Burma Campaign UK today welcomed an announcement by British Prime Minister David Cameron that Britain will not support EU sanctions against Burma being lifted. He has proposed sanctions be suspended instead. Germany and other EU members had been pushing for all sanctions except the arms embargo to be lifted immediately.
With hundreds of political prisoners still in jail, military attacks against ethnic minorities still taking place, and no legal or constitutional changes that make Burma more democratic and reduce the power of the military, the complete lifting of EU sanctions would be premature.
In supporting the suspension of EU sanctions, Aung San Suu Kyi is making a bold and brave gesture to the government of Burma, showing she is willing to compromise and take positive steps. The ball is now in the court of the military-backed government. They now have to deliver real change.
Aung San Suu Kyi is reported to have stated: “This would strengthen the hand of the reformers – not just the suspension but the fact that there is always a possibility of sanctions coming back again if the reforms are not allowed to proceed smoothly.”
“The suspension of EU sanctions keeps the pressure on the Burmese government to continue reforms, while also making a strong positive gesture that genuine reforms will be rewarded,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “For the threat of re-imposition of sanctions to be credible, the EU must set clear timelines and benchmarks. We know from experience that the Burmese government is expert at delaying tactics. We also know the EU can tend to be slow and indecisive, looking for reasons to delay action.”
After years of debate about sanctions, it is now clear that, combined with domestic pressure, sanctions have played an important role in encouraging reform in Burma. To completely abandon sanctions just as they are working would have been a serious mistake.
Burma Campaign UK also warned companies thinking of investing in Burma that they should not think of the country as a place where they can exploit cheap labour and grab natural resources at bargain-bucket prices, thanks to the lack of proper laws protecting workers and the environment. Many sectors attractive to investors, such as mining, timber, oil, gas and dams, have been directly linked to serious human rights abuses and environmental destruction. Any European companies investing in projects where such abuses take place will be subject to high profile boycott campaigns.
“Despite reforms, Burma is still a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world, and where the military has constitutional control over every level of government,” said Anna Roberts. “Burma is still a very long way from being a democracy.”