Thai banks are leading financial backers of Burma's military, UN expert says

Thai banks have become the main supplier of international financial services for Burma’s military government, according to a report by a U.N. expert on human rights.

Thai banks are leading financial backers of Burma's military, UN expert says

Thai banks have become the main supplier of international financial services for Burma’s military government, enabling it to purchase goods and equipment to carry out its increasingly bloody war against pro-democracy resistance forces and armed ethnic minority groups, a U.N. expert said in a report issued Wednesday.

The report by Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, tracks how the military junta has been able to continue procuring arms by shifting suppliers of financial services and military hardware as previous sources have been blocked by sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and other states.

The report charges that companies in Thailand, Burma’s eastern neighbor, have taken up the slack left by the withdrawal of Singapore firms’ business with the military junta.


It says the junta, formally known as the State Administration Council, "continues to engage with a broad international banking network to sustain itself and its weapons supplies."

"Over the past year, 16 banks located in seven countries processed transactions related to SAC military procurement; 25 banks have provided correspondent banking services to Burma’s state-owned banks since the coup," says the report, titled "Banking on the Death Trade: How Banks and Governments Enable the military Junta in Myanmar," presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Burma’s military junta came to power in February 2021 after the army ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. After security forces used deadly force to suppress nonviolent protests, armed resistance arose and the country is now in a civil war. The military has been accused of carrying out widespread human rights violations, including the bombing of civilians.

"The good news is that the junta is increasingly isolated," Andrews said in a statement. "The Myanmar military’s annual procurement of weapons and military supplies through the formal banking system declined by a third from the year ending March 2023 to the year that followed — from $377 million to $253 million."

"The bad news is that the junta is circumventing sanctions and other measures by exploiting gaps in sanctions regimes, shifting financial institutions, and taking advantage of the failure of (U.N.) Member States to fully coordinate and enforce actions."


A previous report from Andrews documented that Singapore-based entities had become the military junta’s third-largest source of weapons materials, despite a clear national policy opposing the transfer of weapons to Burma.

After that report was presented and its findings investigated by the Singaporean government, "the flow of weapons and related materials to Burma from Singapore-registered companies dropped by nearly 90%," the new report says.

It says that while Singapore-based banks facilitated over 70% of the military junta’s purchases that passed through the formal banking system in the 2022 financial year, "that percentage had dropped to under 20% by FY2023."

Exports from Thailand-registered entities "more than doubled — from just over $60 million to nearly $130 million" from FY2022 to FY2023, the report adds.

"Many SAC purchases previously made from Singapore-based entities, including parts for Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters used to conduct airstrikes on civilian targets, are now being sourced from Thailand," it says.

It singles out Thai banks as playing a major role in facilitating international business for Burma's ruling military, citing the example of Siam Commercial Bank, which it said carried out just over $5 million in transactions related to Burma's military procurement in FY2022, rising to more than $100 million in FY2023. The bank declined to immediately comment on the report.

Andrews’ report recounts the toll of the fighting so far in Burma: more than 5,000 civilians killed since the takeover, 3 million people displaced, and more than 20,000 political prisoners.

"By relying on financial institutions that are willing to do business with Myanmar state-owned banks under its control, the junta has ready access to the financial services it needs to carry out systematic human rights violations, including aerial attacks on civilians," Andrews said.

"International banks that facilitate transactions that include Myanmar state-owned banks are at high risk of enabling military attacks on Myanmar civilians. I urge them to stop doing so. Banks have a fundamental obligation to not facilitate crimes -– and this includes war crimes and crimes against humanity."

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