UN mission wants sanctions on Myanmar’s military firms 

A United Nations delegation says businesses run by Myanmar’s generals are financing military operations, such as violence against ethnic minorities, particularly in Rakhine State. 

The UN mission called for targeted sanctions on the companies and an embargo on weapons sales to the country, one of Asean’s fastest-growing economies.

It said companies with known military links financed development projects that furthered the generals’ “objective of re-engineering the region in a way that erases evidence of Rohingya belonging to Myanmar”. 

“The revenues the military earns from domestic and foreign business deals substantially enhances its ability to carry out gross violations of human rights with impunity,” the delegation said.

Asean was warned that its credibility could be undermined if it failed to act over the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State. 

The UN study detailed how 45 organisations in Myanmar donated over US$10 million to the military after the August 2017 military clearance operations began in Rakhine State.

The report said at least 59 firms, including employers from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Hong Kong and China, were trading with military-owned enterprises. 

It also named at least 14 companies that had sold weaponry, including state-owned businesses from Israel, India, South Korea and China.

The 111-page report focused on the military’s two main conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings and Myanmar Economic Corp, which are holding companies with interests in areas like gems, copper, pharmaceuticals and clothing.

The UN panel has previously said the military leaders in charge of the two conglomerates should be investigated for genocide and war crimes.

Marzuki Darusman, the chairman of the UN mission, said Asean’s response to the Rohingya crisis had been “agonisingly slow”.

“If this stigma continues to hang over Asean, then I think there will be serious doubts about the whole idea of Asean. This is not just the governments of Asean that are at stake, it is the whole notion of Asean that is now on the line,” he told the media in Jakarta.

The world needed to do more to restrict the Burmese military’s funding through sanctions and by encouraging firms to do business with firms not owned by the generals, Darusman added. 

“This will foster the continued liberalisation and growth of Myanmar’s economy, including its natural resource sector, but in a manner that contributes to accountability, equity and transparency for its population,” the envoy said.

The International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary investigation into rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.


The military dominates many aspects of Burmese society. Picture credit: Asean Economist