South Korean owned Lotte Hotel, organized by the South Korean embassy in Yangon. Hypocritically, South Korea publicly promotes democracy in Myanmar and condemns the acts of junta but does the opposite in private.
Similarly, Japanese business and the Japanese government are placing their own economic interests in Myanmar ahead of the people, contributing to the junta’s atrocities through finances and training of the military. Around 70 percent of Japanese businesses have stayed or expanded activities in Myanmar since the attempted coup, with only 7 percent withdrawing. Shockingly, the Japanese government’s Nippon Oil Exploration (Myanmar) is still investing in the Yetagun gas project, along with JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corporation, and Mitsubishi Corporation. Also, Japanese banks Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Mizuho Financial Group are providing considerable loans to junta-linked entities, knowingly bankrolling their crimes.
International experts from the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar in a briefing paper, lay out how under domestic and international law, the military junta constitutes a terrorist organization. The legitimate government of Myanmar, the National Unity Government, has also applied this designation to the military junta. The governments of Japan, Australia, India, and South Korea must immediately impose targeted sanctions on this terrorist military junta and its leadership, military-linked businesses, arms dealers and cronies.
Irrespective of the withdrawal of Chevron and Total, both Presidents Biden and Macron must impose these sanctions and strongly urge their allies, including Japan and South Korea, to follow suit. Also, Total and Chevron must halt all payments to the junta immediately and ensure their exit strategy from Myanmar does not further exacerbate the human rights crisis on the ground with a responsible and justice-centered approach. The governments of Japan, Australia, India, and South Korea must impose targeted sanctions on the military junta and its leadership, military-linked businesses, arms dealers and cronies. These countries and ASEAN have so far only legitimized the junta through their lack of actions, or in the case of Cambodian PM Hun Sen as ASEAN’s Chair, legitimized the junta through reckless cowboy diplomacy, failing to meet their international obligations. Meanwhile, they are complicit in the junta’s crimes through bankrolling the junta with their business ties. Businesses from these countries must uphold democracy and human rights, supporting the people of Myanmar instead of a terrorist junta and cut ties with the junta, their associates and cronies. Myanmar’s people power has shown the strength, resilience and determination to fight for democracy, and it is time the international community fully support their calls.
 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.
By 21 Rohingya Organizations
By Burma Campaign UK
By Chin National Organization
By Human Rights Watch
By International Court of Justice
By Justice For Myanmar
By Justice For Myanmar
By Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union and Chin National Front
By Karenni State Consultative Council
By Mekong Watch, Friends of the Earth Japan, Justice For Myanmar, ayus: Network of Buddhists Volunteers on International Cooperation, Japan International Volunteer Center and Network Against Japan Arms Trade
By Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Labour)
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Planning, Finance and Investment)
By Norwegian Refugee Council
By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
By ALTSEAN-Burma and Progressive Voice
By Burma Campaign UK
By Justice For Myanmar
By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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.”