Japan should 'reinvigorate' Burma policy

Apr 11, 2009 (DVB), Japan should make human rights a foreign policy priority and focus attention on abuses by the Burmese regime, said a leading human rights organization in an open letter to the Japanese prime minister this week.

New York-based Human Rights Watch implored the Japanese government to consider reforms that would support and safeguard human rights worldwide, saying that its method of "quiet diplomacy" shied away from vocal condemnation of destructive governments.

"An important starting point for a reinvigorated Japanese human rights policy would be towards Burma," the letter stated, pointing a finger towards Japan's ongoing trade with the regime.

Japanese foreign aid has proved a crutch for the military regime since it took power in 1962. Both the United States and European Union have kept sanctions on Burma since it failed to honour the opposition party's overwhelming victory in the 1990 elections.

"Though the economic situation and the horrible reputation of the Burmese military government have led to a decrease in Japanese foreign aid and investment, Japan has remained a major donor to Burma to the present," the letter said.

Japan should adopt a mixture of private and public diplomacy in its dealings with authoritarian governments, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW.

"Too often, as with the current crisis in Sri Lanka, Japan’s voice is missing when it could be a powerful force to protect people from harm," he said.

The letter was sent the day after the United States announced it would review policy to Burma in light of the failure of sanctions.

The US Senate is said to be frustrated that current sanctions are not moving Burma towards democracy, the release of political prisoners, and other reforms.

Reporting by Beth Macdonald

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