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UN expert exposes $1 billion “death trade” to Myanmar military

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NEW YORK / GENEVA (17 May 2023) – The Myanmar military has imported at least $1 billion USD in arms and raw materials to manufacture weapons since the coup in February 2021, according to a new report today by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews.

UN Member States are enabling this trade either through outright complicity, lax enforcement of existing bans, and easily circumvented sanctions, according to the report.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes against the people of Myanmar, the generals continue to have access to advanced weapons systems, spare parts for fighter jets, raw materials and manufacturing equipment for domestic weapons production,” Andrews said. “Those providing these weapons are able to avoid sanctions by using front companies and creating new ones while counting on lax enforcement.

“The good news is that we now know who is supplying these arms and the jurisdictions in which they operate. Member States now need to step up and stop the flow of these arms,” the expert said.

While calling for a complete ban on the sale or transfer of weapons to the Myanmar military, Andrews pleaded for Member States to enforce existing bans while coordinating sanctions on arms dealers and foreign currency sources.

The Special Rapporteur’s paper, “The Billion Dollar Death Trade:  International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar” is the most detailed study on post-coup arms transfers to the military to date. Accompanied by a detailed infographic, it identifies the major networks and companies involved in these transactions, known values of the transfers, and jurisdictions in which the networks operate, namely Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand, and India.

“Russia and China continue to be the main suppliers of advanced weapons systems to the Myanmar military, accounting for over $400 million and $260 million respectively since the coup, with much of the trade originating from state-owned entities. However, arms dealers operating out of Singapore are critical to the continued operation of the Myanmar military’s deadly weapons factories (commonly referred to as KaPaSa),” Andrews said.

The report reveals that $254 million USD of supplies have been shipped from dozens of entities in Singapore to the Myanmar military from February 2021 to December 2022. Singaporean banks have been used extensively by arms dealers.

Andrews recalled that the Government of Singapore has stated that its policy is to, “prohibit the transfer of arms to Myanmar” and that it has decided “not to authorise the transfer of dual-use items which have been assessed to have potential military application to Myanmar.”

“I implore leaders of Singapore to seize the information within this report and enforce its policies to the maximum extent possible,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“If the Singapore Government were to stop all shipments and facilitation of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military from its jurisdiction, the impact on the junta’s ability to commit war crimes would be significantly disrupted,” he said.

The report also documents $28 million USD in arms transfers from Thai-based entities to the Myanmar military since the coup.  India-based entities have supplied $51 million worth of arms and related materials to the military since February 2021.

The report examines why international sanctions on arms dealing networks have failed to stop or slow the flow of weapons to the Myanmar military.

“The Myanmar military and its arms dealers have figured out how to game the system. That’s because sanctions are not being adequately enforced and because arms dealers linked to the junta have been able to create shell companies to avoid them.

The expert said the ad hoc, uncoordinated nature of current sanctions were allowing payments to be made in other currencies and jurisdictions.

“By expanding and retooling sanctions and eliminating loopholes, governments can disrupt junta-linked weapons dealers,” Andrews said.

The report also focuses on the main sources of foreign currency that have enabled the Myanmar junta to purchase over $1 billion in arms since the coup. “Member States have not adequately targeted key sources of foreign currency that the junta relies on to purchase arms, including most significantly Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise,” Andrews said.

Andrews highlighted that no Member State has imposed sanctions on Myanma Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) since the coup. “My findings demonstrate that MFTB is not only important for receiving foreign currency but is also being used extensively by the junta to purchase arms.  It should be a prime target for international sanctions,” the expert said.

ENDS

Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Andrews is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.


Download Paper (A/HRC/53/CRP.2) | Infographic

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