Nearly 60 Foreign Firms Tied to Military Businesses: UN Report

By The Irrawaddy 5 August 2019

YANGON—A report from a UN fact-finding mission has revealed that nearly 60 foreign firms operating in Myanmar have business ties to the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw).

The report calls on members of the international business community to sever their ties to the Tatmadaw or risk contributing to the several human rights violations the international community accuses the military of perpetrating.

The report, released on Monday, states that at least 15 foreign firms are in joint ventures with Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC)—military-owned business conglomerates led the military leaders—while 44 others have commercial ties to them.

The report accuses those companies of at the very least contributing to the military’s financial capacity to carry out human rights violations, particularly in ethnic areas like Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.

The companies listed are mostly but not exclusively from Asian nations, with several based in  Europe. The list included companies from China, Singapore, Korea, India, Japan, Belgium, Israel, France and Switzerland, among others.

“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,” said Mission Expert Christopher Sidoti.

The report also listed 45 local businesses for their over 10-million-dollar donations to the military in the weeks following the beginning of the 2017 clearance operations against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Rakhine State—operations widely condemned since as ethnic cleansing.

“Officials of these companies should be investigated with a view to criminal prosecution for making substantial and direct contributions to the commission of crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity,” Sidoti said.

The report named two companies in particular—KBZ Group and Max Myanmar Group—that helped finance the construction of a barrier fence along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border “knowing that it would contribute to the suffering and anguish associated with preventing the displaced Rohingya population from returning to their homes and land,” the report said.

“The Mission’s findings from this investigation provide the international community with a more complete understanding of Myanmar’s human rights crisis; one that should compel the international community and individual states to take a coordinated multilateral approach to accountability, justice and ending the human rights crisis in Myanmar,” said Mission Expert Radhika Coomaraswamy.

Max Myanmar Group said on Monday afternoon that it “categorically denies” the report’s description of its donation.

“Max Myanmar Group’s contributions were solely and particularly intended for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the society, and toward the initiative of UEHRD’s directives on humanitarian assistance and resettlement and developments of local communities affected by unfortunate events…,” read a statement posted on their Facebook, referring to the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD).

The group’s CEO Dr. Thaung Han told The Irrawaddy that despite its initial promise to the military of a fence donation, Max Myanmar didn’t make it, as it wants to focus more on reconstruction and rehabilitation of society in Rakhine.

“So, we didn’t make any donation for border fencing,” said the CEO.

When asked about their business ties with the military, he said, “We don’t have any business affiliation with them now.”

Representatives from KBZ Group were not available for immediate comment.

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