|Amartya Sen - Ten-point Proposal: Could it Change Burma?|
Sen's Ten-point Proposal: Could it Change Burma?
By HTET AUNG, Irrawaddy, Monday, December 27, 2010
Amartya Sen, a well-known Indian Nobel laureate for economics, has outlined a ten-point proposal for the international community to follow in order to make their policies on Burma more effective and help transform the country into a democracy. His proposal appeared in the Bangkok-based English language newspaper The Nation on Saturday.
“The military generals designed the recent election, the first in twenty years, in a crooked way to ensure that they, or their proxies or cohorts, will stay in power,” Sen said in the article.
In light of recent political developments in Burma, which include the military being allocated 25 percent of the seats in the new national and state parliaments, the systemic exclusion of the strongest pro-democracy candidates from the political process, the detention of opposition leaders and activists and a total ban on public criticism of the junta, Sen asked: “What can the world do now?”
During his recent visit to Thailand, the Nobel laureate strongly criticized both Burma's neighbors like India, China and Thailand and the Western nations for their ineffective policies and immoral relations with the junta, and outlined the following ten points for them to follow if they really want to see change in Burma.
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry (CoI): Sen emphasized that a CoI is a very strong option following the junta's manipulation of the Nov. 7 election.
Sen's view is in line with Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who recently voiced her support for a CoI during a teleconference with students and academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science via the Al Jazeera television network.
“The NLD (National League for Democracy) has supported the idea of the commission of inquiry,” said Suu Kyi. “But I think you should make it quite clear that what we are asking for is a commission of inquiry, not a trial of the generals as some people seem to think.
“I don't think we have looked upon it as a direct attack on the military authorities and certainly we will not like the military authorities to look upon it as a direct attack upon them.”
The United States and several western nations have publicly supported a CoI, but China opposed it and actively lobbied to stop a CoI from being approved during the last UN General Assembly.
As for the Burmese generals, they would certainly view a CoI as external interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, no matter whether the UN approves a fact finding mission or a criminal trial.
Sanctions: Sen clearly states his opposition to general sanctions such as restrictions on garment exports, saying they hurt the Burmese people. Instead, he suggested targeting the junta's business activities and financial transactions overseas.
However, Suu Kyi has cautiously maintained her previous position by saying that she wants to review whether sanctions really hurt the people. She said that she hasn't seen any reports from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that claim sanctions hurt people. But while under house arrest in 2009, she called for the cooperation of the junta in lifting sanctions.
Arms Embargo: Sen says that an arms embargo must be the top priority on the list of targeted sanctions.
Currently, the arms embargoes separately imposed by the US, EU and Australia are not effective because Russia, China and India have sold jet fighters, naval vessels, tanks and heavy artillery to Burma in the last two decades.
Therefore, any effective measure would require something like a universal arms embargo adopted by a binding resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). However, this would be difficult to implement, as it is likely that Russia and China will block any arms embargo resolution that the UNSC attempts to impose on Burma.
Targeted Sanctions on Natural Commodities: Sen favors targeted sanctions on minerals, gems, timber and oil and gas—all goods that yield huge profits for the junta.
Sen seemed to criticize the US and EU governments, who despite having imposed sanctions in some areas, have turned a blind eye to the controversial investments in Burma by oil companies such as UNOCAL and TOTAL.
Severe Financial Sanctions: Sen believes that severe restrictions and prohibitions on large financial transactions from Burma can be another well-targeted and effective policy because these transactions are only undertaken by the junta and its business cronies rather than by ordinary people.
The US already imposes tough well-targeted financial sanctions on the generals, their immediate families and business cronies, but the effectiveness of these sanctions is unclear.
Travel Sanctions: Sen supports a continued travel ban on the junta's top generals. The US and EU have somewhat isolated the generals with their current travel bans, but the sanction would be much more effective if adopted by Burma's regional neighbors such as China, India and Asean countries.
Although the existing travel sanctions imposed by the West mark the current military junta as an illegitimate government, it remains to be how western countries will treat the new civilian government that will be formed following the Nov. 7 election.
Moral Responsibility of Burma's Neighbors: Sen believes that “the tyrants of Burma will, sooner or later, fall,” and warns China, India and Thailand that “the memory of the betrayal of the Burmese people will last a long time, just as the intense anti-Americanism in Latin America today draws on the history of US support for the brutal South and Central American regimes of yesteryear.”
While it is difficult to see what happened in Latin America happening in Asia with respect to Burma in the near future, the country's regional neighbors should consider improving their relationship with Burma's pro-democracy opposition, so if positive change does come to Burma, they will be on good terms with the new government and its people.
Weakness of the West's Policies: Sen sharply criticized the inconsistency of the Western countries in formulating their policies on Burma. He pointed out that the West is “sharp in rhetoric when denouncing Burma's rulers, but they do not do what is entirely within their power to do.”
Sen urged the West to completely withdraw their lucrative business inside Burma, though he didn't directly mention the investments of the US-based Unocal and the French oil company Total. Without taking this step, he said, “it is harder to persuade China, India and Thailand to do the right thing.”
Wiping Out a Sense of Hopelessness: Sen suggested that the most important step that can be taken is to encourage the Burmese people “to end the sense of dejection and hopelessness that is so dominant” among them.
“The fight, we have to remember, is for the beginning of democracy in Burma, not for tiny concessions from an entrenched military government,” Sen said.
Over the past years, Suu Kyi has been a symbol of democracy and hope for the people of Burma. The jubilant crowd of thousands who turned out to welcome her release proved that she is still able to inspire and lead the people despite serving more than seven years under house arrest.
A Non-defeatist Approach: Finally, Sen suggests a way out for the military generals. He discourages “a bloody revenge” and instead proposes “the sagacity of offering amnesty in exchange for remorse.”
Suu Kyi made it quite clear during a November interview with The New York Times that she doesn't support a policy of revenge either. “I don’t think there is any solid reason for the generals to fear for their safety,” she said. “We are not after them personally. I certainly do not wish them ill.”
Based on his ten point proposal to change Burma, the 1998 Nobel laureate concluded: “With well-targeted policies, carried out with determination and clarity of reasoning, we can make the Burmese leaders withdraw and the change can come more quickly than most people imagine.”
As Sen suggested, determination and clarity of reasoning is a must if the world really wants to see Burma transform into a democratic and responsible member of the international community.