Activist group urges international entities to ‘cut ties’ financially and politically with Myanmar junta

International organisations, businesses and governments have played a crucial role in empowering Myanmar’s military junta and enabling its crimes, according to a report released by the activist organisation Justice for Myanmar (JFM) on Wednesday.

In the report, titled  “Developing a Dictatorship,” JFM uses 18 case studies to illustrate how the actions of more than 60 entities have abetted the military regime since the coup of February 2021. 

JFM, an organisation staffed by investigators and activists who conceal their identities for security reasons, emphasised that the junta’s hold on power and use of violence against the people of Myanmar is made possible by support and cooperation from abroad. 

“In the face of the Myanmar people outright rejecting its attempted coup, the military’s ability to gain and retain power relies upon its military strength as well as its vast network of businesses and opaque financial and political ties. Thus, it has become urgent for international actors to cut all financial ties with, and end all forms of political support for, the Myanmar military junta,” the report stated.

Cooperating with the regime

JFM distinguishes four categories of international action benefitting the military regime: political support, including diplomatic relations or other recognition of the junta as the legitimate government of Myanmar; technical cooperation, including training or education of junta personnel or their associates; financial support in the form of loans, investments, cooperation on infrastructure projects and other business with junta-connected entities; and rent payments for the use of properties held by junta associates. 

The governments of China, Russia, India, and Pakistan, as well as various UN entities and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), are among those implicated for political support, according to JFM. 

The Chinese government’s support included backing junta proposals at ASEAN meetings including a plan to hold military-controlled “elections” in 2023. The junta’s proposals contradicted the terms of an earlier “Five-Point Consensus” on Myanmar’s crisis to which ASEAN’s members and China had agreed. 

The German Federal Foreign Office and Japan’s Ministry of Defence were among those who continued technical cooperation with the Myanmar military after the coup, the report said. This included training of junta cadets and other personnel in Japanese military schools. 

JFM also described how funds in the form of infrastructure and development aid, loans, and investment continued to flow to the junta—sometimes indirectly or inadvertently—from organisations including the World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Asian Development Bank, and ASEAN Infrastructure Fund. 

Several entities, including those adhering to sanctions imposed on the junta such as the European Union and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have paid to occupy hotel rooms, offices, and other properties owned by junta-linked entities since the coup, the report said. 

While focusing primarily on how international actors’ recognition and cooperation had aided the regime, the JFM report commended some of the same governments’ and organisations’ efforts to reverse or compensate for previous actions supporting the junta. 

Despite describing how various UN entities’ actions had legitimised or benefitted the junta, the report also recognised the UN General Assembly’s passage of a 2021 resolution condemning the junta’s violence, and its decision to allow an official of the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG) to continue representing Myanmar rather than recognise the regime.

Similarly, although the report condemns US government agency USAID for holding a conference at a military-linked Yangon hotel in 2022, the report commends US government-authorised sanctions against the regime. 

After allowing junta members to represent Myanmar at various meetings, the report describes how ASEAN declined to invite coup leader Min Aung Hlaing to a 2021 summit after his regime failed to implement the association’s plan to address Myanmar’s political crisis. 

The report also highlighted that, following the junta’s execution of four pro-democracy activists in July 2022, Japan’s defence ministry announced that it would no longer accept military cadets and other personnel from Myanmar into its training programs. 

Recognition, prosecution, sanctions

Further action is needed to prevent the junta from continuing to take advantage of international assistance and complicity, Wednesday’s report concluded.

“These [recommendations] are directed at foreign governments, multilateral institutions, foreign development organisations, international organisations and all other organisations with the capacity to implement them,” JFM said.

The group urged recognition of the National Unity Government (NUG) as the legitimate government of Myanmar, sanctions targeting the junta’s broader network of associates and cronies as well as aviation fuel, a global arms embargo against the military, the international prosecution of those responsible for atrocity crimes, and the cessation of aid and cooperation with the junta including through business dealings and technical and development assistance. 

JFM also cautioned against rendering any aid or recognition to the illegitimate “elections” that the junta plans to hold in 2023 to legitimise its claim to power in Myanmar.

Earlier investigative reports by activist and advocacy groups have also revealed failures by the international community to hold the Myanmar junta accountable. Research released in mid-January by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar implicated companies from more than a dozen countries in supporting weapons production in the country. Amnesty International released a report on international businesses’ supply of aviation fuel to the junta during its ongoing campaign of deadly airstrikes on civilians, and JFM exposed how more than 100 foreign private companies had helped the junta procure arms in an August 2022 report. 

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