By Zin Linn
The issue of sanctions on Burma has been spreading around the globe right now.
Does Burma’s President Thein Sein government deserve the reward of lifting sanctions for its recent positive reforms?
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) says it deserves so, while others do not agree to lift sanctions in a hurry. In fact, there are still a number of human rights abuses happening in the ethnic areas and situation needs to see more reforms especially in the political and economic equality.
Many intercontinental governments have use of sanctions on Burma to make the regime correct its unacceptable deeds in the areas of human rights and jurisdiction.
The point is clear: the military leaders cannot persist to ignore the hope of the people, and that they must look for a nonviolent solution through political dialogue to resolve the political stalemate in Burma.
With such a focus, sanctions have strengthened both the legitimacy and possibility of political dialogue in Burma, and they are effective tools to advance the dialogue process between regime and the opposition.
All foreign investments so far have been helping to finance the military regime, which spent more than 40% of national funds to build up the armed forces. It is needless to repeat how Burma’s military regime has been mistreating its own populace. Piles of reports by UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs and credible international human rights organizations have recorded the undeniable.
People believe that foreign investment under the military rule is more beneficial to the regime and more harm to the people of Burma. Therefore, those who are investing in military-run Burma are indirectly responsible for the human rights violations committed by the Burma Army and its impediment to democratic reform in Burma.
It is remarkable that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been calling constantly for amending the previous junta made 2008 constitution, saying that its automatic allocation of 25 percent of the parliamentary seats to unelected representatives of the military is not democratic.
The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), Burmese government in exile, has advised Washington not to hurriedly relieve sanctions against Burma’s current quasi-civilian government. The NCGUB and various rights groups support U.S. engagement with Burmese government, but they also would like to pressure for transform.
During ASEAN’s two-day annual summit meeting in Cambodian, ASEAN leaders have discussed to issue a proper call to western countries lifting sanctions on Burma, while the EU is shifting direction towards lifting sanctions principally.
However, Western democracies must think over and over again regarding lifting of sanctions as a reward for the Thein Sein government.
If the International Governments observed seriously on Burma’s sanction issue, they must urge Thein Sein government to stop military offensive against ethnic minority people. Currently, war against Kachin people is at its height and burning villages, looting, rape and extra judicial killing are still going on. There are more than 60,000 Kachin war refugees on the Sino-Burma border without having any humanitarian assistance from the ruling government.
Besides, it is also necessary to release unconditionally all remaining political prisoners with fabricated terrorism charges. According to former political prisoner Zarganar who recently visited the US said during a public event at the National Endowment for Democracy, releases of political prisoners are conditional under threat of ‘Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code’.
The military regime uses Section 401 as the legal mechanism for those amnesties. Article (1) of Section 401 grants the President the power to suspend a sentence, while article (3) gives power to cancel that suspension and order re-arrest of a person at any time without a warrant, requiring that he or she must serve the remainder of the original sentence.
The Western Democracies need to focus on the current 2008 Constitution which gives too much power to military such as 25% regular parliamentary seats without contesting in elections and it also grants military chief to retake power on security reasons. It is required to amend the military dominant provisions in keeping democratic norms.
Moreover, numerous acres of farmland were confiscated from the poor common farmers by the military and their cronies all over the country. All the lands confiscated by the military around the country without fair compensation or land replacement must be returned to the poor farmers.
In addition, the previous junta withdrew professional licenses from various citizens who support democratic causes. It is necessary to restore licenses of lawyers, physicians, engineers and other professionals whose work-permits were revoked by military due to their support to democracy movement.
Furthermore, the current government needs to establish ‘Independent Judicial System’ to prevent discrimination, injustice and charade of rule of law. Today, citizens have no rights to enjoy the fair proceedings. Most court judgments were made by high-ranking government officials instead of the respective judges.
Additionally, it is essential to change current top down nomination process in government’s bureaucratic system or political cronyism pattern. It is also important to provide equal business opportunity to each and every one and to stop current crony capitalism with connection to military authorities.
And also one crucial thing to take action seriously is eradication of drug trafficking in Burma. Poppy growing and opium production in Shan State have increased over the past two years due to authorities as well as armed groups are involving in the drug trade and growing economic despondency caused by cronyism, corruption and unprofessional conduct of the establishment.
The making of illicit drugs in Burma has considerable international, regional and national end results. At the international level, the opium and heroin produced in the country are consumed in Asia distributed through China and Thailand as well as the rest of Asia, reaching destinations as far away as Australia, North America and Europe. There are 6 well-known drug lords in Burma’s current parliament, who represented the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), according to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).
To be frank, ASEAN leaders are committing hasty generalization to lift sanctions on Burma, although there are many more inappropriate things against a free society. In reality, ASEAN did not help anything en route for change in Burma. It even has no record of stating disapproval of Burma Army’s human rights abuses in the ethnic areas as a morally first-class grouping.
Without addressing the above mentioned issues, lifting of the US and the EU Sanctions would be unwise.