Western firms facilitating production of Myanmar junta’s weapons, says report

Independent experts find western-supplied materials are still finding their way into military’s hands

Companies in 13 countries across Europe, Asia and North America are assisting Myanmar’s junta – either indirectly or directly – by supplying materials to the stated-owned entity that produces the military’s weapons, a report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) has found.

The weapons are then being used to commit human rights atrocities.

The military forcibly took control of Myanmar in February 2021. It has since killed more than 2,730 people and arrested more than 17,200 in an attempt to eradicate resistance. Reports of airstrikes, villages being burned down and children being tortured have become synonymous with the junta, which faces a genocide investigation by the international court of justice.

“The fact that weapons used in … attacks have links to countries who are claiming ‘impartiality’ in the face of brutal and widespread repression of democratic aspirations is simply scandalous,” said Dr Gerard McCarthy, an assistant professor at the International Institute of Social Studies, who specialises in the politics of welfare and development in south-east Asia.

The report by the SAC-M found – through interviews and analysis of shipping records and leaked documents – that dozens of companies based in Austria, France, China, Singapore, India, Israel, Ukraine, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US were supplying raw materials, machines, technology and parts to the Directorate of Defence Industries (DDI), a state-owned company responsible for producing military equipment for Myanmar’s armed forces.

“It’s more or less a military-owned enterprise,” said Yanghee Lee, a former UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar and founder of the SAC-M, which is a group of independent experts, including former UN officials, who came together after the coup to advocate on behalf of the democratic movement in the country.

She added that the DDI could use these imported supplies “to suppress and commit human rights violations, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”.

The SAC-M called on the companies, whether directly or indirectly doing business with the military and associated entities, to stop.

Among those, the Austrian company GFM Steyr is believed to have provided computer numerical control machines for the manufacturing of gun barrels. Dassault Systèmes in France is said to have supplied 3D electromagnetic simulation and analysis software, and computer aided design (CAD) software for 3D modelling. The Germany-based Siemens Digital Industries Software is thought to have provided multiple types of software, and Ukraine’s Ukrspecexport is believed to have supplied types of transfer technology for the production of 2SIU self-propelled howitzers, BTR-4 armoured personnel carriers and MMT-40 light tanks.

Lee said that if these companies were not doing business directly with the DDI, they should investigate how their products had inadvertently ended up being used for the manufacturing of arms by the military in Myanmar.

The companies referred to above did not respond to requests for comment.

Countries also have a role in ensuring their companies are not inadvertently facilitating human rights violations, according to the report. “Failing to do so makes them complicit in the Myanmar military’s barbaric crimes,” Lee said.

“The hypocrisy here is mammoth,” McCarthy said. Myanmar’s democratically elected National Unity government had been “stonewalled internationally” in its attempts to procure defence capabilities, he said. “Yet many of the same countries claiming not to want to ‘intervene’ in Myanmar are turning a blind eye to their own companies directly and indirectly arming the dictatorship.”

Austria’s ministry of labour and economy said it had not issued export licences to the defence industry in recent years and had “no knowledge” of deliveries of military items or dual-use goods to Myanmar from Austrian companies.

A spokesperson at Singapore’s ministry of foreign affairs said it did not authorise the transfer of arms or items with potential military application to Myanmar.

“In addition, Singapore submits reports to the UN register of conventional arms on international arms transfers every year,” the spokesperson said, adding that the register did not include Myanmar.

“We will not hesitate to take action against those who contravene our laws.”


Rebecca Root in Bangkok

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Police in Myanmar occupy hospitals as unions call for national strike
Police target outlet after hospitals stormed on Sunday night amid call for strike in protest at coup

Guardian reporter in Yangon and Michael Safi

08, Mar, 2021 @2:56 PM

Article image
Rise of armed civilian groups in Myanmar fuels fears of full-scale civil war
Dozens of grassroots people’s defence forces have emerged to take on brutal military

Reporter in Yangon and Rebecca Ratcliffe in Bangkok

01, Jun, 2021 @12:00 AM

Article image
Myanmar celebrity model arrested as military targets public figures
Social media accounts of Paing Takhon, who has a huge online following, are taken down following anti-coup comments

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent, and Helen Davidson

08, Apr, 2021 @5:56 AM

Article image
Tourists urged to avoid Myanmar as junta prepares to reopen to world
Travel agents and aid workers raise issues of safety and note that tourism dollars will only benefit the ruling military

Rebecca Root in Bangkok

03, Apr, 2022 @11:59 PM

Article image
Ties with Myanmar military put pressure on western companies
Activists criticise oil and gas companies that have set up highly profitable joint ventures with army chiefs to exploit mineral resources

Martin Farrer and Ben Doherty

12, Feb, 2021 @1:19 AM

Article image
Myanmar junta hit by western sanctions as ‘silent strikes’ mark coup anniversary
The UK, US, Canada and Australia have announced a range of measures aimed at punishing Myanmar’s military

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

01, Feb, 2023 @12:50 PM

Article image
Myanmar executions: US presses China to rein in junta, saying it cannot be ‘business as usual’
State department says military government in Yangon has not faced enough economic and diplomatic pressure, amid global outrage at killings

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent, and agencies

26, Jul, 2022 @9:55 AM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi moved to solitary confinement, says Myanmar junta
Ousted leader, held at secret location for past year, charged with at least 20 offences and could spend rest of life in jail

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

23, Jun, 2022 @9:43 AM

Article image
Widespread abuses since Myanmar coup may amount to war crimes, says UN report
UN rights office warns military has shown ‘flagrant disregard for human life’ and has deliberately targeted civilians since it seized power on 1 February 2021

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

16, Mar, 2022 @9:56 AM

Article image
'Not guilty of anything': the Australian adviser detained in Myanmar
Prof Sean Turnell is close to ousted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and was taken by military in the days after the coup

Ben Doherty and a Guardian reporter in Yangon

09, Feb, 2021 @7:00 PM