U.S. sanctions renewal, Burma’s first decade in ASEAN and UN intervention

Financial Times “Burma junta fuels poverty, claims UN” headline; 2007-07-12

Headline from the Financial Times (July 12, 2007) reporting about a leaked UN report on Burma.

How interesting. Several important developments regarding Burma today: (1) Burma celebrates its 10th anniversary in ASEAN, (2) The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to renew sanctions against Burma, and (3) UN Envoy to Burma, Gambari has begun a trip across Europe to democratize Burma once again.

Today marks Burma’s 10th anniversary in Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The country joined ASEAN along with Laos on July 23, 1997. The Burmese government has made many promises to fellow ASEAN members since then, but have delivered little progress. The Democratic Voice for Burma has more information as does The Irrawaddy. Other ASEAN countries have become more vocal in telling the Burmese government to speed up its reforms and democratization process in recent years, mostly because of embarassement that ASEAN has little leverage or influence, has a solid ‘non-interference policy’ and has no measures to expel member countries.

And, the U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to renew sanctions and an arms embargo on Burma. This bill is set to go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. And from there, the President will undoubtedly sign the bill into action. Forbes has more details. I wholeheartedly disagree with the theory behind using sanctions, especially against a country like Burma. The sanctions America has on Burma is entirely a gesture, a weak signal that Burma, or more specifically the Burmese government, is a thorn on America’s side. Condoleeza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State has called Burma an ‘outpost of tyranny,’ along with several other tyrannical dictatorships like Zimbabwe, but that is mostly symbolic as well.

And finally, the United Nations’ special envoy to Burma is embarking on a tour of Europe, beginning in Moscow where he is today, to discuss and consult with the Russian government on how to best implement democracy, national reconciliation and protection of human rights in Burma. The UN News Center has more details.

A few days ago, a commentary titled “United Nations ♥ Burma’s Generals” appeared on the Wall Street Journal. Since it is not available online, I will extract important suggestions from it:

The United Nations has a track record of coddling brutal regimes from Iraq to North Korea. Now add another to the list: Burma. […] The Secretary General’s special adviser on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, swept through India, China and Japan last week to “promote positive changes” in the repressive dictatorship. These countries should “encourage the authorities in Myanmar to build on the positive steps they are making,” he told Reuters (using the name Burma’s generals imposed on their country).

Coddling. Very true. Encouragement. What a scathing and forceful term. The commentary also states:

The reality on the ground doesn’t suggest much will change. Land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, torture, murder and military conflict with the country’s ethnic minorities all continue unabated. The situation is so bad that the International Committee of the Red Cross broke its policy of silence this month and openly described how authorities torture civilians and detainees. […] The U.N. itself knows what’s going on. Last week, a confidential U.N. report leaked to the Financial Times found the government was seizing land and cracking down on non-government organizations, among other things.

I have that issue of the Financial Times. The article states that 3 in 10 people in Burma are living below the poverty line, that 3 in 10 children are malnourished, and that ethnic minority areas have the highest rates of both (up to 7 in 10).  The article also says that the UN knows that the military government’s agricultural policies (like the physic nut craze and land confiscation) are indeed exacerbating Burma’s internal problems.

The Wall Street Journal article continues on:

Mr. Gambari should know better. In May 2006, he offered monetary rewards to the junta in exchange for Ms. Suu Kyi’s release. The generals promptly extended her house arrest. Mr. Gambari’s predecessor, Razali Ismail visited Ms. Suu Kyi in June 2003, only to find himself later barred from the country. Former special rapporteur for human rights, Paulo Pinheiro, curtailed a trip after finding a bug in a room where he was interviewing political prisoners.

Does the United Nations have an idea on what ransom is? The longer the Burmese government keeps Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, the higher the ransom will get. Aung San Suu Kyi is a possible bargaining chip on the diplomatic table, anyway. And it is not as if the Burmese government is having money troubles, especially with the growing trade of natural gas. The WSJ article ends with the following:

Mr. Gambari says he will visit Burma again soon to encourage signs of “openness and cooperation” from the junta. Perhaps he expects Ms. Suu Kyi’s party will be allowed to contest elections under the new constitution — a promise the generals made to him last November. If history is any guide, he’s likely to be disappointed. More important, so are the long-suffering Burmese people.

This is what I have to say: Thank you UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, for “looking forward” to the national reconciliation process, a diluted phrase meaning “democracy, human rights protection, and inclusion of NLD in politics.” Sorry for the sarcasm, but it’s just amazing to me how ineffective the UN is.

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