Security Force Monitor data used in damning Global Witness report into Myanmar military control of billion dollar ruby trade

Map: “Military-controlled gemstone mines around Mogok”.
Global Witness, “Conflict Rubies: How Luxury Jewellers
Risk Funding Military Abuses in Myanmar”, p. 26

Global Witness today released Conflict Rubies: How Luxury Jewellers Risk Funding Military Abuses in Myanmar, their new report into how the Myanmar military and other armed actors profit from a precious gemstone trade worth an estimated $1.73 billion annually. Security Force Monitor provided pro-bono support to Global Witness conducting forensic analysis of public sources to help their investigators pinpoint the military units on the ground that directly control and benefit from this lucrative gemstone mining business. This collaboration shows the value of our work in exposing corrupt connections between security forces and natural resource exploitation.

For three decades, Myanmar’s military has consolidated control over the country’s gemstone mines. It has granted mining rights to its own conglomerates, which then use the revenue from mines to fund units that commit atrocities. It has used the country’s gemstone wealth to buy off armed opposition, granting lucrative licences to ethnic armed groups. And now, its illegal takeover of state functions earlier this year has placed regulatory control over the industry back in its own hands.

– Global Witness, “Conflict Rubies: How Luxury Jewellers Risk Funding Military Abuses in Myanmar”, p. 7

We had already scoured around 400 public sources and brought scattered information together to build a coherent picture of the Myanmar military, which formed the basis of our analysis of the command structure of its Western Regional Military Command. For Global Witness we extended our dataset on the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military) to see what public sources had to say about the military units in the townships of Mogok and Mong Hsu, the two main gemstone mining areas. 

Using our research and material from interviews Global Witness identified five infantry battalions in Mogok and two in Mong Hsu.

Military units deployed in Mogok and Mong Hsu are MEHL shareholders, cementing the military’s corrupt hold over the gemstone industry

Box: Global Witness, “Conflict Rubies: How Luxury Jewellers
Risk Funding Military Abuses in Myanmar”, p. 28

How did we help Global Witness?

When we first looked at Global Witness’s research question we had data on only nine units that had operated or were based in Mong Hsu Township. We had nothing about deployment to Mogok Township.

Unit NameMong Hsu TownshipMogok Township
12 Infantry Battalion2011 –No data
149 Infantry Battalion 2012-06-20No data
150 Infantry Battalion2012-06-20No data
2 Military Operations Command 2009-07-20 – 2009-08-05No data
248 Infantry Battalion2013-04-26 No data
515 Light Infantry Battalion2013-04-26No data
516 Light Infantry Battalion2012-06-20No data
517 Light Infantry Battalion2012-06-20 – 2013-04-26No data
64 Infantry Battalion2011 – No data

The data we did have focused on the 2011-2013 period. For most units, however, we also had sources for operations in other areas of Myanmar in the period 2009-2015. In response to the research question we engaged in extensive research over several weeks to expand the number and coverage of units that may have operated in the two areas to 26 units, including many infantry and light infantry battalions. This data still mostly covers Mong Hsu, but also gives a bit more detail about deployments in the Mogok area.

Unit NameMong Hsu TownshipMogok Township
12 Infantry Battalion2011-
148 Infantry Battalion 2020-05-13
149 Infantry Battalion2012-06-20
149 Light Infantry Battalion2012-08-
150 Infantry Battalion 2012-06-20
150 Light Infantry Battalion2012-08-
151 Infantry Battalion2017-01-19
17 Military Operations Command2017-08-22
2 Military Operations Command2013-04-26
21 Military Operations Command2020-11-19
223 Infantry Battalion2015-02-02
248 Infantry Battalion2013-04-26
348 Light Infantry Battalion2016-06-28
379 Light Infantry Battalion2017-01-21
515 Light Infantry Battalion2013-04-26
516 Light Infantry Battalion2012-06-20
517 Light Infantry Battalion 2012-06-20
518 Light Infantry Battalion2011-07-14
520 Light Infantry Battalion2017-08-22
521 Light Infantry Battalion2017-08-22
524 Light Infantry Battalion2017-01-19
64 Infantry Battalion2011-
71 Infantry Battalion2014-07-20
77 Light Infantry Division2016-06-28
88 Light Infantry Division2016-06-28
95 Infantry Battalion2016-06-28

The only way to understand which of these units truly was a local unit controlling the mining of gemstones and which was only deployed temporarily to the areas (and thus not likely to be overseeing mining operations) was to follow every unit across Myanmar and through time.

For about half of the battalions, the sources documenting their superior units concerned operations far afield from either Mogok or Mong Hsu. Using geospatial and command chain analysis we were eventually able to differentiate between local battalions (which may be more deeply involved in control of mining operations) and battalions temporarily deployed to Mogok or Mong Hsu as part of military operations. Sources about movements of units outside of either Mogok or Mong Hsu connected some battalions to larger units of the Myanmar Army (Light Infantry Divisions and Military Operations Commands) which regularly range across the country conducting military operations, indicating that they were not locally-based units controlling gemstone mining.

Perhaps just as importantly, the big picture we constructed has also enabled us to determine when two battalions were actually the same unit (such as the 223 Infantry Battalion and 223 Light Infantry Battalion) and when they are not the same unit. The mis-naming of battalions is a common issue in information published about infantry and light infantry units of the Myanmar Army, and can lead to mistakes when identifying units involved in human rights abuses and other incidents. We will fully examine and solve this issue in a future long form analytical piece. We also will push this updated dataset and sources to so that everyone can benefit from it.

About Security Force Monitor

Our pro-bono support for Global Witness is part of our mission to help investigators pinpoint those responsible for specific abuses and secure evidence needed for prosecutions, using cutting edge online research and analysis techniques. Nobody else has such accessible forensic knowledge of the structure and operations of security forces. We build a picture of an entire police force or army over many years from thousands of publicly-available sources and then use it to help work out what has happened when specific allegations are made. This information can make or break investigations and  prosecutions.

We run – a free, searchable public database of security force units and their organizational structure, command personnel and areas of operation. This is the only resource of its kind and covers the security forces of over 20 countries.

%d bloggers like this: