Japan: Investigate Kirin over payment to Myanmar military amid ethnic cleansing

Japanese authorities must urgently launch an investigation into payments that a subsidiary of the multinational brewing giant Kirin made to Myanmar’s military and authorities at the height of an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya population in late 2017, Amnesty International said today.

In correspondence with Amnesty International, including a clarification note sent on 13 June, Kirin Holdings Company, Inc. said that its subsidiary Myanmar Brewery made three donations totalling USD $30,000 (£22,500) to the authorities between 1 September and 3 October 2017.

Kirin said that the payments were intended to help the victims of the violence, however Amnesty understands that the first donation was made by Myanmar Brewery staff to the Commander-in Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at a televised ceremony in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on 1 September 2017, according to the Senior General’s own Facebook page. Kirin later confirmed that a donation of $6,000 (£4,500) was made on that date. Min Aung Hlaing said the donations would go towards, “security personnel and state service personnel who risked their lives while shouldering national defence and security duties” in Rakhine State.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s Business and Human Rights Programme Director, said:

“In additional to acting immorally, Kirin clearly gave no thought to consumers of their products.  

“Kirin drinkers in the UK will be appalled to think that they could be funding Myanmar’s armed forces who are responsible for ethnic cleansing.”

Seema Joshi, Head of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said:

“It beggars belief that any international investor would make donations to Myanmar’s military at a time when those very forces were carrying out ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State.

“Not only is there a risk that these donations actually funded the operations of military units involved in crimes against humanity, but the choice to appear in a donation ceremony with Myanmar’s top military leaders also sends a worrying message that Myanmar Brewery endorsed the military’s actions against the Rohingya population.

“Japan has a responsibility to ensure that its companies do not contribute to human rights abuses, regardless of where they operate. The Japanese authorities should urgently investigate these questionable gifts.”

The donations were made at a time when the media across the world was widely reporting on the atrocities against Rohingya women, men and children being committed by Myanmar security forces.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the attack on the Rohingya as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and extensive research by Amnesty went on to identify multiple crimes against humanity being committed by Myanmar’s security forces. These were widely reported internationally throughout September, but Kirin made further donations to the Rakhine State authorities even after this, on 23 September and 3 October 2017, the company has disclosed.

Open source evidence debunks ‘humanitarian’ claims

In a letter to Amnesty, Kirin stated that all three donations – two financial contributions as well as an in-kind donation of rice and cooking oil – were made to the Rakhine State Government, in response to a request for humanitarian relief for victims of the violence.

However that’s contradicted by open-source evidence, including statements posted online by Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps analysed and verified videos posted to the Senior General’s Facebook account, one of which shows him and other uniformed military officials accepting gifts from representatives of various Myanmar companies at an official ceremony on 1 September.

This came a week after the start of the most recent crisis in Rakhine State, when there was a series of attacks by the armed group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army which elicited the Myanmar military’s vicious response marked by killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture, village burningforced starvation tactics, and other violations which constitute crimes against humanity under international law. More than 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to flee to Bangladesh, where they remain.

Kirin’s investment in Myanmar

In 2015 Kirin bought a 55% stake in Myanmar Brewery, the country’s largest beer maker, for USD$560 million (£419 million). A powerful conglomerate owned by serving and former members of the military, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL, also known as Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited), owns the remainder. On 29 August 2017, the Myanmar government gave Kirin clearance to invest a further USD$4.3 million (£3.2 million) for a 51% stake in Mandalay Brewery, in a separate joint venture with UMEHL. Through these investments, Kirin says it controls 80% of Myanmar’s growing beer market.

Kirin is a major international brewer, which along with its own brands owns the Lion beverage company in Australia and New Zealand and has a 48.6% stake in San Miguel, of the Philippines.

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