The Myanmar army laid landmines along oil and gas pipelines in northern Shan State, a rights group says
Japan was one of the first governments to issue it a statement after the Myanmar military staged a coup on February 1 last year.
Within hours of the events in Naypyitaw, the Japanese leadership expressed “great concern” and called for the release of those arrested by the security forces, including President Win Myint and State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi.
After their swift conviction, the Japanese government took further action by halting new non-humanitarian development projects while continuing with existing aid projects.
Then, on March 28, the Japanese Ministry of Defense issued one Joint Statement 11 allies criticize the military’s use of force against “unarmed civilians”. Japan even voted in favor of a Myanmar resolution at the United Nations General Assembly in June, a big change from its repeated abstentions since 2017.
All of this begs the question: why does the Japanese government continue to train Myanmar’s military? The Tatmadaw has been active alongside other Myanmar security forces since the coup killed more than 1,400 people, more than 10,000 detained and increased abusive military operations in ethnic minority areas.
Japan’s continued ties to the Tatmadaw not only contradict its condemnation of the coup, but also undermine efforts by the international community to hold the generals accountable for crimes against humanity and other abuses.
Since 2015, military cadets from Myanmar have been studying at Japan’s National Defense Academy, receiving both academic and military training. The program has been approved by the Secretary of Defense under Section 100 of the Self-Defense Forces Act, which permits the education and training of foreign nationals at Department of Defense facilities.
In December, a Defense Department official told Human Rights Watch that eight Myanmar cadets attended the academy, and at least two of them joined after the coup. The Academy’s curriculum includes combat and the use of firearms.
In addition to the cadets, two Tatmadaw officers are being trained at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Training, Evaluation, Research and Development Command and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force Command and Staff College, according to a Defense Department document obtained by Human Rights Watch.
Another Defense Ministry official said the program is designed to bring about change within the Tatmadaw by showing cadets, who are expected to become officers, how Japan’s armed forces operate under tight civilian control. However, the official also acknowledged that the ministry does not track trainees’ career paths after the program, meaning they do not monitor or evaluate whether this is actually happening.
The Japanese government should simply look at the Tatmadaw’s long history of human rights violations and lack of respect for civil authority and recognize that this program will not bring about the reforms it says it will.
In August 2017, two years after Japan launched the program, the Myanmar military under the current junta leader and supreme commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, committed crimes against humanity and possibly genocide against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine state and enforced more than 740,000 flee to Bangladesh.
At least 600,000 Rohingya who remained in Myanmar are being held in camps and villages under guard by local authorities and security forces in conditions that amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid.
Even before 2017, the Myanmar military committed mass killings, rape, indiscriminate bombing, torture, arson and other ill-treatment with impunity in protracted conflicts with ethnic armed groups for many years.
And now, six years after the program began, Myanmar is in turmoil over the Tatmadaw coup.
The Japanese government should immediately suspend the program and cut defense ties with Tatmadaw, as New Zealand and Australia, Japan’s regional allies, did so shortly after the coup. Otherwise, Japan risks becoming complicit in the Tatmadaw’s atrocities.
Teppei Kasai is a programs officer with the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.