UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar said Wednesday that Myanmar's military has imported at least a $1 billion worth of weapons and weapons materials since overthrowing the democratically elected government in February 2021, with Russia as the junta's top supplier.
"Russia and China continue to be the main suppliers of advanced weapons systems to the Myanmar military, accounting for over $400 million and $260 million respectively since the coup, with much of the trade originating from state-owned entities," Tom Andrews said.
He told reporters at a news conference at U.N. headquarters that weaponry provided by Russian suppliers has been used to commit probable war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar.
"These weapons, and the materials to manufacture more of them, have continued to flow uninterrupted to the Myanmar military despite overwhelming evidence of its responsibility for atrocity crimes," he said.
The military seized power on February 1, 2021, alleging massive election fraud after their political party gained only 33 of 498 contested parliament seats. Since then, the U.N. human rights office says at least 3,000 civilians have been killed, more than 17,500 detained and more than a million displaced as the military pursues its brutal crackdown to retain power. The United Nations says at least 17.6 million people in Myanmar require humanitarian assistance.
The special rapporteur presented his latest report, "The Billion Dollar Death Trade: International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar," in which he used both private and public sources, including trade databases, to identify more than 12,500 unique purchases or recorded shipments from multiple sources directly to the junta or known Myanmar arms dealers working on the military's behalf.
The networks and companies he identified in these transfers operate in Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand and India.
"The diversity and volume of goods provided to the Myanmar military since the coup is staggering," Andrews told reporters. "I identified fighter jets, attack helicopters, reconnaissance and attack drones, missile systems, tank upgrades, radio and communications equipment, radar complexes, and components for naval ships."
Moscow is by far Myanmar's largest arms dealer, conducting more than $400 million in transfers from 28 Russian entities, including from state-owned ones, since the February 2021 coup. The report says 16 of those suppliers have been sanctioned by some countries for their role in Russia's war in Ukraine.
The special rapporteur says more than half of the confirmed arms exports from Russia to the junta come from the state-controlled Rosoboronexport. It has shipped at least $227 million worth of equipment and materials to the Myanmar military since the coup, including SU-30 fighter jets and rocket launch systems, as well as supplies for MiG-29 fighter jets.
"The Russian Mi-35 helicopter was reported to be the most sighted aircraft, including in strikes against schools, medical facilities, and civilian homes and infrastructure," Andrews says in his report. "MiG-29 and Yak-130 aircraft have also been used extensively since the coup, with Yak-130 jet fighters seen in attacks in Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Mon, and Shan States and Sagaing Region."
Andrews, an independent human rights expert, whose mandate comes from the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, says under international humanitarian law, Russia has an obligation to deny further transfers of its weapons, since it should know the Myanmar military is systematically committing violations of international humanitarian law with them.
Chinese entities, including state-owned ones, are the second-largest supplier to Myanmar's military, having sent $267 million in spare parts, communications equipment, missiles, tanks and fighter jets, which Andrews says also violates international arms treaties and conventions.
The special rapporteur said he presented his findings to the countries identified in his report, including Russia and China.
"In all cases, there was not a specific rebuttal about any of the facts that I have identified from anybody," he said.
An emailed request for comment from VOA to the Russian mission early Wednesday was unanswered as this story was published.
Regional arms flows
ASEAN members Singapore and Thailand both supported the regional bloc's "five-point consensus" for ending the fighting in Myanmar and moving toward talks, as well as a 2021 U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on nations not to arm Myanmar. But while Andrews emphasized the governments are not implicated in his report, arms dealers have extensively used their banking and shipping sectors to facilitate hundreds of millions of dollars in arms transfers.
The special rapporteur says Singapore has become a major hub for spare parts, raw materials, and manufacturing equipment sent to the Myanmar military that feed its domestic arms factories. Transactions have totaled at least $254 million since the coup. Its banks have been used extensively by arms dealers. Thailand-based entities have conducted $28 million in arms transfers.
He said both countries have received his report and are looking into it.
Neighbor India is also called out for supplying $51 million worth of arms and related materials to the military since the coup. The special rapporteur says both Indian state-owned and private entities are involved in the weapons transfers.
In the report, India told the special rapporteur that it shares a 1,700-kilometer-long border with Myanmar, and any arms transfers that may have been made to Myanmar were based on commitments made to the civilian government before the coup and centered upon India's domestic security concerns. But Andrews says shipments continued after the coup.
The Myanmar military does not try to hide its purchases. More than $947 million of arms-related trade Andrews identified went directly to entities controlled by the Myanmar military. An additional $58 million was funneled through Myanmar-based military suppliers or sanctioned arms dealers.
Despite Western economic sanctions and arms embargoes, and a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on all member states "to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar," Andrews says aircraft, weapons and other materials continue to get to the junta because of poorly coordinated international sanctions.
"If you don't enforce sanctions, you don't have sanctions," he said.
He also urged countries to target the source of the military's foreign currency, which it uses to purchase weapons — specifically its lucrative oil and gas sector — and to sanction its foreign trade bank.
"We know that these weapons transfers — we know where they are going and we know how they are being used," Andrews said. "Since we know how they are being used, we have an obligation to stop aiding and abetting these human rights violations." [VOA/NS]