US pressured on Burma policy review

Sept 10, 2009 (DVB), A leading human rights watchdog has said that new United States policy to Burma should take a three-pronged approach and must be implemented soon.

An open letter sent yesterday to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton by Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government to conclude the policy review "so that American policy and strategy towards Burma will be clear to all concerned".

Clinton had announced the review in February following comments that sanctions had failed to shift the ruling generals.

The letter acknowledged the intransigence of the Burmese junta and said that change will not occur "unless concerned governments and international bodies take steps to change the [government's] calculations".

Burma is gearing up for elections scheduled for March next year, although critics have said that the redrafted 2008 constitution guarantees entrenchment of military rule.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, is barred from running in the elections, and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party are yet to confirm whether they will participate.

The US has, along with other Western nations, followed a path of aggressive sanctions on Burma, while regional neighbours such as Thailand and China have chosen instead to engage with the regime.

A recent visit to Burma by US senator Jim Webb was followed with an article in the New York Times calling for an easing of sanctions and greater engagement.

In light of the support for the regime from neighbouring countries and the consequent failure of sanctions, HRW urged Clinton not to take various policy strategies as either/or choices.

"We suggest that the policy review should, therefore, aim at making more effective all three prongs of US policy – diplomacy, sanctions and humanitarian aid – and not placing one ahead of the others", it said.

Three US congress staff who met with NLD members last month said that the US is "seriously considering" the new policy but warned that it wouldn't be introduced soon.

The potential for greater engagement with the regime would be in keeping with US president Barrack Obama's pledge to "hold out a hand" to rogue states if they "unclench their fist".

The strategy would appear to counter former president George Bush's policy of isolating hostile states.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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