Facebook is among a number of companies from the US, UK, France, Switzerland and China named on a “dirty list” of corporations accused of involvement in human rights and environmental violations in Myanmar, or of doing business with the country’s military, which is accused of genocide.A list of 49 companies, compiled by the pressure group Burma Campaign UK, reveals the global breadth of international organisations that have continued to provide arms, infrastructure, technology, engineering and expertise to the Burmese military, or supported projects that have been accused of causing environmental destruction, such as hydroelectric dams and jade mines.
Burma Campaign UK said Facebook was on the “dirty list” because it had “consistently allowed its platform to be used to incite hatred and violence [against] minorities in Burma, in particular the Rohingya Muslim minority and Muslims in general”.Facebook has also come under fire elsewhere for allowing racially inflammatory and harmful content to proliferate on its platform unchecked for years.
A recent UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar specifically singled out the social media company as playing a role in further stoking ethnic tensions.
And in November, an independent report commissioned by Facebook concluded that, in Myanmar, “Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence”.
Burma Campaign UK acknowledged that Facebook had recently taken action to rectify abuse of social media in Myanmar, but in the “dirty list” accused it of not going far enough.
“It [Facebook] continues to host the page of the Information Committee, formerly State Counsellor Information Committee, which is run from Aung San Suu Kyi’s office,” it said, referring to Myanmar’s leader, once an opposition figure backed by the west but now a pariah.“Since 2016 this was one of the main official government/military pages on Facebook used for inciting fear and hatred of the Rohingya, including the notorious ’Fake Rape’ poster denying that independently verified claims of rape of Rohingya women by the Burmese military are true.”
In a statement to the Guardian, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We have invested heavily in people, technology and partnerships to examine and address the abuse of Facebook in Myanmar. As part of this work, we have detected, investigated and taken action on a variety of abuse, including military-linked abuse.
“We have banned 20 individuals and organisations from Facebook in Myanmar, including Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military’s Myawaddy television network. We have also taken down pages and accounts that were covertly pushing the messages of the Myanmar military.”
Another US tech company named on the list was Cloudflare, which is accused of providing cybersecurity infrastructure for Min Aung Hlaing’s website. Min Aung Hlaing has been accused of war crimes by a UN fact-finding mission. He has not responded to the UN accusations.
Speaking to the Guardian, Doug Kramer, the general counsel at Cloudflare, said that “as an infrastructure company that doesn’t do anything with the content – doesn’t host it, doesn’t run it through algorithms, doesn’t recommend it – we think it is a dangerous situation for us to start passing judgment on content and taking action”.
Kramer added: “We comply with our obligations under the law but we very strictly try to resist being pulled into becoming the arbiter about who should and who should not have cybersecurity online.”
However, this year Cloudflare did choose to withdraw their services to the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, without legal intervention, following the killing of a young woman by a far-right activist in Charlottesville, Virginia, after the website claimed the company was an active supporter.
Among the two UK companies on the list is HR Wallingford, a civil engineering organisation involved in the construction of Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal where the government of Bangladesh plans to relocate 100,000 Rohingya. The plan has faced considerable objections from NGOs and human rights groups.
A spokesperson from HR Wallingford said it had “no business activity in Myanmar”, adding: “Within neighbouring Bangladesh, the company has been engaged to design flood defences for Bhasan Char island to internationally recognised standards.”
Nang San San Aye, a Burmese MP for Shan state, has pleaded for foreign countries to stop promoting and investing in dams in Myanmar’s war zones, saying: “It is fuelling conflict, and undermining efforts to seek peace.”
Businesses from India, Japan, Korea, Belgium, Russia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are also included on the list.
“Companies which supply equipment to the military, or do business with the military, are complicit in the human rights violations committed by them,” said Mark Farmaner, the director of Burma Campaign UK. “We are not saying don’t do business in Burma; we are saying don’t do business with the military.”
In particular, the list demonstrates the extent to which China is supporting military projects and operations in Myanmar and the increasing Chinese investment in the country.
Of the 49 companies named on the list 16 are Chinese. According to the list, China is supplying the Burmese military with fighter jets, armed drones, ballistic missile systems, heavy machinery, navy warships and energy. Chinese companies were also cited by the list as being involved in at least six controversial dam projects in conflict zones in Myanmar and a coal mine.
“We hope that being named on this list will prompt some companies to end their involvement with the military or operations linked to human rights and environmental problems,” said Burma Campaign UK. “In doing so, they act as a warning to other companies.”
A UN fact-finding report released in August declared the Burmese military had “genocidal intent” during its violent crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, and that its actions “undoubtedly amounted to the gravest crimes under international law”.
The report called for senior military figures to be brought before the international criminal court.