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South Asia

Indian PSU Sold Arms, Equipment Worth Over $5 Million to Myanmar Junta in 6 Month Period: Report

Bharat Electronics Limited transferred the equipment "knowing that the Myanmar military is the end user, and that it is committing ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity," said Justice for Myanmar.

New Delhi: An investigation by a group of activists has revealed that the Indian public sector undertaking Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has exported $5 million worth of military end-use goods, technology and technical documents to be used by the Myanmar junta in the six months between November 2022 and April 2023.

The investigation was conducted by Justice for Myanmar (JFM), a covert group of activists which has campaigned to “dismantle the Burmese military’s business practices and systemic corruption”.

In a press release, it said that BEL, which falls under the Indian Ministry of Defence, has continued to supply arms and dual-use goods and technology to the Myanmar military junta. The supply was uncovered through the database of Panjiva, a global trade data company that has details of global commercial shipments.

“BEL, which maintains a branch office in Myanmar, transferred the equipment knowing that the Myanmar military is the end user, and that it is committing ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity,” the group said.

The shipments “may aid and abet the junta’s international crimes” and are a “continuation of India’s flagrant disregard for its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law and its commitments under the Wassenaar Arrangement”, JFM added.

In October 2021, another JFM investigation showed that BEL sold “a gun mount and an optical device” to Myanmar in July of that year, about four months after the junta seized power.

In the latest expose, JFM said that BEL’s exports to Myanmar during the six-month period were “spread across seven shipments, with three being sent to the Myanmar military directly, three sent to the arms brokers Mega Hill General Trading, and one sent to Alliance Engineering Services.” JFM said the connections of the two arms brokers to the junta were previously exposed by it.

The Indian government owns 51.14% of BEL, which also has a several high profile investors like Goldman Sachs, Vanguard, BlackRock, Canada Pension Plan, California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers Retirement System.

“BEL’s institutional shareholders should divest from the company because of its continued supply of dual use goods and technology to the Myanmar military, in line with their international human rights responsibilities,” JFM said.

The group’s spokesperson Yadanar Maung said the Indian government and its state-owned arms companies are “continuing business as usual in Myanmar, equipping and profiting from the junta as it commits acts of terror against the people”.

“By selling arms and equipment to the junta, India is choosing to ignore the voices of the Myanmar people, the legitimate National Unity Government, civil society, UN resolutions and its responsibilities under international law.”

“It is crucial that India’s Quad partners and other allies step up and start using their leverage to stop India’s abhorrent support for the junta,” he added.

While India has repeatedly called for a transition to democracy in Myanmar since the coup, it had also remained engaged with the military junta and bilateral visits have continued to take place.

UN expert had unveiled $1 billion ‘death trade’

In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews had said that the Myanmar military has imported “at least $1 billion in arms and raw materials to manufacture weapons since the coup in February 2021”.

India was among the top five countries exporting arms, either directly to the military or through brokers, the report said. The UN Special Rapporteur said that entities in India were estimated to have sold $51 million worth of arms, dual-use goods, raw materials and manufacturing equipment for domestic arms manufacturing to the Myanmar military. Of this, BEL alone was responsible for more than $33 million, Andrews estimated. Another defence PSU, Bharat Dynamics Limited, sold arms worth more than $3.5 million, the report said.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s report said BEL has sold arms worth more than $33 million to Myanmar’s military. Photo: OHCHR

The Indian entities were well behind their counterparts in Russia (exports worth $406 million), China ($267 million) and Singapore ($254 million).

“A total of 22 unique suppliers based in India shipped arms to the Myanmar military. India’s continuing transfer of materials used in surveillance, artillery, and, probably, missles—all manufactured by state-owned entities—arguably runs afoul of its obligations under customary international law and international humanitarian law. India should have the requisite knowledge that the Myanmar military is committing probable war crimes given the substantial international reporting on this subject,” the report said.

The report said that the sales not only breach the Wassenaar Arrangement but also potentially contravene India’s non-binding commitments under it. The specific munitions and equipment that India has transported fall within the categories listed as sections 1 to 5 of the revised “List of dual-use goods and technologies and munitions list.” Myanmar is arguably a “cause for serious concern” to Wassenaar’s Participating States, though it is unclear whether there is consensus on this point, the UN Special Rapporteur said.

An India representative told the Special Rapporteur that “India has never been, nor is, a major source of arms to Myanmar, and India has been fulfilling our past obligations. Our exports are very clearly scrutinized… We consider what is in the interest of the people of Myanmar.”