The Myanmar army, which has been accused of carrying out crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim community, procured tens of thousands of pounds worth of technology from a UK company, according to a UN report.
In a detailed six-month investigation by the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar into the multibillion-dollar economic network controlled by, and funding, the military, known as the Tatmadaw, it was revealed that British technology company Veripos was among the foreign companies who signed a deal to provide sophisticated navigation system technology.
The deal, which was disclosed in the proposed 2018/2019 defence budget of the Myanmar military was worth 136,000,000 Myanmar Kyats (£74,050).
In a statement to the Guardian, Veripos said: “Through an intermediary in Singapore, Veripos provided GPS products to the Myanmar Naval Hydrographic Center between 2014 and 2017 in compliance with applicable legislation and regulation.”
“Our products are used for civil marine applications, eg hydrographic survey. Veripos remains committed to the highest standards of ethical behaviour and will abide by any regulations provided by the United Nations as a result of this report.”
The Tatmadaw was the orchestrator of a violent crackdown against Rohingya muslims living in Rahkine state in August 2017, when villages were razed, tens of thousands were killed, women were raped and 700,000 fled over the border to Bangladesh.
A first report in 2018 by the UN fact-finding mission concluded that in Rahkine state, the security forces had carried out gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity, and that the military’s targeting of the Rohingya had “genocidal intent”.
The report was clear in its condemnation of the foreign companies doing business with the military in Myanmar in any capacity. “Any foreign business activity involving the Tatmadaw … poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” it said.
Overall, it found 59 foreign companies with joint ventures or commercial ties to the Tatmadaw.
Veripos, an organisation based in Aberdeen that usually provides navigation technology to locate offshore oil and gas locations, was among several western companies implicated in the report for supplying the Myanmar military, with companies from Belgium, France, Canada, Austria and Norway also named.
State-owned and private firms from China, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, India, the Philippines and Israel were meanwhile shown to be significant sellers of arms and military equipment to the Tatmadaw, from fighter jets and warships to ballistic missile systems, handguns and combat vehicles, in deals worth billions that were drawn up as the military were already carrying out their violent clearance operations.
The UN fact-finding mission’s report into Tatmadaw finances laid out how its business empire is made up of two giant holding companies, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), each owned and run by senior Tatmadaw leaders. Collectively these two conglomerates control 120 Myanmar businesses, some with multibillion dollar turnovers.
The income of the Tatmadaw’s autonomous business empire was in 2017 estimated to be upwards of £98bn, generated through everything from jade, ruby and gold mining to finance, tourism, transport, construction, food and beverages, agriculture and insurance.
“The military operates as a state within the state but it’s even more than that: in so many respects, it is the state in Myanmar,” said Christopher Sidoti, one of the UN mission experts. “It remains the dominant economic and political player, and that’s the fundamental problem confronting the future of the country. Until the military do not have this economic power, there can be no serious future for human rights in the country.”
“We would like to see, and have recommended, a full arms embargo imposed by the UN security council so that it is crystal clear that any arms deal with Myanmar is suspect,” said Sidoti.
The report also revealed that within Myanmar, after the 2017 crackdown in Rahkine, the military went on a fundraising drive and secured over £8m in donations from some of the biggest corporations in Myanmar to support their operations against the Rohingya, including the construction of a border wall.
A statement from Myanmar foreign ministry said: “Myanmar opposed the establishment of the fact-finding mission by the Human Rights Council as it was based on unfounded allegations. We have made our position abundantly clear and we do not recognise the report of the FFM.”