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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

UK sanctions top Myanmar generals over human rights

MYANMAR TIMES
THOMPSON CHAUSWE LEI MON
07 JUL 2020
 Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (centre left) on his barefoot arrives at Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah, the site where the last Moghul King Bahadur Shah Zafar was buried. Photo: EPA-EFE

The UK has stressed its continued support for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government while imposing limited sanctions against Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy Soe Win for their alleged role in leading human rights abuses against ethnic groups.

The sanctions, announced on July 6, freeze any assets that Myanmar’s top two generals may have in the UK and impose a visa ban. London said the commanders were targeted for their role “in the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.”

The sanctions will have a limited impact on the Tatmadaw as they do not specifically target the vast business operations controlled or influenced by the two generals. But statements from London demonstrate that having left the European Union the UK intends to try and follow a more distinct foreign policy towards its former colony.

EU sanctions against Myanmar’s military have so far targeted less senior military figures directly involved in the 2017 operations that drove hundreds of thousands of mostly stateless Muslims out of Rakhine State into Bangladesh. Nonetheless the EU is reviewing whether to end Myanmar’s privileged trade access, a move that would severely damage its garment exports, while the UK has firmly indicated that it will maintain those benefits.

The new UK measures in effect reaffirm London’s commitment to the Southeast Asian country by supporting economic reforms and opening up sectors such as education, financial and professional services, infrastructure and energy while targeting individuals responsible for rights abuses and distancing the UK from Tatmadaw businesses.

“These sanctions target specific individuals involved in serious human rights violations, as highlighted by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. The designations are not aimed at countries or governments,” a British embassy spokesperson told The Myanmar Times.

The spokesperson emphasised that Britain “remains committed to supporting Myanmar on its path towards a more peaceful, prosperous society… We will continue to work with the civilian government to help achieve this, including through our substantial support from UK aid to help the poorest and most vulnerable in Myanmar.”

The UK’s affirmation of its support for de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi comes just four months before the general elections when her National League for Democracy party will seek a second five-year term in government.

In response to the UK sanctions, Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun denied accusations of human rights abuses and said: “It seems they [Britain] made the sanctions politically” and “so the Tatmadaw has nothing to say on it and the Myanmar Military will keep serving its duties with full accountability.”

The government and the office of the president made no immediate comment on the UK sanctions.

“For years, some of Burma’s top military figures have been drinking in the last chance saloon,” commented Lord Alton of Liverpool, a crossbencher who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma as vice chair.

“They have been repeatedly warned that they would be held to account for atrocities and crimes against humanity. Now the warnings from the British Government are over and the condemnations and rhetoric are being matched by targeted sanctions,” he said.

But a local rights group, Justice for Myanmar, said the sanctions needed to go further.

The group’s spokesperson Yadanar Maung called the moves “a first step in the right direction” but added that “if [the] UK is really serious, it must make concerted efforts to sanction the military as an institution and their business network.”

“Justice For Myanmar calls on the UK to implement a serious and comprehensive sanctions regime against the Myanmar military leadership, military businesses, directors and shareholders and the military as an institution,” he said.

In late 2019 then aid minister Zac Goldsmith said the UK’s Department for International Development had asked its partners to review their supply chains to ensure UK money was not being spent on military companies. The decision came after the report by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission released last August calling for investors to cut ties with all army-linked businesses in response to the 2017 crackdown in northern Rakhine.

Paul Scully, the UK Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Myanmar, said on a visit to Myanmar this year that the British government was committed to helping Myanmar beef up corporate governance and ensure businesses work responsibly.

Individuals and organisations from Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea accused of human rights abuses were also sanctioned by the UK in a package of measures announced on Monday.

Lord Alton told The Myanmar Times: “How much better it would be for everyone if Burma’s leadership returned to the path of reform and national renewal - building respect for diversity and difference.”

“A nation’s army is indispensable to its security and international standing but when it becomes an instrument of repression and violence it forfeits respect and its leadership must accept the consequences,” the crossbencher added

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