Friday, October 05, 2007

Confronting Burma

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As many as 10,000 people "have been rounded up for interrogation in recent days," according to a BBC source in Burma:

Scores of Burmese have been arrested overnight, as the country's military continues its crackdown following last week's protests, witnesses say.

Security forces are said to be using recordings of the demonstrations to compile lists of activists for arrest.

Many of those rounded up, needless to say, are monks.


Briefing the U.N. Security Council on his four-day visit, U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari "voiced concern about arbitrary arrests and rights abuses" in Burma.

However, he said that he was "cautiously encouraged" by the news that "General Than Shwe, the head of the ruling junta, had agreed in principle to meet the detained pro-democracy leader," Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Burmese state TV broadcast an image of Ms Suu Kyi for the first time in years on Friday." This is indeed encouraging -- but there's a catch: "[Shwe] insisted that Ms Suu Kyi must give up her calls for international sanctions to be imposed against the regime, state media reported.

So he'll meet with her, but only if she backs down -- and only if the international community backs down. So much, according to the totalitarians, for the pro-democracy movement. They will crush it any way they can.


For more on Shwe and Suu Kyi, see here.


In response to Gambari's briefing, the U.S. (Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad) and the U.N. (Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-Moon) continued to offer strong words of condemnation for the actions of Burma's ruling military junta. Khalilzad said this: "We must all be prepared to consider measures such as arms embargoes." Yes, that would be a start, and perhaps a good one, but a more robust sanctions regime would be preferable.

The problem is that China and other regional states like Singapore oppose such sanctions, arguing that such a response could lead to "confrontation," or "the loss of dialogue". Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this: "Sanctions against a regime that is ready to isolate itself are more likely to be counter-productive than effective." This may be true, to an extent, but a sanctions regime should not be pursued as an end in itself. Indeed, such pressure could be accompanied by a willingness to negotiate and the encouragement of dialogue and compromise. Ultimately, Burma must open up not just to the West but to the international community generally. But the totalitarians are going to need a push, and some threats, before they take that step. If military action to topple that brutal regime is not an option, then some other form of pressure must be applied. That pressure may be diplomatic, but diplomacy, in this case, requires teeth.

Besides, one wonders just how sincere China, Singapore, and others are in their claim that sanctions would be ineffectual and possibly counter-productive. It is China, after all, that has been one of the leading supporters of the totalitarians, propping up their regime and profiting off their tyranny. Why would they agree to an international sanctions regime? Given how much they object to international interference in their own country -- what with their own atrocious human rights abuses -- and given how much they profit off tyranny around the world, in Africa as well as in Asia, it is in their interest to object to such pressure here.

Meanwhile, however, the people of Burma are still suffering, thousands of them in prison camps, likely thousands dead. They need our help, and, with or without China, we must help them.


Portrait of Suu Kyi, above, by Sarah Webley, at the International Museum of Women.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home