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Japan: Hold Myanmar to Account for Atrocities

Oppose Investments Harming Ethnic Rohingya, Benefiting Military

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech at an investment seminar organized by the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo on October 8, 2018.  © 2018 Kyodo via AP Images

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should publicly hold Myanmar to account for military atrocities committed against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Human Rights Watch said today. It should discourage Japanese investment that would benefit the military or at the expense of minority groups.

On October 21, 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, is slated to speak in Tokyo at a conference sponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) to promote investment and business opportunities in Myanmar. When she has spoken at previous investment forums in Japan, Aung San Suu Kyi has downplayed or ignored the military’s serious abuses against the Rohingya.

“The Japanese government has been pitifully reluctant to speak out against abuses by Myanmar’s military, so officials should use Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to raise these issues directly,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Japan’s recent re-election to the UN Human Rights Council should encourage the government to improve its human rights foreign policy, including by calling on Japanese companies not to contribute to rights violations in Myanmar.”

In August 2017, the Myanmar military began a large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, committing crimes against humanity and forcing more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Nearly one million Rohingya now live in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, while another 600,000 remain in Myanmar, confined to camps and villages without basic rights.

Japan has not acted to hold the Myanmar government accountable for abuses, but instead has continued business as usual. Earlier in October 2019, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in Tokyo with Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, whom the United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said should be among those investigated for “genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes” against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Abe told Hlaing the military should address the allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State by acting on the proposals of the government’s discredited International Commission of Enquiry, but ignored international efforts to address accountability.

The UN Fact-Finding Mission, in August, released a report on the Myanmar military’s control over the country’s economy and the main military conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). The two entities help the military, the Tatmadaw, generate considerable revenue and influence by strengthening “the Tatmadaw’s autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provid[ing] financial support for the Tatmadaw’s operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law violations.” The Fact-Finding Mission pressed for the international community to urgently take steps toward the financial isolation of the military.

Japanese investors should abide by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide that business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights by avoiding causing or contributing to human rights abuses through their own activities, and by seeking to prevent abuses that are directly linked to their operations by their business relationships. That would mean doing no business with Myanmar companies that have ties to the military and ensuring that investment did not worsen the human rights situation for Rohingya in Rakhine State.

The Japanese government should cooperate with international efforts to pursue accountability for the Myanmar military’s crimes against the Rohingya. This includes voting in favor of Myanmar-related human rights resolutions at the UN, calling for access to the country for the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, and closely cooperating with the UN’s new Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

“Encouraging foreign investment while ignoring human rights will only embolden the Myanmar government and military to further whitewash the heinous acts committed against the Rohingya,” Robertson said. “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.”

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