On August 25th, 2017, the government of Myanmar launched a large-scale military operation in Rakhine state ostensibly to combat a small group of Rohingya militants. By all accounts, however, the Rohingya civilian population has suffered what amounts to collective punishment as the army pursues a scorched earth policy throughout the area; burning entire villages, and displacing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and some estimates of the casualties run as high as 3,000 civilian deaths.
Collective punishment is a war crime, and many observers characterize Myanmar’s severe persecution of the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya population in Rakhine state has been reduced by approximately 30% in the less than 3 weeks since the military operation began. It is difficult to not view what is happening as full-blown genocide.
Yet, multinational corporations and foreign investors from all over the world continue to flock to Myanmar hoping to benefit from that country’s untapped resources, many of which are found in precisely the same areas where military atrocities are taking place. Indeed, the government in Yangon announced plans to build a Special Economic Zone in Maungdaw township, even as Rohingya inhabitants were being driven out, and their homes being burnt to the ground.
Does the international business community approve of what is happening in Rakhine? Are they satisfied to extract oil and gas and minerals from Rakhine’s soil covered in Rohingya blood? Will they develop tourist resorts tomorrow on the beaches where today thousands of displaced families are huddled fearing for their lives? Can they, in good conscience, erect their factories and warehouses and office buildings on land from which innocent Rohingya have been driven out by horrific violence? When every dollar of investment they pump into Myanmar inoculates the government from censure, how can the international business community avoid the charge of willing complicity with genocide?
We call upon major corporations and investors to display moral leadership in this time of urgent need; to refuse partnership with a government actively engaged in ethnic cleansing, and to use their considerable influence to turn the regime away from the path of genocide.
We say to those companies investing in Myanmar: Do not let your brand become associated with war crimes; do not let your company become complicit in crimes against humanity; do not let your shareholders become accomplices to genocide. In Myanmar today, the price of profitability is innocent blood, and no business should be willing to pay that price.