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Myanmar's foreign arms trade fuels abuses

U.N.-sponsored human rights investigators reported Myanmar relied on its arms trade with seven nations to fund a military campaign against Rohingyas.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — An independent team of U.N.-sponsored human rights investigators reported on Monday that Myanmar relied on its arms trade with seven nations to fund a military-planned campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against its Muslim Rohingya population.

The U.N.'s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged the international community to sever ties with Myanmar’s military and its network of defense contractors in China, Israel, North Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Ukraine.

The three-member U.N. panel said the revenues that the military receives from domestic and foreign deals enables operations in which Myanmar soldiers carry out gross violations of human rights with impunity.

Panel members recommended in their 111-page report that the U.N. Security Council and the U.N.'s 193 member nations should immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military. The report also recommends that nations impose an arms embargo and cites at least 14 foreign firms from seven nations that have supplied fighter jets, armored combat vehicles, warships, missiles and missile launchers to Myanmar since 2016.

The nation's military, known as Tatmadaw, has in the past several years forcibly deported more than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh and perpetrated other systematic human rights violations against Myanmar civilians in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, the panel said.

“The implementation of the recommendations in this report will erode the economic base of the military, undercut its obstruction of the reform process, impair its ability to carry out military operations without oversight and thus reduce violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and serve as a form of accountability in the short-term,” said Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general who heads the U.N. fact-finding panel.

A little more than a year ago, the three independent experts returned from five days in Bangladesh where they met newly arrived Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who had fled from a military-led campaign of mass killings, rape and destruction in their villages.

A web of foreign businesses implicated

The panel said Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, both owned and influenced by senior military leaders, operate at least 120 businesses involved in everything from construction to pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, insurance, tourism and banking. The panel's final report goes to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.

Both companies and at least 26 subsidiaries, it said, hold licenses for jade and ruby mining in Kachin and Shan states, where human rights and humanitarian law violations, including forced labor and sexual violence, have been carried out by the military in connection with businesses.

Another panel member, Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka, a former special envoy of the U.N. Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, said that because of the military's involvement in jade and ruby mining in northern Myanmar, "businesses and consumers should conduct heightened due diligence to ensure that they are not purchasing, selling, trading or otherwise using gems produced or sold by enterprises owned or influenced by the Tatmadaw."

The report said 45 companies and organizations in Myanmar donated over US$10 million to the military in the weeks after the start of 2017's so-called clearance operations in Rakhine State.

“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,” said the panel's third member, Christopher Sidoti, a former Australian human rights commissioner.

Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United States already have imposed sanctions on senior Myanmar military officers, and the E.U. also has been weighing a move to deny Myanmar's tariff-free access to E.U. markets, which constitute the world's largest trading bloc.