Japan’s leadership urgently needed at the UN Security Council to stop Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes as Myanmar faces man-made and natural disasters
The Honorable Fumio Kishida
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8968, Japan
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi
Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary, The Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Kimihiro Ishikane
Members of the UN Security Council
29 May 2023
Re: Japan’s leadership urgently needed at the UN Security Council to stop Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes as Myanmar faces man-made and natural disasters
Dear Prime Minister Kishida,
We, 237 Myanmar, regional and international organizations are writing to urge you and the Government of Japan to assume a greater leadership role at the UN Security Council (UNSC) to address the further deteriorating multifaceted crises in Myanmar. As a member of the UNSC and a major donor to Myanmar, we believe that the Government of Japan is well-placed to work with its allies on the Council to develop a principled, human rights-based response to put an end to Myanmar military junta’s atrocity crimes.
Since the attempted coup, the Myanmar military has killed over 3,500 people and arrested over 22,700, including two Japanese journalists, who have been released. Many unjustly remain in detention. Since the UNSC resolution was adopted, at least 704 people have been killed. In 2022, Myanmar rankedamong the countries that saw the most intense levels of violence and conflict deaths, next to Ukraine, and recorded the highest number of violence targeting civilians globally.
The UN conservatively estimates that 1.5 million people have been displaced since the Myanmar military’s attempted coup. As category five Cyclone Mocha advanced towards Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Myanmar military persisted in its attacks against civilians residing in regions along the cyclone\’s trajectory.
As evacuations began in Rakhine State, Rohingya were willfully neglected by the junta, and aid to the Rohingya community has been blocked. In the cyclone’s aftermath, hundreds of people are dead or missing. It is vital that Japan takes immediate measures to respond to the military’s breach of international human rights and humanitarian laws and ensure peace and security in the region and beyond.
In your address to leaders of the world during the 77th UN General Assembly, you spoke of “listening not only to the big voices but also being attentive to the small voices” and that you “intend to take action to strengthen the rule of law in the international community” as a non-permanent member of the UNSC – a vital position to maintain world peace and security which Japan holds until 2024.
We urge you to turn these words into action by building on the December 2022 UNSC resolution on Myanmar and adopt concrete measures to hold the Myanmar military accountable for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Japan’s ODA and businesses: Japan must first end its complicity in Myanmar’s crimes
Just as the UNSC resolution has done little to curb the military’s atrocities, the military have remained impervious to Japan’s statements of concern. Statements urging the military to stop the violence have little impact when Japan has yet to suspend all Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects that are currently being implemented by the Myanmar junta or stop Japanese businesses from funding the Myanmar military’s atrocities.
If Japan is to assert its leadership as Asia’s rights-respecting democracy on the world stage, it must first end its complicity in the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes. Ties to the Myanmar military have only diminished Japan’s reputation as a leading democracy in Asia and undermined Japan’s standing in the eyes of Myanmar people who have looked to Japan for support to end the Myanmar military’s attempt to rule with violence.
Since the ODA program began, Japan has cumulatively providedapproximately 1.4 trillion yen (US $9.6 billion) in loan assistance, 360 billion yen (US $2.5 billion) in grant aid, and 100 billion yen (US $690 million) in technical assistance to Myanmar as of November 2021. Japan was the biggest provider of ODA to Myanmar before the attempted coup. It has yet to fully utilize this as a leverage, despite the Rohingya genocide in 2017 and the Myanmar military’s grave human rights violations since its attempted coup.
Rather than prioritizing human rights and democracy, Japan has focused on development in Myanmar, providing opportunities for Japanese businesses, including partnering with the Myanmar military conglomerates. Despite vehement civil society calls, Japan has yet to conduct an investigation to respond to claims that its ODA has benefited the military junta financially.
As a result, businesses like the Yokogawa Bridge Corporation have transferredUS $1 million to military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) for a bridge construction project backed by Japan’s ODA through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) following the attempted coup.
