Japan beer giant Kirin says it is investigating whether donations for “humanitarian” work in Myanmar’s Rakhine state ended up in the pockets of security forces accused of driving out Rohingya Muslims.
In a report published on Thursday, Amnesty International alleged at least $6,000 was funnelled through Kirin’s local partner – state-backed Myanmar Brewery – to security forces who are accused of widespread atrocities.
The donations were made just days after Rohingya militants launched attacks on police posts in August last year. That unleashed a military operation that has driven some 700,000 people from the stateless minority into Bangladesh.
The UN and the US have called the campaign ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar says it was defending itself against terrorists.
Kirin told AFP that Myanmar Brewery made three separate donations to authorities between 1 September and 3 October “on the condition” they were used for humanitarian aid.
Nobuhiko Hori, a spokesman for Kirin, said members of the military were present during the first of the three donation rounds but said they believed the money was for relief.
The second and third donations – which included cooking supplies – were handed directly to victims, he said.
“We’re taking seriously [the allegation] that we didn’t sufficiently trace the money,” he said, adding Kirin was halting any future funding pending the investigation.
One of the world’s largest beverage companies, Kirin bought a 55% stake in Myanmar Brewery in 2015, with the remainder owned by Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, a company with strong links to the military.
Under the arrangement of the joint venture, company funds are not allowed to be used for military purposes.
In its report Amnesty cites a 1 September speech from Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing saying the gifts from businesses were also for “security personnel and state service personnel who risked their lives while shouldering national defence and security duties”.
It “beggars belief” that an international investor gave money that may have “actually funded the operations of military units involved in crimes against humanity,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty’s head of business and human rights.
“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,” she added.
Kirin said it had launched a human rights impact assessment for Myanmar Brewery in May, but that it was not related to Amnesty’s queries.
Myanmar has sought aid and investment from a number of companies and governments – including China and Japan – to help rebuild Rakhine state. But questions have been raised over whether it is ethical to support a rebuilding process that has gone a long way to rub out traces of Rohingya history in Rakhine.