Dear Board Chairpersons and CEOs,
On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar Tatmadaw generals engineered a coup d’etat and overthrew the democratically elected leaders of Myanmar.
On orders from Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Tatmadaw detained and imprisoned President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, along with scores of other National League for Democracy (NLD) ministers and parliamentarians.
Eight days later, on 9 February 2021, the Tatmadaw and the police started indiscriminately shooting civilians who were peacefully protesting and demanding a restoration of democratic government and respect for the results of the November 2020 general election, in which the NLD won over 80% of the vote.
Since then, there have been thousands of arbitrary arrests and by 16 March 2021, there were an estimated 183 extrajudicial executions of innocent protesters by the Tatmadaw and police. These numbers are set to rise as the protests continue.
The Tatmadaw leadership had previously been accused of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim community and war crimes against other ethnic minorities.
With this coup and violent suppression of peaceful protests, the Tatmadaw leadership now stands accused of further gross human rights violations and arguably crimes against humanity against the people of Myanmar.
According to your respective bank websites, CIMB, Maybank and RHB have invested in Myanmar and are doing business there.
CIMB Bank offers “liaison and advisory services for Malaysian companies seeking to do business in this fast-growing emerging economy”.
Maybank has a full Myanmar banking licence and offers “full commercial and corporate banking services including financing solutions in Myanmar – The Golden Land…. Maybank Yangon Branch offers wholesale banking services serving foreign corporates/companies, joint ventures, local corporates and Myanmar domestic financial institutions”.
RHB has a representative office in Yangon and offers “liaison and advisory services for Malaysian companies seeking to do business in the country. The Representative Office shall also provide Myanmarese companies information and assistance on enquiries pertaining to banking with RHB Bank Berhad.”
Without doubt, I am confident all of your banks have profited from your presence in Myanmar these past few years. But as of early February 2021, things have changed.
As a Malaysian citizen concerned about respect for human rights and the rule of law (and likely soon to be an activist minority shareholder of your bank shares), I am keen that your banks urgently address the following three basic questions:
- What is your bank’s policy with regard to business and human rights in Myanmar, especially the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim community and the ongoing detention and extrajudicial killings of innocent civilians demanding the restoration of democracy by the Tatmadaw in Myanmar?
- Is your bank directly or indirectly funding or banking the wealth of politically exposed persons (PEPs) or involved in any commercial or financial relationship with family members of PEPs who are members of or are linked to the Tatmadaw and the police leadership?
- Does your bank have commercial and banking ties to two conglomerates linked to the Tatmadaw, namely Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) or any enterprise owned or controlled by them, including subsidiaries, or their individual members?
As well, I have four follow-on queries:
- Does your bank have any banking or financing interests with PEPs or family members of PEPs who are members of or are linked to Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation or any enterprise owned or controlled by them, including subsidiaries, or their individual members?
- Considering that Myanmar is on a “grey list” (ie jurisdictions under increased monitoring) of the Financial Action Task Force, are your banks in Myanmar in compliance with the FATF Recommendations with regard to PEPs and the required enhanced due diligence process?
- Have your respective banks launched an urgent review of existing PEPs retained as clients and recognised the current dire situation by exiting ALL that are linked or associated with the military and its related business organisations?
- Finally, who audits your bank’s business and human rights policies and compliance with the provisions of the FATF in Myanmar? Please disclose the latest business and human rights audit and your bank’s compliance with the provisions of the FATF in Myanmar.
I would like to remind the chairpersons and CEOs of CIMB, Maybank and RHB that the days of doing business in neighbouring Asean countries governed by murderous military and authoritarian regimes with questionable banking standards related to money laundering are long over.
Today, Malaysian citizens expect that businesses (and banks especially) respect human rights and meet FATF standards when doing business.
Indeed, none other than the UN has plainly stated in its “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” that you have a corporate responsibility to respect human rights (Guiding Principle 13). I urge you to read the document which I reference here for your attention and look forward to your bank confirming that it is in compliance with these guiding principles or shall within a strict timeframe comply with these guiding principles.
I look forward to reading an open reply from any one or all of you regarding my concerns.
Dr Andrew Aeria is a long-time Aliran member