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Myanmar's military business 'fueling abuses against minorities'

UN report urges international community to impose sanctions against the army and its many overseas suppliers

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Myanmar's military business 'fueling abuses against minorities'

A file photo taken on July 19, 2018, of Myanmar's Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Tougher sanctions are needed against Myanmar's wealthy and powerful military, U.N. investigators said Aug. 5, as they revealed how the army's web of economic interests has generated a fortune that helps fund atrocities. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

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The income that Myanmar’s military earns from domestic and foreign business deals is enhancing its ability to carry out gross violations of human rights against ethnic minorities, according to a United Nations report released on Aug. 5.

The U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged the international community to sever ties with Myanmar’s military and the vast web of companies it controls and relies on.

It further called on the U.N. Security Council and member states “to immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military.”

The mission also called for the imposition of an arms embargo on at least 14 foreign firms from seven nations, including China, Russia and North Korea, which have supplied fighter jets, armored combat vehicles, warships, missiles and missile launchers to Myanmar since 2016.

During this period, said the report, the military carried out extensive and systematic human rights violations against civilians in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, most notably the forced expulsion of more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh.

“The implementation of the recommendations in this report will erode the economic base of the military, undercut its obstruction of the reform process, impair its ability to carry out military operations without oversight, reduce violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and serve as a form of accountability in the short term,” said Marzuki Darusman, chair of the mission.

The 111-page report exposes two of Myanmar’s most opaque enterprises — Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Cooperation (MEC). Both are owned and influenced by senior military leaders such as Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy, Vice Senior General Soe Win.

MEHL and MEC own at least 120 businesses involved in various sectors from construction to pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, insurance, tourism and banking.

Both companies, along with at least 26 of their subsidiaries, hold licenses for jade and ruby mining in Kachin and Shan states, where forced labor and sexual violence have been perpetrated by the Tatmadaw in connection with their business activities, according to the report.

The report details how 45 companies and organizations in Myanmar donated more than $10 million to the military in the weeks following the beginning of the 2017 clearance operations in Rakhine.

So-called “crony companies” with close links to the Tatmadaw later financed development projects in Rakhine that furthered the military’s “objective of re-engineering the region in a way that erases evidence of Rohingya belonging to Myanmar.”

The report named two companies, KBZ Group and Max Myanmar, which helped finance the construction of a fence along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border knowing that it would heighten the suffering and anguish for the displaced Rohingya trying to return to their homes and land.

It also found that at least 15 foreign firms had joint ventures with the Tatmadaw, while 44 others had some form of commercial ties with Tatmadaw businesses.

“These foreign companies risk contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” the report said.

Paul Donowitz, Myanmar campaign leader at Global Witness, said: “These funds sustain the military’s grip on power, allowing it to operate outside of civilian oversight, while supporting its abusive conduct against the Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups.”

A U.N. fact-finding mission report last August found that the military committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against Rohingya. It therefore said Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals should be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

On July 16, the United States imposed travel bans on Myanmar’s military chief and three top generals over their role in the “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State and other atrocities.

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