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Multilateral economic sanctions might be the answer for Burma

By May Ng
December 13, 2006
Mizzima News:

( May Ng is a human rights activist and a Senior Researcher/Advocate in


the Refugee Policy of Justice for Human Rights in Burma).

In a marked change since President Bush mentioned Burma for the first time in his 2005
State of the Union address, the American people now view the term 'Democracy
Promotion' with great suspicion. Therefore it is important to remember that the Burmese
democracy uprising occurred long before the term 'Democracy Promotion' was liberally
used by the US administration.

Equally, the news of escalating violence in Iraq does not diminish the momentum of the
democracy movement in Burma. In fact it validates the nonviolent path of Aung San Suu
Kyi as a prudent course for the Burmese struggle for democracy.
Just before reopening the latest National Convention in September, the Burmese military
junta arrested prominent student leaders, Min Ko Naing, Ko Min Zeya, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko
Htay Kywe, Ko Pyone Cho, to coerce them into endorsing the Convention.

Once more the NLD and the student organizations protested against the arrest of the
student leaders. While risking their own lives and the lives of those who signed their
names, the democracy activists in Burma collected over 500,000 signatures last October
asking for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the student leaders, political prisoners and
for national reconciliation. A peaceful protest called 'the white expression campaign' by
the students also succeeded in October without any major incident.

There was no evidence to suggest that Burmese people rose up in 1988, or today, because
they believed the Americans were on the way to liberate them. The people of Burma
chose to stand up for democracy according to their own will. In spite of the isolation from
the outside world and the lowered education standard that made it difficult for ordinary
Burmese to express their opinions effectively, there could be no doubt about what their
wishes were in the 1990 elections.

In 1988, when the military establishment was on the verge of being overrun by angry
mobs, only the hardliners within the military survived and took control of the government
by crushing the protesters with deadly force. Those same hardliners promised elections
and democracy, to quell the irate public, without any real intention of handing over power
to the elected civilian authority.

At the height of crackdowns against democracy activists, in late 1988, the Burmese
military made contact with China and secured the pledge for arms and political support
from Beijing. Long before the US was able to get involved, the hardliner generals were
already deep in China's embrace.
China invests very little in Burma in comparison to the ASEAN and other nations. It is
important to realize that in spite of the unilateral sanctions by the US and some
restrictions by the EU, democratic countries like Singapore, UK and Thailand are the
biggest investors with billions of dollars worth of business in Burma. Therefore
multilateral economic sanctions, with the cooperation from other democratic countries,
can be effective in bringing the Burmese generals to their senses.

The question at the UNSC is whether Burma should be looking to fellow Asians, the
Chinese and the Russian instead of the US for support during their democracy struggle?

The Amnesty International reported in 2006 that China is a major supplier of small
weapons that rogue governments, like the military in Burma, use to suppress their people
at home. While China and Russia at the UNSC, claimed to maintain the policy of none
interference in the internal affairs of another sovereign state, they both sold weapons and
gave military assistance to the government of Burma. Since Burma has no external threat
the Chinese and Russian weapons are used only against the Burmese people.

According to Human Rights Watch, since 1996, it is estimated that 3,077 villages have
been destroyed by the army and more than one million people displaced. More than
500,000 civilians are living as internally displaced people along the eastern Burma border
with Thailand. HRW also said that army attacks continued even when Ibrahim Gambari,
the UN undersecretary- general for political affairs, visited Burma.

Alicia L. Bannon wrote in The Yale Law Journal that more than a decade after the world
did nothing to halt genocide in Rwanda, and in the shadow of ongoing atrocities in
Darfur, Sudan, the international community recently made a new commitment to protect
populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
The United Nations 2005 World Summit brought together representatives from more than
170 countries, including the United States. The summit culminated with an agreement
that the international community, acting through the United Nations, has a responsibility
to help protect populations from genocide and other atrocities when their own
governments fail to do so. The agreement further announced a willingness to take
"collective action" through the Security Council to protect populations if peaceful means
prove inadequate.

There is no longer any peaceful means left to stop the military from attacking their own
people in Burma. The UN must be prepared to take collective action such as multilateral
economic sanctions to pressure the Burmese military to start a genuine political
reconciliation and bring peace to Burma.

The Burmese regime must be made to realize that the international law protects the
public's right to participation in democratic governance. The United Nations Committee
of Human Rights has recognized a specific right to participate in constitution making.
And it is time for the UNSC to tell the junta in Burma that they must stop the violence
against their people because it will not help bring legitimacy to their rule.
In Democratic Constitution Making, Vivien Hart wrote that, how the constitution is
made as well as what it says, matters and that finding a way of living together with
major disagreement is the more modest goal.

The Burmese people are only asking that UNSC help them find a compromise to live
together peacefully in Burma, even with major disagreements among themselves.

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Justice for Human Rights in Burma (JHB) is broad based, international, grassroots
democracy and human rights advocacy group with the principal aim of restoring
democracy and freedom in Burma. JHB seeks the cooperation and support of any like-
minded organizations and encourages fruitful debate regarding Burma issues. JHB
recognizes the necessity of establishing a united democratic front among all ethnic
nationalities and will encourage the realization of this aim.