Projects funded by Japan’s ODA have also directly served to benefit Myanmar military’s strategic interests, for example in the case of East-West Economic Corridor (EWC) Improvement project in Karen State, which ultimately fueledconflict along the Asia Highway (part of the EWC).
Myanmar military has also misused Japanese development aid for military purposes. It used Japan-funded passenger ships meant for civilian use for military purposes to transport troops as it committed war crimes in Rakhine State and displayed a blatant lack of regard for the Japanese Government’s inquiry into the matter.
Japanese businesses in the telecommunications sector, as well as real-estatedevelopment sectors, continue to actively partner with the Myanmar military and entities controlled by the military junta, against UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines For Multinational Enterprises. Meanwhile, demands by civil society for ENEOS and other partners involved in the oil and gas sector to responsibly disengage, with transparency and through consultation with local communities and civil society stakeholders, have been ignored.
It is vital that Japan immediately suspends all ODA currently being implemented under the control of the Myanmar military. It must begin to work closely with the National Unity Government (NUG), formed on the basis of the 2020 general elections with the popular support of the people of Myanmar, as well as Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) and Myanmar civil society to effectively support the will of the people of Myanmar to establish a federal democracy. It must divert its support towards humanitarian aid, particularly towards frontline local humanitarian actors, including community-based organizations along the ethnic borderlands.
The Government of Japan must end its complicity in grave human rights violations in Myanmar by halting its business with the military junta and its conglomerates.
Breach of Japan’s democratic principle: Japan’s Special Envoy endorsing illegal election and political figures acceptance of Medal from war criminal Min Aung Hlaing
In addition to Japan’s continued business links with the Myanmar military, Japan\’s training of military troops, and its use of quiet diplomacy reliant on a “special relationship” with the Myanmar military has abetted the further entrenchment of the military’s culture of impunity.
It certainly does not help Japan’s image as a rights-respecting democratic country when the current vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a former Prime Minister, Taro Aso, alongside a former posts and telecommunications minister, who also serves as chairman of the Japan Myanmar Association, Hideo Watanabe, receive a medal from international criminal Min Aung Hlaing for “development, peace and prosperity of Myanmar.” By staying silent on such matters, Japan further legitimizes an illegal Myanmar military that is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including massacres and bombing and killing of children.
The Myanmar military junta is an illegitimate entity that has attempted an illegal coup and stands accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. We are gravely concerned of the Japanese Government’s lack of a clear public stance in opposition to the junta’s proposed illegal election, which has been further confounded by statements made by your government’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Yohei Sasakawa, in support of the military’s sham elections. Japan must unequivocally stand with the people of Myanmar by denouncing the junta’s violent attempts to assert its legitimacy, including through its plan to hold an election illegally.
Myanmar military’s fierce shelling of the “Peace Town” built with the support of the Nippon Foundation for refugees returning to Karen State, is an indictment of the military’s commitment to peace and democracy in Myanmar. The military also killed a child as they raided Ma Gyi Gan Village, Myaing Township in Magwe Region on 18 April 2023, destroying civilian property, medical equipment and burnt down the village hospital built with support from JICA.
Tangible action against the Myanmar military: new UN Security Council Resolution
As you have reflected on Japan’s own experience with war at the site of G7 in Hiroshima alongside world leaders this month, we hope you will also think of the people in Myanmar who are currently experiencing war, enduring atrocities by a military with a history that ties Myanmar and Japan together.
The Myanmar military junta’s total disregard for the Security Council Resolution 2669, which was adopted last year, shows a need for a new resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to enforce the junta’s compliance. In July, UK will assume the presidency of the UNSC. As one of the Asian countries on the UNSC, Japan must work closely with the UK – the “penholder” on Myanmar at the UNSC – towards a new resolution that includes targeted sanctions and an arms embargo against the military and a referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
We look to your decisive leadership in holding the junta accountable through a Chapter VII resolution on Myanmar adopted by the UNSC.
Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice; email@example.com
Yuka Kiguchi, Mekong Watch; firstname.lastname@example.org
The Open Letter is signed by 237 Myanmar, regional and international organizations, including 41 organizations who have chosen not to disclose their names.