A Freedom of Information request has shown how UK police officers took part in a programme that trained the Myanmar police force that were later implicated in human rights abuses
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has shown how, under a European Union scheme named Mypol, the two officers visited the politically turbulent country in 2017.
The initiative was aimed to help modernise the police force by providing equipment and training. It was suspended by the EU in February this year after Myanmar’s military staged a coup and responded violently to subsequent protests.
Nearly 600 people were killed during the violence, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Thousands more have been detained, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
Crowd Control Training
According to an EU source quoted by the Guardian, the Mypol training consisted of collaborating with Myanmar police to produce a manual of crowd control techniques including “formations, chains and shield barriers”.
But a dispute arose over sharing “offensive” techniques to suppress crowds, which is restricted under EU regulations. According to the anonymous EU official, “eventually the [Myanmar] police took the draft and added the ‘offensive’ chapters themselves”.
These same specialist crowd control forces who took part in the training are among those accused of using tear gas, rubber bullets and even live ammunition on demonstrators opposed to the coup. Some Myanmar police officers, mainly from civilian units rather than counterterrorism or riots, fled to India after refusing orders from the military to shoot protesters.
The UK College of Policing has been criticised in the past for profiting from training forces in repressive regimes, including in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Kuwait. Between 2013-20, it made more than £20 million selling its services around the world. The College told AOAV they were not involved in sending out police to Myanmar.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office responded to AOAV’s FOI request for details of Britain’s involvement in the scheme, stating that “support to the reform of the Myanmar Police Force project (MYPOL) is a European Union funded programme, managed by the International and Iberoamerican Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP).”
The FOI confirmed that two UK police officers travelled to Myanmar in 2017 to assist in “programme training, which was funded by the EU”.
“The EU initiated MYPOL in 2011 to reform the Myanmar Police Force (MPF) to support the country’s efforts towards openness and modernisation of its public sector, and the implanting a Rule of Law system,” it continued.
UK Presence in Myanmar
In April, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK was ousted from his position and locked out of his nation’s embassy after calling for the release of the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the move as “bullying”.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) had a defence attaché stationed at the embassy in Yangon between 2013-2018, when the Defence section officially closed. The MOD said that “in September 2017, the UK suspended all defence engagement with the Myanmar military, due to violence in Rakhine State, the associated humanitarian crisis, and deep concerns about human rights abuses”.
The MOD confirmed that “there continues to be a Non-Resident Defence Attaché to Myanmar, based in Singapore, but the previous bilateral military cooperation on education courses such as human rights and international law has ceased”.
In early 2020, responding to the army’s repressive actions, the UK and other G7 nations announced a number of sanctions against Myanmar’s military leadership and business interests.
Myanmar’s economy is underpinned by a network of military-owned conglomerates which have created an environment akin to “Sicily under the Mafia”, according to civil leaders. A UN report in 2019 found that the military’s imperious business revenues enabled them to commit human rights abuses without fear of reprisal.
Other nations such as China, Israel and India have been criticised by the UN for continuing to supply weapons to Myanmar’s military despite their implcation in the Rohingya genocide that began in October 2016.
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