Myanmar Continues Atrocities
ASIA--PACIFIC, 6 May 2013
The West Might Need to Reconsider Economic Sanctions
Myanmar’s rulers will need to do better than just release another batch of political prisoners if they want to assuage mounting concern that the international community may have gone too far, too soon in rewarding them for progress towards dismantling dictatorship and establishing democracy.
After the UN concluded that the country’s Rohingya Muslims were among the most persecuted minorities on earth, the Human Rights Watch organisation has issued an even more damning report — a shameful indictment of a regime that the world has tried to help.
The HRW report details ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity committed by chauvinist Buddhist mobs. It includes footage of police and soldiers standing by idly or joining violence that has left hundreds dead and wounded and 150,000 homeless.
Many Rohingya, who are denied citizenship, are living in appalling conditions. They are seeking to flee in rickety boats, adding to the wave of desperate asylum-seekers in our region.
By failing to end the violence, President Thein Sein’s government has breached repeated assurances given to the international community in return for lifting sanctions.
In the case of the EU which, like Australia, has now cancelled all sanctions other than an arms embargo, Myanmar promised to release all political prisoners, end the persecution of the Rohingya and improve their status and welfare.
That hasn’t happened. And while the regime has announced the release of another 60 political prisoners, hundreds more remain incarcerated.
It was always naive to be starry-eyed about the Myanmar regime’s democratic pretensions. Lifting economic sanctions in return for political reform made sense, but only as long as Mr Sein and his colleagues kept their side of the bargain.
The international community has lost a substantial part of its leverage, but it must maintain its pressure not just on Mr Sein but also on opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been regrettably mute about the outrages.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr is right to advocate robust discussion about human rights and democracy with the regime. A new order in which abuses such as those against the Rohingya are allowed will be a democracy in name only, little better than the odious dictatorship of the past 50 years.
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