The United States, United Kingdom, and Canada today announced additional sanctions on the military junta that overthrew Myanmar’s legitimate government on 1 February 2021 in response to ongoing human rights abuses being committed by the military against the people of Myanmar.

All three countries placed sanctions on Myanmar’s Directorate of Defense Industries, Quartermaster Generals Office, and the Myanmar War Veteran’s Organization. The UK and Canada additionally placed sanctions on the Directorate of Defense Procurement, while the US additionally sanctioned four individuals: the military appointed Chief Ministers of Bago Region, Mandalay Region, Kayah State, and Kachin State.

Global Witness welcomes these sanctions – they are a necessary response to the mounting atrocities committed by the Myanmar military over the past months and target entities responsible for acquiring the weapons used by the junta to commit widespread human rights abuses against the people of Myanmar. These sanctions are a reminder that the international community will continue to stand up to those who commit or facilitate serious human rights abuses.

However, the sanctions announced today also highlight the weaknesses in all three nations’ approach.

While these sanctions are an important message of solidarity with Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, they are unlikely to materially impact the military junta’s bottom line. Missing is any action that targets Myanmar’s gas industry, which continues to provide the single largest source of badly needed foreign currency for the military as it expropriates cash meant to go to the legitimate government. The billion-dollar annual revenue generated by the sales of gas to Thailand and China have not been restricted, with international gas companies and banks continuing to make and facilitate payments to junta-controlled bank accounts.  

At the same time, the international community, including important US partners, continue to sell arms to the military junta while well-known business allies of the military take well-documented jaunts to Moscow to purchase helicopters.

None of the potential targets in the gas sector, financial industry, or crony economy were included on sanctions lists today.

“It is time for the international community to make a choice,” says Paul Donowitz, Strategy Lead at Global Witness. “Do nation’s want their sanctions policies to drive meaningful change in Myanmar, or are they content with occasional announcements that ‘send a message’ and drive positive media coverage for a few days? We can only hope that the future actions demonstrate the former.”