EU Levels Third Wave Of Sanctions Against Myanmar; Is That Really All That Can Be Done?

A crucial update has occurred in the developing conflict going on in Myanmar. Following the February 1st military coup of Myanmar’s 10-year-old fledgling democracy, humanitarian concerns have caused the region to become a subject of international focus. While not only violently overthrowing the democratic government and detaining the democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar military has once again resumed the targeted killings of the Rohingya ethnic minority living within the region. These actions, while not only morally reprehensible, have also positioned the new Myanmar Regime directly against the United States and the European Union (EU). The Myanmar Regime’s direct conflict with the EU and the Liberal Hegemony has ultimately resulted in the EU’s third leveling of sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation.

Following the February 1st overthrow, the nation erupted into pro-democracy protests that prompted a military crackdown. While the military junta contests these activist group’s numbers, (suggesting that they are in fact much lower), Reuters cites the group’s observation that 860 people have been killed by the junta since February 1st and over 4500 people have been jailed. This clear and ever-mounting chaos has failed to be stopped by previous EU sanctions and diplomatic efforts, which previously formed a blacklist of various Myanmar military officials and government-owned businesses. While the current update has been expanded to address some 43 officials and six military-owned entities, it is important to note that these particular measures have been crafted to target the timber and gems economic sectors. As both of these sectors are currently under the junta’s control, the EU argues that “by targeting the gems and timber sectors, these measures are aimed at restricting the junta’s ability to profit from Myanmar’s natural resources, while being crafted so as to avoid undue harm to the people of Myanmar.” While the EU has also allocated 20.5 million euros in humanitarian aid to provide support to refugees from the crisis, other groups have begun to be skeptical about whether the European Union is doing enough for the region.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has begun to argue that the EU’s actions while signaling that they will continue to pressure the Myanmar junta are largely symbolic. They note how the three entities added to the list, Myanmar Gems Enterprise, Myanmar Timber Enterprise, and Forest Products Joint Venture Corporation, are only a small part of the regime’s foreign currency revenues. The FIDH instead points to Myanmar’s natural gas reserves which generate approximately an annual one billion U.S. dollars in revenue for the regime, or about one-third of the regime’s total income. This is the largest source of the regime’s income coming from the selling of Myanmar’s natural reserves to oil and gas giants such as Total (France based), Chevron (U.S.), Posco (South Korea), PTT (Thailand), China National Petroleum Corporation (China) or Petronas (Malaysia). It is important to note that of this list, three of the major giants are based in either EU members or close EU allies countries. Going even further, this list of sanctions has also failed to seize the military’s largest foreign stocks, foreign bank accounts, and central bank reserves. Ultimately, the FIDH argues that the EU’s actions are simply too timid, and instead calls for the “EU to work in coordination with like-minded jurisdictions to explore all options available, including the possibility to prohibit all financial transactions whose ultimate beneficiary is the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military].” While certain individuals might be taken aback by the aggressive approach and the potential that it might damage Myanmar’s people unduly, it is important to recognize that the points the FIDH have made challenge the credibility of the EU as an institution that is fully committed to the humanitarian wellbeing of the Myanmar people and Myanmar’s democracy.

While the list of the natural oil reserves was relatively short, it is important to recognize that three of the seven companies are housed in regions with “like-minded jurisdictions.” With that being said, it is fair to argue that such an attempt to limit those three companies directly profiteering from the exploitation of the Myanmar military, would be hindered by the massive political lobbying force that these oil corporations wield. What this means is that once again, the power that massive corporations hold over democratic institutions is obstructing the wellbeing of humanitarian citizens. This argument could also be extended to include the massive influence of private banking interests, and their obstructions to humanitarian aid. While all of that is a lot more speculatory, it must be noted that the current state of EU sanctions on the Tatmadaw is showing to have little effect.