There was rejoicing when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from detention at her house in November 2010. It seemed at last that the political situation in Burma would improve and human rights and political normality would be established. The IDC report Development and Democracy in Burma’ showed that improvements have indeed taken place. Around 1000 political prisoners have been released; censorship has been reduced and trades unions have been formed.
This has led to a removal of controls put in place during the time of the general’s junta and trade links are being established. There has been a visit by Hilary Clinton and other politicians to the country. There is a sense that things have improved and we can now relax as far as human rights are concerned.
Unfortunately, this seems to be a little way from the truth and that there are still serious things going on in the country. Every quarter, the Foreign and Colonial Office publishes reports on ‘countries of concern’ and one such was for Burma in December last year. According to the Burma Campaign UK, the FCO is seriously underplaying the human rights in Burma in its effort to promote the country for trade and investment. One can see the attraction: Burma has the potential to be one of the richest countries in SE Asia with huge natural resources including the world’s largest source of teak and substantial oil resources. The Chinese are of course interested and will have no interest in the human rights issues, hence a desire to see UK businesses getting their foot in the door.
Specifically, Burma Campaign say that the FCO report;
- Falsely claims that Thein Sein ordered the release of all prisoners and persons facing trial for political activity
- Fails to mention the human rights abuses against the Rohingya which have dramatically increased with violent attacks forcing 140 000 Rohingya people to flee. Villages have been destroyed and women and children hacked to death
- does not mention the arrests of thousands of political activists.
Médecins san Frontières were forced to stop work in another troubled state Rahhine because of threats and violence.
A picture is created of the EU and the FCO keen to promote trade in preference to human rights and even decline to mention ‘Rohingya’ for fear of upsetting the government there.
This seems to follow the pattern of several countries in recent times. First there is concern expressed, sanctions are talked about and even imposed. Then something happens in the country and normality of a kind is established. There is a desire to establish contact and get things back to normal. Then the country is forgotten and disappears off the news pages and political agendas.
There is nothing wrong in establishing trade with countries like Burma and there is an argument that trade can do a lot to promote better understanding between nations. But Burma had to change its ways because it became more and more concerned that almost the only country willing to trade with them with no questions asked was China. It needed to get the support of the West for its technology and to reduce its dependence on one country. So the West still has leverage.
Campaigns against minorities are still being carried on and as far as the ethnic communities are concerned, it’s still business as usual. Let us not forget Burma.
For further information go to www.burmacampaign.org.uk