The recent complaint filed with Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, claiming that three state-owned arms manufacturers might have sold military hardware to the Myanmar military, represents the latest example of a far-reaching and vicious cycle of violations and complicity of regional and international actors in the Myanmar military’s international crimes. Despite well-documented evidence of decades-long war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military, the arms flow has continued to reach Naypyidaw uninterrupted. With multiple of its member states directly involved in fueling the junta’s nationwide terror campaign against the people of Myanmar, in which children have been systematically targeted, ASEAN must take direct and concrete actions to hold its member states accountable for being complicit in and to stop aiding and abetting the military junta’s crimes against the people of Myanmar.
On 2 October 2023, Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP) and former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who also chaired the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, filed a complaint against three Indonesian state-owned enterprises for allegedly selling “handguns, assault rifles, ammunition, combat vehicles and other equipment” to the military. Those three enterprises are PT Pindad, PT PAL, and PT Dirgantara Indonesia. According to the complaint, True North Company Limited facilitated the arms transaction. True North is a Myanmar company owned by the son of Win Shein, the junta’s planning and finance minister, who has been sanctioned by the United States, Canada, and the European Union. If confirmed, the actions of the three firms involved in the arms trade would drastically undermine the Indonesian Government’s ongoing efforts in finding solutions to Myanmar’s multidimensional crisis.
With more weapons in its arsenal, the junta’s ruthless onslaught continues to kill civilians. Mere days before the complaint in Indonesia was made public, the junta’s Light Infantry Battalion 102 fired 155mm artillery shells targeting a monastery school in Gyoe Taung Village, Wuntho Township in northern Sagaing Region. In the explosion, a female teacher and 18 children, aged between five to eight, were injured. The head teacher reported that “Children were running around, drenched in blood. The commotion was like a scene from hell.” Furthermore, on 7 October 2023, an 8-year-old boy was killed in a junta artillery strike in western Phruso Township, Karenni State. The latest attacks are part of the junta’s countrywide terror campaign that has systematically, and intentionally, targeted children. According to the National Unity Government (NUG), the junta has killed at least 491 children and destroyed 119 schools as of 5 October 2023. This statistic translates into the death of 13 children every month amid the litany of the junta’s horrendous crimes.
This complaint regarding three Indonesian state-owned arms manufacturers sings to the same tune as the recent Singapore’s arms deal. As exposed by Justice For Myanmar’s campaign Dirty Over 30, Singapore represents a haven for Myanmar tycoons and cronies that operate as the junta’s arm brokers. Tay Za, founder of Htoo Group of Companies, for example, directly “funnels foreign currency, arms and Mi17 and MiG-29 Russian aircrafts to the military, and gets lucrative deals and concessions in return.” While Indonesia has yet to take action on the arms sales allegation, on 25 August 2023, Singapore court fined a local firm, Hydronav Services, for selling a multi-beam echo sounder system to the Myanmar Navy. While the recent steps taken by Singapore are welcomed, much more has to be done in order to effectively foreclose the junta’s access to one of its most strategic weapons suppliers. In the recent court case, two individuals from the Singapore firm, directly involved in the illegal deal, were fined for a total of 80,000 SGD, about 58,700 USD. Not only companies but also individuals must be held accountable for supporting the murderous Myanmar military.
Throughout the past 32 months of the junta’s failed coup, Myanmar civil society organizations and frontline research groups have tirelessly collected a multitude of evidence on how the junta employs weapons against civilians, traded and transported legally or illegally on international and regional markets. Neither states nor private entities can hide themselves behind political excuses, the absence of rigorous national controls and company due diligence, ineffective international mechanisms, or legal loopholes. Supplying weapons, ammunition, telecommunications, and dual-use products to the military junta means emboldening it to commit further atrocities and being complicit in its international crimes.
Yet, as highlighted in the 10-month investigation’s conference room paper Death Trade, published in May 2023 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, since 2021 the junta has imported at least 1 billion USD worth of arms, equipment, advanced weapons systems, and raw materials for its domestic production. While Russia and China remain the main weapons suppliers of the junta, other regional states have been playing a relevant role in arming the military junta. As revealed by the UN Special Rapporteur’s paper, 254 million USD worth of weapon supplies have been shipped from Singapore to Myanmar, through 138 Singapore-based entities. Over 27.7 million USD in arms, equipment, and raw materials have been shipped from Thailand. To further complicate the arms trade network, junta-linked companies and arms traders have established ad hoc shell companies to circumnavigate international sanctions.
ASEAN, its member states, as well as the wider international community, have the responsibility and the moral obligation to utilize all tools at their disposal to halt the junta’s atrocities that surge through Myanmar. It is long past time a global arms embargo was imposed to prevent the supply of all weapons, ammunition, dual-use goods and technology that keep fueling the military’s terror campaign against the people of Myanmar. Most importantly, the international community can no longer afford to retain any defense ties, including joint military training with the junta. The more the international community lets arms constantly flow to the junta’s hands, the more violence and suffering on the ground for the people of Myanmar, and thus, the more responsibility on the international community to protect the people of Myanmar. The international community must stop neglecting the people of Myanmar, and fully and meaningfully comply with their international obligations.
 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 Civil Society Organizations
By Chin Human Rights Organisation, the Myanmar Accountability Project and Marzuki Darusman
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland
By International Labour Organization
By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar
By Women’s League of Burma and Gender Equality Network
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland
By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar
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.”