The report on economic interests of the Myanmar military is being presented to you pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution 46/21, which requested the High Commissioner to report on the status of implementation of the recommendations made by the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar (FFM) in its conference room paper (A/HRC/42/CRP.3) on the same subject in September 2019.
I will be updating this Council separately on the overall human rights situation in Myanmar on 26 September.
In its 2019 report, the FFM concluded that the military’s ability to draw on various sources of revenue enabled its operations, including perpetration of serious international crimes. The FFM called for the Tatmadaw’s financial and economic isolation as a crucial element in pursuing accountability and contributing towards civilian oversight over the military’s actions.
Since the FFM report, the human rights situation in Myanmar has become even graver.
Further to the military coup of February 2021, the Myanmar military has continued its exploitation of the country’s resources to advance its own interests and fuel a campaign of violence and repression against Myanmar’s people. The Myanmar military has steadily escalated its use of force on cities, towns and villages throughout the country. To date, nearly 2,299 persons, including 188 children, have been killed and nearly 30,000 buildings, including whole villages, schools, churches/places of worship and other protected objects, have been burned to the ground. Such offensives have relied heavily on the use of air power, artillery and other military hardware, being bought and paid for by the profits from the Tatmadaw’s own business interests and exploitation of resources.
While there have been some steps taken by various actors following the FFM’s recommendations, particularly since the coup, substantially more can be done to stem the economic resources and supply of arms that enable the military to continue its assault on the Myanmar people.
Curtailing the Tatmadaw’s economic interests and, in particular, its access to revenues and foreign exchange are essential elements of preventing the further spiral of human rights violations.
In addition, the General Assembly has called on Member States to prevent the flow of arms into the country, and our report urges Member States that have not already done so to impose arms embargos on the Myanmar military.
As OHCHR has highlighted in previous reports to this Council, the military has been consistently repressing and terrorizing the country’s population in its attempts to assert full control. These actions have pushed an economy already hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic into a deepening crisis. We have observed a two-fold increase in poverty and the breakdown of the public health system. Also, over half of all school-aged children have not accessed education for two academic years.
Despite the dramatic economic, political, financial and social deterioration in the country, the military’s so-called State Administrative Council (SAC) continues to prioritize military operations by increasing defence spending and reducing budget allocations to education, health and social protection. The SAC has failed to govern in meaningful and sustainable ways, including by being unable to raise taxes, and with the local SAC administration collapsing in various parts of the country. This has been compounded by the Myanmar people’s courageous resistance to military rule. For instance, households are refusing to pay electricity bills despite threats of being cut off; and many are boycotting military-linked companies and businesses.
The report shows that since the military coup of 1 February 2021, some companies ended their business relationships with military-owned companies, in line with some FFM recommendations. The coup has further heightened the reputational and other business risks of such relationships, whether for international or Myanmar companies.
In parallel, several Member States have introduced further targeted sanctions, including on military leaders, military-owned entities and some State-owned entities now under the direct control of the SAC.
However, the military’s continued use of foreign currency to buy arms, particularly, aircraft, aerial munitions, and artillery has enabled its attacks against its opponents including in populated areas, as well as the targeting of civilians and locations protected under international humanitarian and human rights law.
The current crisis has also enabled the military to extend and strengthen its patronage networks. It is involved through proxies in illicit extractive activities, for instance increased mining of rare earths in Kachin State, vital for production of “green technologies”, but at a cost of enriching key Tatmadaw allies and devastating the local environment. Given the ongoing non-international armed conflict in the area, this activity warrants further investigation as to the possible war crime of pillaging.
Concerted action is needed now.
The report urges the international community to take all steps within its power to support the people of Myanmar and to act in coordinated fashion to financially isolate the military. In so doing, efforts must be made to avoid adverse socio-economic impacts on the people of Myanmar more generally. To that end, consultation on appropriate steps with civil society and the wider democratic movement, including the ‘National Unity Government’, representatives from ethnic and religious minorities, and trade unions, will be crucial.
The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise generates approximately 50 per cent of Myanmar’s foreign currency earnings. Additionally, the military has open access to foreign exchange held in overseas accounts of State-owned banks. As a result, the report calls on Member States to implement additional targeted measures against key entities that facilitate the Tatmadaw’s continued access to foreign currency.
Furthermore, we urge all businesses active in Myanmar or sourcing from the country to take steps to ensure their operations do not economically benefit the military, including by conducting ongoing and transparent heightened human rights due diligence. Companies disinvesting or decoupling from supply chains in Myanmar should, of course, also take responsible measures to best protect the interests of their employees and consumers.
These measures are fundamental to uphold business and human rights principles and to ensure that financial partnerships do not fuel human rights violations.
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