How Myanmar’s Arms Purchases Circumvent Sanctions

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Myanmar soldiers. Credit: Anadolu Ajansi

By Thalif Deen    25 May 2023

UNITED NATIONS, 18 May 2023 (IDN) — The much-maligned military regime in Myanmar, accused of genocide and human rights abuses, is being sustained by nearly a billion dollars’ worth of arms—plus raw materials to manufacture weapons—originating primarily from China and Russia, two permanent members of the Security Council, along with Singapore, Thailand and India.

According to a new report released 17 May, authored by Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar,  Member States are enabling this trade “either through outright complicity, lax enforcement of existing bans, and easily circumvented sanctions”.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes against the people of Myanmar, the Generals continue to have access to advanced weapons systems, spare parts for fighter jets, raw materials for manufacturing equipment for domestic weapons production,” Andrews said.

“Those providing these weapons are able to avoid sanctions by using front companies and creating new ones while counting on lax enforcement.”

“The good news is that we now know who is supplying these arms and the jurisdictions in which they operate. Member States now need to step up and stop the flow of these arms,” he said.

Asked for a reaction, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters 17 May: “Well, as you know, the very important work that the Special Rapporteurs do [is] independent of the Secretary-General, including in their reporting”.

“I think we have not been shy at expressing our deep, deep concern at the situation in Myanmar, at the way the authorities in power have behaved, notably in the violence against civilians, in the continued detention of thousands of people, including political leaders.”

“So, I think our position is clear, but I don’t have a specific reaction to that report,” he said.

While calling for a complete ban on the sale or transfer of weapons to the Myanmar military, Andrews urged UN Member States to enforce existing bans while coordinating sanctions on arms dealers and foreign currency sources.

The Special Rapporteur’s paper, “The Billion Dollar Death Trade: International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar” is the most detailed study on post-coup arms transfers to the military to date.

Accompanied by a detailed infographic, it identifies the major networks and companies involved in these transactions, known values of the transfers, and jurisdictions in which the networks operate, namely Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand, and India.

<Credit: UN Human Rights

According to the report, Russia and China continue to be the main suppliers of advanced weapons systems to the Myanmar military, accounting for over $400 million and $260 million respectively since the February 2021 coup, with much of the trade originating from state-owned entities.

“However, arms dealers operating out of Singapore are critical to the continued operation of the Myanmar military’s deadly weapons factories (commonly referred to as KaPaSa),” Andrews said.

The report reveals that $254 million USD of supplies have been shipped from dozens of entities in Singapore to the Myanmar military from February 2021 to December 2022. Singaporean banks have been used extensively by arms dealers.

Andrews quoted the Government of Singapore as saying that its policy is to, “prohibit the transfer of arms to Myanmar” and that it has decided “not to authorise the transfer of dual-use items which have been assessed to have potential military application to Myanmar.”

“I implore leaders of Singapore to seize the information within this report and enforce its policies to the maximum extent possible,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“If the Singapore Government were to stop all shipments and facilitation of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military from its jurisdiction, the impact on the junta’s ability to commit war crimes would be significantly disrupted,” he said.

The report also documents $28 million USD in arms transfers from Thai-based entities to the Myanmar military since the coup.  India-based entities have supplied $51 million worth of arms and related materials to the military since February 2021.

The report examines why international sanctions on arms dealing networks have failed to stop or slow the flow of weapons to the Myanmar military.

“The Myanmar military and its arms dealers have figured out how to game the system. That’s because sanctions are not being adequately enforced and because arms dealers linked to the junta have been able to create shell companies to avoid them.

The expert said the ad hoc, uncoordinated nature of current sanctions were allowing payments to be made in other currencies and jurisdictions.

“By expanding and retooling sanctions and eliminating loopholes, governments can disrupt junta-linked weapons dealers,” Andrews said.

The report also focuses on the main sources of foreign currency that have enabled the Myanmar junta to purchase over $1 billion in arms since the coup.

“Member States have not adequately targeted key sources of foreign currency that the junta relies on to purchase arms, including most significantly Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise,” Andrews said.

He said no Member State has imposed sanctions on Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) since the coup. “My findings demonstrate that MFTB is not only important for receiving foreign currency but is also being used extensively by the junta to purchase arms. It should be a prime target for international sanctions,” the expert said.

*Thomas Andrews (of the United States) is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Myanmar soldiers. Credit: Anadolu Ajansi

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