Sanctions against Burma still needed

26 April 2013

Sanctions against Burma still needed

Last Monday the EU decided to lift all sanctions against Burma, with the exception of an arms embargo. This was not an intelligent decision. The upsurge of religious violence within the country has not been adequately combated by the authorities. Pressure from abroad remains necessary to encourage Burma to continue to make progress, as there have indeed been positive reports regarding an independent press and the freeing of political prisoners; the EU is wrong, however, to abolish sanctions. Many major problems continue to dog the country.

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP

Harry van BommelA tragic example of such is the serious and growing violence against the Muslim community in overwhelmingly Buddhist Burma. Last year in a brief period around 180 ethnic Rohingya were murdered and the homes of a further 100,000 destroyed in an act of ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya are sorely oppressed in Burma, where they are still not recognised as lawful inhabitants. Last month a row between a Buddhist couple and Muslim gold merchants led once more to dozens of deaths, eight hundred houses burnt to the ground and 12,000 refugees. The Burmese authorities either did not intervene at all or did so far too late. According to Human Rights Watch, the government in many cases encouraged this violence or even participated in in, and even opposition leader Suu Kyi said nothing during these outbreaks.

The major role played by the military in Burmese politics continues to be problematic. In name the government has, it’s true, been since 2011 a civilian administration, but it says a great deal that President Thein Sein is an ex-general. He is not the only one who has exchanged a military uniform for a made-to-measure suit: 25% of the Burmese Parliament consists of military personnel, while recently the head of the Burmese armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, stated that his soldiers would be playing a leading role in politics.

There are also still many political prisoners behind bars. As long as that continues to be the case, lifting of sanctions sends the wrong signal, all the more so because the EU stated last year when the sanctions were suspended that the expectation was that all political prisoners should be unconditionally released. In the face of persistent religious conflicts in which the government fails to intervene, and as long as there are political prisoners, the EU must not hesitate to impose economic sanctions once more.

This opinion piece was first published in the original Dutch in the Dutch national newspaper NRC Next on April 26th.

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