Stanley Weiss’ Op-Ed in the Washington Post on Friday, December 3?laid out the author’s misguided reasoning for ending US sanctions on Burma’s military regime. Ignoring human rights abuses in the country and restricting his discussion to purely economic goals, he advises the United States to reach out to the generals:
“Washington should work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to build capacity in Myanmar — starting with governance training for newly elected leaders and the revival of the financial sector. … Currently, Western sanctions will be lifted only if political benchmarks are met. Those carrots have proved ineffective.? They might be productive, however, if linked to economic concerns such as respect for private property, the lifting of arbitrary restrictions on private business and the creation of a working credit system. … For Western companies eager to enter new markets, it could be a huge opportunity.”? (emphasis added)
Weiss’ argument misses the real issue in Burma: the country is run by a criminal military regime bent on destroying ethnic minorities and political opposition. The “newly elected leaders” whom he urges the US to train are not true representatives of the people but military-aligned individuals who were catapulted into the parliament through an election that was riddled with fraud and designed to perpetuate military rule. Unlike Weiss, the US sees Burma not as a new market to enter but as a country whose people are systematically oppressed and abused by its rulers. Economic engagement with Burma before positive political change in the country violates the US’s moral and legal obligation to end human rights abuses and bring about accountability for these crimes.Sanctions, enacted with the support of recently-released democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, have been a long-standing strategy of the US to delegitimize the regime.? Sanctions are not the cause of Burma’s rampant poverty nor its economic woes. The generals, not US policy, are making Burma poor. A lack of income is no real obstacle for the regime, which has profitable business projects with China and other regional partners. The real problem is how this income is used: income generated through these partnerships is not directed to the people of Burma but instead lines the generals’ pockets and bolsters the immense military. Financing the regime means furthering their vicious campaigns against ethnic minorities and political opponents — acts that include killing, rape, torture, imprisonment, forced labor, and other international crimes.Contrary to Weiss’ assertion, the US is not losing moral high ground by levying sanctions on the regime. I was in Burma two weeks ago when Aung San Suu Kyi was released and spoke with many individuals who expressed their deep appreciation for the US’s support for the Burmese democracy movement. Engaging with the generals, on the other hand, would dissolve the moral standing of the US. Assisting the military government in its business endeavors would make the US complicit in the regime’s unbridled criminality. The US owes victims of the regime’s crimes, all people of Burma, and the international community a thorough commitment to democracy and accountability.