In February, over 200 civil society organisations called for international financial institutions (IFIs) to immediately freeze loans and other financial assistance to Myanmar in light of the coup d’etat that took place earlier in the month. In a joint letter led by Myanmar civil society, IFIs were urged in the strongest terms to fully reassess their lending relationship with Myanmar to avoid legitimising the military junta that committed the coup. The letter took note of a series of multilateral loans and grants to Myanmar that are either active or in the pipeline, including 41 projects with the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s low-income country arm, 38 projects with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector arm, and a $356 million emergency IMF loan disbursed just days before the coup.
In response to the coup, the World Bank announced it would temporarily put disbursements to Myanmar on hold and expressed “grave concern about the ongoing situation.” The civil society letter explicitly condemned this language as “weak statements” that undermine democracy and called for a joint IFI statement to be issued that unequivocally confirms the institutions will not work with the junta. A letter sent later by the Bank to Myanmar’s finance ministry revealed the hold only applies to withdrawal requests made after 1 February and that the Bank is continuing to execute past projects, according to Reuters. Since the start of the coup, civil society activists and human rights defenders have been killed and targeted with arrests and some have been forced into hiding. Expressing concern that the IMF’s loan will now be under the control of the military regime, Debbie Stothard with human rights organisation ALTSEAN-Burma commented to BBC World News, “The issue is that the international community hasn’t really backed up the activists. They put too much of their efforts into…engaging the government without paying attention to what is happening on the ground.”