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How Myanmar’s Armed Forces Fund Atrocities

UN Fact-Finding Mission Urges Sanctions on Military Enterprises

Marzuki Darusman and Christopher Sidoti, chair and member of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, speak at a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 5, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo

The United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a new report earlier today detailing the Myanmar military’s longstanding but opaque web of control over the country’s economy. The mission urged the international community to take immediate steps to financially isolate the military.

The 111-page report arrives a year after the Fact-Finding Mission’s extensive documentation of the security forces’ atrocity crimes, which called for top generals to be investigated and prosecuted for crimes against humanity and genocide. Yet Myanmar’s security forces continue to commit violations against Rohingya, Kachin, Rakhine, and other ethnic minorities, while the government has shown no willingness to hold perpetrators to account.

The report reveals the structure and network of the main military conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) – which together own at least 120 businesses spanning Myanmar’s industries. Led by current and former high-ranking military officials, including Commander-in-Chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the two groups generate vast revenues without effective oversight or regulation, in turn affording the military unrestricted profits and influence to perpetuate an unending cycle of abuse and impunity.

Not only have military commanders evaded justice for their widespread crimes, but they have done so while sabotaging the country’s economic and democratic growth. The military’s power in these spheres needs to be minimized if Myanmar ever hopes to achieve genuine democratic governance, including bringing the armed forces under civilian control.

The report names 14 foreign firms that have supplied the Myanmar military with arms since 2016, and calls on the UN Security Council to order a comprehensive arms embargo.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and Australia have imposed sanctions on key Myanmar military officials, but greater action is needed to create pressure with real costs. The Fact-Finding Mission’s report offers new evidence that the Security Council and concerned governments should use to launch a campaign of coordinated targeted sanctions on enterprises linked to the Myanmar military, starting with MEHL and MEC, a long-time call from Human Rights Watch. Stemming the flow of investment and profits to these companies, and by extension the abusive commanders they support, is crucial for undercutting the military’s rights violations and promoting justice for the victims of decades of military abuse.

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