A UN fact-finding team has exposed a far-reaching web of businesses controlled by Myanmar’s military, and warned foreign companies to sever ties with them, in findings that will underscore the legal and reputational risks faced by investors in the country.
The world body also urged member states to impose targeted sanctions against military-run companies, and called for an embargo to be imposed on further sales of arms to the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, saying at least 14 defence companies from seven countries were still selling the country military equipment.
The recommendations, published in a report released in Geneva on Monday, represent an intensification of pressure by the UN on both Myanmar and the international community to take action on human rights abuses carried out by the Tatmadaw against minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, and in its military operations in the northern Kachin and Shan States.
The UN has called for the Tatmadaw chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, and other senior officials to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including acts committed during the military’s violent “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in 2017.
“We have started the process of identifying what the military is doing in Myanmar, so that our recommendation of economic disengagement can become more practical and can be taken up by businesses, the governments of other countries, and the UN and its programmes,” Chris Sidoti, a member of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar told the Financial Times by telephone.
The report details the activities of two enterprises with strong military associations, Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and Myanmar Economic Corporation, which between them own at least 120 companies involved in sectors ranging from construction and pharmaceuticals to banking.
“No business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading with or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into or remain in a business relationship of any kind with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw, or any enterprise owned or controlled by them,” the report said.
The UN said that state-owned companies in China, North Korea, India, Russia and Ukraine were involved in major arms or arms-related deals with Myanmar, as was Israel, before its Supreme Court prohibited further sales.
The report also found that at least 15 foreign companies had joint ventures with the Tatmadaw, while 44 others had some form of commercial link with military-controlled businesses.
The UN said the MEHL and MEC were involved in the mining of jade and rubies, the majority of the world’s supply of which originates from Myanmar, and called on consumers to avoid gems produced, sold, or exported by the two companies.
The UN, which has faced obstacles completing some of its work in Myanmar, acknowledged that its list of military-linked businesses was incomplete, and that it was unable to provide an estimate of how much money was going from these companies to fund the military.
“We haven’t even been able to make a good guess at the total amount of money the mil is extracting and putting into the pockets of generals,” Mr Sidoti said.
The US has imposed sanctions on Gen Min Aung Hlaing and other Myanmar security officials since the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar’s government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment. The UN said it submitted the report to the government ahead of its release.
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