Business-Related Recommendations on Burma
January 11, 2008

Human Rights Watch issued a new report in December 2007 documenting the crackdown on popular protests in Burma that began in August. Hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained.

We recommend targeted financial, trade, and investment sanctions, and also make specific recommendations to companies doing business in Burma. These are described below.  
 
Sanctions  
 
Human Rights Watch urgently recommends the imposition of sanctions on Burma by the United Nations Security Council or, should the council fail to act, multilateral or unilateral sanctions. Sanctions should be pegged to Burma meeting specific human rights conditions. These should include the release of all persons arbitrarily detained for exercising their basic human rights to free expression, association, and assembly, an accurate official accounting of the numbers, whereabouts, and conditions of individuals killed, arrested, and detained by the security forces in the recent crackdown, and a return to civilian rule. Sanctions should include:  
 
1. Arms embargo  

  • A mandatory and fully enforced embargo on all weapons and ammunition sales and transfers to Burma.

2. Targeted sanctions on select Burmese individuals and companies  

  • Sanctions, including financial sanctions, targeted at leading officials, both military and civilian, who bear responsibility for abuses, as well as others who may assist in, or be complicit in, the evasion of sanctions by those individuals.  
     
    • Those sanctioned should be identified by means of a fair process, and the sanctions should be subject to regular monitoring of both their impact on human rights and whether the benchmarks specified above are being reached.  
       
    • These sanctions should be applied against the identified individuals, as well as their assets, companies under their control, and other business holdings they may have.

     

  • Targeted financial sanctions on companies owned and controlled by the Burmese military or whose revenues substantially benefit the military.  
     
    • These entities include several Burmese government companies whose earnings benefit the military, such as the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a state company under the Ministry of Energy; Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a state-run company under the Ministry of Forestry; and Myanmar Gems Enterprise, a state-run company under the Ministry of Mines. They also include two major conglomerates owned by the Burmese military, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Company Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation.  
       
    • The financial sanctions on military companies should be complemented by a prohibition on payments to or business partnerships with such entities.  
       
    • Governments also should require companies headquartered in their jurisdictions to publicly and fully disclose all payments made to the Burmese military, directly or through the entities it controls, prior to the imposition of applicable financial sanctions, and where those payments are made.

     

  • Additional measures are needed to ensure that financial sanctions result not only in the freezing of accounts and assets of sanctioned individuals and companies but also the denial of access to financial institutions and services.  
     
    • The named individuals and entities should be explicitly prohibited from making any financial transactions that pass through clearing-house banks or use financial services in the sanctioning government's jurisdiction, including via the global network of the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).  
       
    • Major banking centers (e.g., EU, Switzerland, US) should take steps to severely constrain the ability of named individuals and entities ability to carry out transactions via non-sanctioning countries. These banking centers should insist that any foreign financial institutions that want to do business in their jurisdiction (such as Singapore banks wanting to do business in the EU, Switzerland, US, etc.) confirm that they also are banning transactions by the named individuals and entities.

3. Targeted trade and investment sanctions  

  • Targeted sanctions on imports, exports, and new investment in sectors of Burma's economy that substantially benefit the military and/or are associated with serious human rights abuses.  
     
    • These include, inter alia, the petroleum (oil and gas), mining (gems, metals, minerals), and logging (logs and timber) sectors, as well as hydropower and other major infrastructure projects.

Recommendations to Companies  

  • All companies doing business in Burma should ensure their operations do not contribute to or benefit from human rights abuses.  
     
    • All companies should proactively review their activities to ensure that they do not make payments to or otherwise financially support companies owned and controlled by the Burmese military or other entities whose resources substantially benefit the military.  
       
    • Companies with significant business ties or activities in economic sectors alleged to be associated with human rights abuses in Burma should conduct thorough and independent human rights impact assessments, make the results of such assessments public, and be prepared to reconsider their operations in the country based on the outcome of the assessments as well as further developments in Burma.

     

  • Companies involved in economic activity that substantially benefits the military or is associated with serious human rights abuses - including in relation to the petroleum (oil and gas), mining (gems, metals, minerals), and logging (logs and timber) sectors, as well as hydropower and other major infrastructure projects - should freeze such trade and investment activity in Burma, even in the absence of government-imposed sanctions mandating such steps.  
     
  • Companies and business leaders that have significant business ties to Burma should publicly condemn ongoing human rights abuses and use their influence with Burma's military government to put an end to these abuses.