UN rights expert exposes $1 billion ‘death trade’ in arms for Myanmar military
The Myanmar military has imported at least $1 billion in arms and raw materials to manufacture weapons since generals staged their coup in February 2021, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the UN-appointed independent expert monitoring and investigating human rights abuses in the country.
The report states that some “UN Member States are enabling this trade” through a combination of outright complicity, lax enforcement of existing bans, and easily circumvented sanctions, according to a news release from the UN rights office OHCHR.
Access to advanced weaponry
“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 and manufacturing equipment for domestic weapons production,” said UN Special Rapporteur, Tom Andrews.
“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,” the expert said.
Plea to governments
While calling for a complete ban on the sale or transfer of weapons to the Myanmar military, Mr. Andrews pleaded for governments to enforce existing bans while coordinating sanctions on arms dealers and foreign currency sources.
The UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert’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, said OHCHR.
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.
“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 coup, with much of the trade originating from state-owned entities”, Mr. Andrews said.
“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).”
The report reveals that $254 million 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.
Mr. Andrews recalled that the Government of Singapore has stated 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.
The report also documents $28 million 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.
Spotlight on sanctions ‘failure’
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.
Weapons trade can be derailed
“By expanding and retooling sanctions and eliminating loopholes, governments can disrupt junta-linked weapons dealers,” Mr. 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 Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise,” Mr. Andrews said.
Special Rapporteurs and other UN Human Rights Council-appointed rights experts, work on a voluntary and unpaid basis, are not UN staff, and work independently from any government or organisation.