Two years ago this weekend, the military in Myanmar began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Killings, arson and sexual violence drove more than 745,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in camps across the border in Bangladesh, creating a human rights catastrophe and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. A fact-finding mission for the United Nations reported this past week that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, had been responsible for hundreds of gang rapes during the cleansing campaign, and that the Myanmar government was culpable “under the Genocide Convention for its failure to investigate and punish acts of genocide.”
Earlier this month, the U.N. mission revealed that the Tatmadaw is bankrolled by a web of about 200 foreign and domestic companies, providing vital support to the autonomous security forces. With the Rohingya still stranded in Bangladesh, it’s time that Western governments did more to hold the military and its backers to account.
Two domestic conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, collectively own at least 120 of the companies. Both are run by top military officials. In addition, more than a dozen firms from other countries — including China, Russia and North Korea — have supplied weaponry to the Tatmadaw. The U.N. report documents how the Tatmadaw leaned on “crony companies” to make donations to the military. More than $10 million was donated at three separate fundraising ceremonies sponsored by the Tatmadaw.
At one fundraiser, on Sept. 1, 2017, the week after the ethnic cleansing began, according to the report, Min Aung Hlaing, senior general and commander in chief, justified the actions of the Tatmadaw by calling the Rohingya “Bengali,” a spiteful code that has long been used to persecute the Rohingya and portray them as outsiders. Some of the money raised was used for construction of a border fence between Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh, a barrier intended to prevent the Rohingya from returning to their homes.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, was run by the military after a coup in 1962. The military junta was dissolved in 2011, and a nominally civilian government was installed. Aung San Suu Kyi, icon of steadfast resistance to the military and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, became Myanmar’s de facto head of state in 2016 after her party, the National League for Democracy, won elections. She proved unwilling or unable to rein in the 2017 military campaign against the Rohingya. The military has no civilian oversight, and it controls 25 percent of the seats in parliament, allowing it to block any constitutional change.
The U.N. report on mass rape noted that “Myanmar’s top two military officials remain in their positions of power despite the mission’s call for them to be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”
The United Nations has set a clear road map for how to move forward. The United States has already imposed sanctions on several top generals, including Min Aung Hlain. But the U.N. reports show that more could be done, including penalties and a boycott of the Tatmadaw’s economic base, especially the firms that operate outside the country. Two years after a wave of fire and violence consumed the Rohingya, there has been too much impunity and too little accountability.
— The Washington Post