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International relations

UN team recommends sanctions on Myanmar military businesses

Foreign companies urged to 'sever ties' to avoid enabling Rohingya abuses

Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw, has an array of business interests, from construction and pharmaceuticals to tourism and banking.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- United Nations investigators on Aug. 5 urged foreign companies to cut ties with Myanmar businesses affiliated with the country's military, citing their "indisputable link" with atrocities committed against the Rohingya minority.

The U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, while presenting its latest report in Jakarta, also called on the U.N. Security Council and member states to "immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military," known as the Tatmadaw.

The report raises red flags over Myanmar Economic Holdings and Myanmar Economic Cooperation, two entities that are owned and influenced by senior Tatmadaw leaders. The two companies have 120 subsidiaries involved in everything from construction and pharmaceuticals to manufacturing, insurance, tourism and banking.

The report also identifies at least 15 foreign companies that have joint ventures with Tatmadaw businesses, and 44 others that have forged commercial ties. Many are based in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, among other nations.

"These foreign companies risk contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," the investigators said in a news release. "At a minimum, they are contributing to supporting the military's financial capacity."

The team "urges the international community ... to sever ties with Myanmar's military and the vast web of companies it controls and relies on."

Mission expert Christopher Sidoti said cutting off business ties would put more pressure on the military, lamenting the "achingly slow" international response to human rights violations against the Rohingya.

"The revenue that these military businesses generate strengthens the Tatmadaw's autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provides financial support for the Tatmadaw's operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law violations," Sidoti said.

The U.N. mission's first report, released last September, described a wave of violence that began on Aug. 25, 2017 -- when Myanmar's security forces killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, raped and sexually abused women and girls, and burned their villages to the ground. The "clearance operations" sent over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, where they remain in refugee camps concentrated in Cox's Bazar.

The report released on Aug. 5 details how 45 companies and organizations in Myanmar donated over $10 million to the military in the weeks after the clearance operations began. These "crony companies" later financed development projects in Rakhine State that furthered the military's objective of "re-engineering the region in a way that erases evidence of Rohingya belonging to Myanmar."

The U.N. team noted Myanmar's unwillingness to advance the process of repatriating the Rohingya back to Rakhine. It named two companies -- KBZ Group and Max Myanmar -- that helped finance the construction of a barrier fence along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

The report also identifies 14 foreign companies from seven countries -- China, India, Israel, Singapore, the Philippines, Ukraine and North Korea -- that have supplied fighter jets, armored combat vehicles and other equipment to Myanmar since 2016, despite some of the same governments' vocal condemnations of the treatment of the Rohingya.

Mission chair Marzuki Darusman added that isolating the Tatmadaw financially should go hand in hand with promoting economic ties with nonmilitary businesses in Myanmar.

"This will foster the continued liberalization and growth of Myanmar's economy, including its natural resource sector," he said, "but in a manner that contributes to accountability, equity and transparency for its population."

The fact-finding mission, established in 2017, will present its final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.

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