“Time for India to speak up against human rights violations in Myanmar”

Indian government & big businesses remain silent on coup & military excesses


March 25, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

“Time for India to speak up against human rights violations in Myanmar”

At least 40 journalists had been arrested in Myanmar, as of March 12, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (PTI Photo)

Indian government as well as businesses’ ambivalence in condemning the military coup in Myanmar raises several questions, including the most fundamental one on silence of world’s largest democracy on the murder of democracy in its neighbourhood.

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Ever since the military coup on February 1 that displaced the elected government of Aung San Suu Kii, Myanmar has been in the grip of widespread protests and a nationwide civil disobedience campaign that the military has tried to crush firmly. But though nearly 200 persons have been killed so far and over 2100 imprisoned, the protests show no signs of dying out.

The military also called the Tatmadaw, has also continued its crackdown on the media, arresting journalists and raiding newspaper and magazine offices. At least 40 journalists had been arrested as of March 12, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a Myanmar-headquartered independent non-profit organisation that reports on political prisoners globally.

The junta’s response to the protests, including the use of live ammunition and detentions, has drawn condemnation from across the globe. But India, which shares a 1643 km long border with Myanmar and is the world’s largest democracy has barely reacted to the events across the border. “So far, India has only made cautious remarks about the violence and situation of Myanmar,” according to Anil Upadhayay, a Delhi-based professor of Political Science at a private college.

Early this week, after Myanmar police fired on protesters and killed at least 18 people, the Indian embassy said in a tweet “We would urge all to exercise restraint and resolve issues through dialogue in a peaceful manner.”

In statements, way back on February 1 and February 2, India had only condemned the acts of violence and called for the democratic process to be upheld. “Restoring democratic order should be the priority of all stakeholders in Myanmar,” said T S Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Money and military

Upadhyay explains that India has provided developmental assistance of more than USD 1.75 billion to Myanmar and is currently involved in developing the nearly USD 400 million Kaladan port and highway project in the western part of the country.

It is also putting in around USD 250 million for another road project to connect India’s landlocked northeastern states with Thailand, via Myanmar.

“India is taking a cautious approach in its response to the military coup in neighbouring Myanmar as it must be worried about the future of projects worth about USD 650 million and reluctant to openly denounce generals who could move closer to its rival China. There is a lot of Indian money involved in it and that is why India is very cautious about what it says,” says Upadhayay.

Upadhyay’s claims are backed by a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2019 by a fact-finding mission on Myanmar. It concluded that a few foreign companies, through their commercial partnerships with the Tatmadaw or the Myanmar military, have contributed to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Myanmar.

Indian companies, too, feature in this list of foreign entities doing business with the Tatmadaw. According to a list, published by Burma Campaign UK (BCUK), eight Indian companies have (or had) commercial relations with the Tatmadaw and associated entities. These include both private and state-owned firms that have either sold military hardware to the Myanmar military or have business ties with military-owned firms.

Of these, three are state-owned, namely Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) and Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL). All of them have manufactured (or refitted) military-wares for the Tatmadaw, including Shyena lightweight torpedoes, helicopters and a submarine. Among the private companies, Tata Group and Larsen and Toubro (L&T) have built troop carrier vehicles and torpedoes respectively for the Tatmadaw.

Of the other private Indian firms, Adani Group and Infosys currently have contractual commercial relationships with MEC and MEHL, as also noted by the mission. While Adani is developing the USD 290 million Ahlone International Port Terminal 2 along the Yangon River on land leased from the MEC, Infosys is doing business through its EdgeVerve Systems with Myawaddy Bank, a subsidiary of MEHL. According to a September 2020 Amnesty International report, the MEHL has financed “military units that are implicated in crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.”

Indian companies remain silent too

Following the coup, both Adani Group and Infosys have said that they are “watching the situation in Myanmar carefully” and “reviewing the international community’s response,” but are yet to take any concrete action. Three major foreign companies – Japan’s Kirin Holdings and Suzuki Motors, as well as Thailand’s Amata – have already suspended their commercial relationships with Tatmadaw-linked entities after the takeover.

“It is high time Indian companies follow suit and suspend their partnerships with the Tatmadaw and all its subsidiary commercial entities. This is something that they should have ideally done long age, given the Myanmar military’s well-documented record of human rights abuses and anti-democratic impulses,” says Upadhyay.

“But now, with the latest coup giving the Tatmadaw unbridled power over public life and the authority to dilute all forms of civilian oversight, this becomes an urgent imperative,” he adds.

Why India should take a stand

Alongside the private firms, according to Upadhayay, Indian defence manufacturers must also suspend all ongoing and proposed arms sales contracts with the Tatmadaw. Their products have a far more direct bearing on civilian life in Myanmar than those of non-military companies. While strategic partnerships are critical in a competitive geopolitical landscape, they should not come at the cost of abetting war crimes, he says.

However, he feels that it is unlikely that Indian state-owned firms will stop arms sales to the Tatmadaw because of the coup. “For New Delhi, Myanmar is still a regional asset under its Act East policy and Neighbourhood First policy, not least because of China’s swelling footprint in the country. In fact, it has emerged as one of the few regional success stories for the Narendra Modi government in terms of diplomatic engagement and mutual trust-building,” he adds.

Despite the limited hope of Indian businesses speaking up for democratic rights or against the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar, Upadhyay feels that there has never been a more opportune moment for democratic governments to stand by the people of Myanmar and support democracy. He says that by breaking the silence and condemning the violence, the Indian government must do their part and step on to the right side of history before it’s too late.

“The government of India should put more pressure on the Myanmar army to stop killing the people and shooting the protesters and to restore democracy. We are one of Myanmar most influential neighbours and the biggest democracy in the world, after all,” he adds.

Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to Media India Group’s questions till this article was published.



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