Briefing | Sept. 19, 2019

Resetting Myanmar Policy

How the international community can support accountability and an inclusive democratic transition

Myanmar’s 2015 election, once heralded as a new political dawn following a half-century of brutal military rule, has not ushered in the golden age of civilian rule that many had anticipated. Instead the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, has maintained its economic and political power and escalated its campaigns of violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities with total impunity, all while stalling peace and broader economic reform. This has left the international community with a dilemma: how to advance accountability for human rights abuses while remaining politically engaged and promoting responsible economic development.

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On September 16th 2019, the United Nations-authorized Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) released its final report documenting the Tatmadaw’s systematic human rights abuses stretching back to 2011. Their findings build on its August 2019 report on Myanmar military economic enterprises which exposes the vast network of economic interests that underpin the military’s power. This report confirms how the Tatmadaw’s economic power contributes to its human rights abuses, including against the Rohingya, which it concluded amount to “crimes against humanity of inhumane acts and persecution” and warns that the Rohingya people remain “at serious risk of genocide”.

The UN-authorized report found that international governments and businesses must isolate the Tatmadaw economically in order to promote accountability, reduce the military’s economic base, and create conditions to incentivize the military to transition out of its dominant roles in Myanmar’s politics and economy.  The FFM also found that international actors engaging in any type of economic relationship with military-linked companies in Myanmar may be complicit in the Tatmadaw’s egregious abuses

Our latest briefing shows that targeted economic sanctions against senior members of Myanmar’s military and military-owned companies are crucial to combat the dominance of the military and undermine their ability to perpetrate campaigns of violence against the people of Myanmar. We provide specific recommendations on how the international community can limit the military’s power and respond to common arguments against the use of sanctions to further accountability for human rights abuses in Myanmar.

Key Findings

  • The Tatmadaw’s economic interests, including the private interests of senior leaders, are key to maintaining the military’s privileged position and allowing it to act with violent impunity against ethnic minorities
  • These military economic interests include two conglomerates directly controlled by the Tatmadaw, Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), as well as over 130 subsidiaries and affiliates
  • Over 60 foreign companies have direct commercial ties to these military companies, including 14 companies from 7 different countries that provide arms and military equipment that the Tatmadaw subsequently used to commit gross human rights violations
  • Companies engaging in economic relationships with military companies, especially those engaged in natural resource extraction, may be complicit in the Tatmadaw’s abuses


In order to reduce the Tatmadaw’s power and impunity and incentivize further democratic reforms, the international community should take the following steps:

  • Governments should impose financial sanctions and asset freezes against the Tatmadaw’s conglomerates and all of their subsidiaries and affiliates
  • Governments should impose targeted financial and travel sanctions on all individuals identified by credible bodies as perpetrators of serious human rights abuses in Myanmar
  • Businesses should avoid entering into commercial relationships with military and military-affiliated companies and terminate existing relationships

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