Several EU countries are considering expanding sanctions against Myanmar in the wake of calls from the United Nations for senior military officials from the country to be investigated for genocide against the Rohingya population.
The EU has already placed sanctions — including a travel ban and asset freezes — on seven senior officials accused of committing serious human rights abuses against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
But mounting evidence of human rights violations — coupled with the sentencing of two Reuters journalists to seven years in jail over their investigation into the killing of Rohingya villagers in Rakhine State — has sparked fresh calls for extra sanctions, three EU officials briefed on the discussions told POLITICO.
So far this year, more than 11,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh. And ever since a military crackdown took place in the country in August last year 700,000 members of the Muslim minority have escaped Rakhine state in the north.
Members of the Rohingya minority, including a senior member of the Rohingya National Political Party for Development, will travel to Brussels Monday to push EU countries and the European Commission to implement punitive measures against businesses linked to Myanmar’s military.
“The genocide is not over, it’s continuing” — Kyaw Win, executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network
One option is to enforce sanctions on businesses operating under the umbrella of The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corp., two sprawling holding companies with investments in precious gems, copper, gold, clothing, cement and MyTel, one of the country’s largest telecoms companies.
Countries such as the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands have so far held back from applying sanctions of this nature against Myanmar for fear of undermining the economy, two EU officials briefed on the discussions said.
“At this stage we do not support financial or trade sanctions as we believe it will disrupt the financial system and could harm economic development across the country,” said one diplomat.
Another option, which could stand alone or be coupled with economic sanctions, is to implement asset freezes and travel bans on the country’s top officials — Senior Genreral Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s military, and General Soe Win, his deputy.
“The European Union has already taken measures against seven individuals responsible for or associated with serious human rights violations in Rakhine State and will continue to monitor the situation and keep its decision under constant review,” a Commission spokesperson said.
“As with any decision concerning EU sanctions, a decision would have to be taken by unanimity among the EU member states in the [European] Council.”
Still, momentum is now building among some countries to revisit the current sanctions. Last week, Britain’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs that he would rally countries at the U.N. to bring members of Myanmar’s military to justice at the International Criminal Court. And a spokesperson for the German Foreign Office also said this week in reaction to the jailing of the Reuters journalists that it was “examining the way forward with our partners.”
The EU is expected to propose a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar at a U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva this coming week. Commission and External Action Service (EEAS) officials also recently received experts from the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, following a report that found serious allegations of crimes committed under international law warranting investigation and prosecution.
The government in Myanmar, meanwhile, has rejected all accusations levied against it and maintains it has pursued a legitimate counter-insurgency operation after coming under attack by Rohingya militants last year.
Kyaw Win, executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network, said the failure of the EU to impose new sanctions — including those against businesses linked to the military — would only increase the likelihood of more Rohingya being killed.
“The genocide is not over, it’s continuing,” he said in a phone interview from London. “Every day we delay, it’s causing someone’s life in Burma.” He added there are still 500,000 Rohingya left inside Myanmar who are at risk.
Placing sanctions on The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corp. would would act as the biggest deterrent to date in stopping the persecution of the Rohingya, according to Win.
“The Burma fact-finding mission had released a summary report. We have the summary and are examining that,” said an EU diplomat briefed on the discussions surrounding new sanctions on Myanmar. “The report includes a recommendation on further sanctions and we are now considering our response to it.”
This article has been updated.