Tatmadaw Should Disengage from Politics and Economy: Fact-Finding Mission Chief

An independent UN fact-finding mission has recently published a report accusing the Tatmadaw of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity over the past few years in conflict-torn Kachin and Rakhine states. A follow-up report was launched on August 5 at a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, detailing the Myanmar military’s soliciting of funds from its own conglomerates, the Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). This also included funds from local and international businesses that have connections with the MEHL and MEC. In response to August 5th report, Myanmar Now has conducted an email interview with Mr Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney-General of Indonesia, who led the fact-finding mission.

Myanmar Now: What role have MEHL and MEC played in the alleged genocide and other international crimes taking place in Myanmar?

Darusman: Our investigation found that the Tatmadaw generates revenue through MEC, MEHL, and its subsidiaries. We counted 120 MEHL and MEC owned businesses across diverse sectors of the economy in Myanmar. These and other sources of revenue, such as revenue from business donors, help fill the Tatmadaw’s coffers and enhance its ability to conduct the wide array of crimes we documented in our 2018 report, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.     

Myanmar Now: Do you have any proof of the military using revenues from MEHL and MEC to commit crimes against humanity?

Darusman: There is no direct link between MEHL and MEC funds and any specific act. Rather these conglomerates fund the Tatmadaw and the Tatmadaw consistently commits the most serious crimes under international law. The general link is clear and indisputable.

Myanmar Now: What surprised you the most during your investigation on Tatmadaw’s interest in economy? 

Darusman: We were stunned by the breadth and boldness of the Tatmadaw to lean on outside revenue. A good example was the Commander-in-Chief’s unabashed willingness to solicit donations from the business community in support of the “clearance operations” that began on 25 August 2017. Equally striking was that several members of the business community unabashedly gave money to the Tatmadaw. All this was publicly posted. It was done out in the open. Not hidden. 

The support was so significant that our report concluded that criminal investigations are warranted to determine what role business leaders played in supporting the Tatmadaw’s crimes under international law and whether any business leaders should be tried for aiding and abetting those crimes.   

Myanmar Now: What role do military-owned businesses play in human rights abuses?

Darusman: As noted above, the military’s business interests fill the Tatmadaw’s coffers and enhance its ability to conduct the wide array of crimes we documented in our 2018 report, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Further, the Tatmadaw’s business interests in conflict areas, such as gem mining in Kachin State, clearly exacerbate the violence. 

Additionally, the Tatmadaw is so wedded to its business interests because those interests allow it to receive funds, and use those funds, without civilian oversight or accountability. This is part of a larger problem of a lack of military oversight in the country that requires swift Constitutional reforms.  And the military’s business interests also have a socially corrosive effect. 

When the Tatmadaw goes around soliciting funds to support its anti-Rohingya activities and other acts of human rights violations, it is essentially asking the business community to sanction its actions. 

And when the business community provides its support, the social rifts in the country widen.   

Myanmar Now: What should be done about it? What role can the international community play?

Darusman: The international community can play a vital role in ending Myanmar’s human rights crisis. Myanmar is sensitive to its standing in the world, and international pressure has been proven to influence the Government’s behaviour. The release of the Reuters journalists earlier this year is evidence of that. This pressure needs to be coordinated, decisive, and multi-layered. Criminal accountability remains vital. 

The United Nations Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, and individual states should also use their own criminal justice systems to hold perpetrators of all ranks and responsibilities accountable. But action also needs to be directed more broadly at the institutional backbone of the Tatmadaw’s ability to carry out gross violations of human rights. That’s why we’re calling for a two prong approach for businesses to cut their ties to the Tatmadaw and to partner with non-Tatmadaw companies to build the non-Tatmadaw economy in Myanmar. 

We’re also calling for an arms embargo and calling on private individuals to, for example, avoid dealing with MEHL, MEC and their subsidiaries and to refrain from purchasing jade or rubies produced, sold or exported by MEHL, MEC and their subsidiaries. 

Myanmar Now: What role should the military play in a democratising Myanmar?

Darusman: The military needs to step aside. What positive role can the military play when it has shown no appetite for allowing Myanmar to move towards a full-fledged civilian-controlled democracy? Democracy poses a threat to the stranglehold that the military has over the country, including much of the economy. Militaries have vitally important roles in national defence, but blocking democratic progress is not one of them. The role the military should play in a democratizing Myanmar is the role of full disengagement from Myanmar politics and economy. But to do this, the military needs to be reformed from top to bottom. 

Constitutional, legislative and economic reforms need to force the Tatmadaw from its domineering positions of power in Parliament and other government sectors and in the economy.   

Myanmar Now:  What is your hope for accountability and justice for the Rohingya genocide?

Darusman: To answer this question, we need to look to what the Rohingya went through, what they want and what they need. Rohingya people have told us that they want justice, that they want full citizenship, that they want their persecution to end. 

We’ve heard from Rohingya that many want to return, but only if they can do so in a safe and dignified manner – one in which the government respects and protects their rights. Sadly, the government’s discrimination continues apace and it isn’t doing what’s necessary to meet these conditions. 

Most immediately, it will be important for the international community to support the work of the new UN International Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which is mandated to help courts around the world bring perpetrators of Myanmar’s human rights crisis to justice. We also hope that the pending proceedings before the International Criminal Court progress, although we recognize it can only deal with a limited number of crimes due to some jurisdictional limitations. That’s why it would be an especially strong achievement for accountability if the UN Security Council were to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

It would also be an achievement if states join together to hold Myanmar, as a government, responsible before the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention. 

Myanmar Now: What is the key message that the Myanmar public should take from the report or the key message that you want to give to Myanmar public?

Darusman: To weaken the Tatmadaw’s ability to carry out its widespread and systematic human rights violations, we have to go after its economic interests. Our report maps out what those interests are and provides key recommendations for how the international community can work together to loosen the Tatmadaw’s grip on the country and move it towards a more stable democracy that respects the human rights of all ethnic groups equally.  


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