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CSW welcomes UK government sanctions targeting military and suspension of trade

26 Mar 2021

CSW welcomes the UK government’s announcement of sanctions against Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL), owned by the military junta in Myanmar/Burma, for its involvement in serious human rights violations against the Rohingya minority and its association with senior military figures.

The measures, which have been applied under the UK’s Global Human Rights sanctions regime, were applied in coordination with the US administration, which is taking similar action. The UK has also suspended all promotion of trade with Myanmar temporarily.

According to the UK government statement: “The designation is in response to evidence that MEHL contributed funds to support the country’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, in their campaign on ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in 2017, having reasonable cause to suspect that the funds would or may contribute to the serious human rights violations committed, and that MEHL is associated with the Commander in Chief and Deputy Commander in Chief.”

In August 2017, the Myanmar army launched attacks on Rohingya villages and civilians which resulted in over 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh, thousands killed, and hundreds of villages burned. Reports of the atrocities of mass violence perpetrated during this period include the burning of homes, schools and mosques, the deliberate burning of people to death inside their homes, mass rape, torture, execution without trial, and the blocking of aid.

The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has said that the violence against the Rohingya has the “hallmarks” of genocide; the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission established by the UN Human Rights Council claims to have documented evidence of genocide; and in January 2020 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling ordering the government of Myanmar to take immediate “provisional measures” to prevent genocide against the Rohingya.

As the result of a 1982 Citizenship Law, which remains in force even though Rohingyas have existed in Myanmar for centuries, Rohingyas are still denied their citizenship rights, rendering them effectively stateless.

On 1 February 2021 the army, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power in a coup, declaring a year-long state of emergency and placing the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other civilian leaders under house arrest.

The coup sparked widespread national protests, marches and walk-outs which have been met with a heavy-handed and violent response from the Myanmar army and police, involving water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 286 people have been killed, although the real death toll is believed to be higher, and 2,906 people have been arrested and detained.

It is hoped that sanctions targeting individual officers and sources of funding such as MEHL will help to curb the military’s power to repress civilians.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s Senior Analyst for East Asia and author of three books on Myanmar/Burma, said: “We very much welcome these new sanctions imposed by the UK and the US. They represent precisely the targeted measures against the military and its enterprises for which we have long advocated. Only when the military feels real pressure and only when its interests are directly affected will there be any prospect of them re-thinking their current position. We need to exert every possible measure targeted at the military to pressure them to step back, restore the democratically elected representatives of the people to their legitimate positions and then begin a process of dialogue and reconciliation to chart a new and inclusive future for the country, one which includes equal rights for all peoples in Myanmar/Burma, genuine democracy for all and a path to meaningful peace.”



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