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As the violence in Myanmar worsens, more pressure is being put on the country to impose sanctions.



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As the violence in Myanmar worsens, more pressure is being put on the country to impose sanctions.


The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on anti-coup protests is increasing calls for further sanctions against the junta, even as countries fail to persuade military leaders who have become numb to international condemnation.

Fears of harming ordinary people, who are still suffering from an economic slump exacerbated by the pandemic, but are risking detention and injury to express indignation over the military takeover, make the task even more challenging. Activists and experts say there are ways to put more pressure on the government, especially by cutting off funding and access to repressive resources.

On Friday, the United Nations special envoy urged the Security Council to intervene to stop junta violence that killed about 50 demonstrators and wounded dozens more this week.

Christine Schraner Burgener, who spoke at the conference, said, “There is an urgent need for collective action.” “Can we let the Myanmar military get away with even more?”

Coordination at the United Nations is complicated, however, since permanent Security Council members China and Russia will almost certainly veto any such action. Myanmar’s neighbours, who are its most important trade partners and sources of investment, are also wary of imposing sanctions.

Some steps have already been taken on a piecemeal basis. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have imposed new limits on Myanmar’s army, their families, and other junta leaders. The US thwarted a military effort to gain access to more than $1 billion in Myanmar central bank funds kept in the US, according to the State Department.

However, the military’s economic interests are “largely unchallenged,” according to Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights situation, in a report released last week. Help has been delayed by several countries, and the World Bank has announced that it has stopped funding and is reviewing its programs.

While symbolic, it is unclear whether the sanctions imposed thus far would have any effect. According to Schraner Burgener, the army responded to an alert of potential “big strong steps” against the coup by saying, “‘We are used to sanctions and we have endured those sanctions in the past.”

Andrews and other experts and human rights advocates are calling for a ban on dealings with the several Myanmar firms linked to the military, as well as an embargo on weapons, technology, goods, and services that could be used for surveillance and abuse by the authorities.

Justice for Myanmar, an advocacy organization, has released a list of hundreds of foreign companies it claims have supplied such possible repressive resources to the government, which is now fully under military rule.

Budget documents for the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Transport and Communications indicate acquisitions of forensic data, monitoring, password recovery, drones, and other equipment from the United States, Israel, the European Union, Japan, and other countries, according to the study. Such technologies may be used for good, even beneficial purposes, such as preventing human trafficking. However, both online and offline, they are being used to track down protesters.

Restricting business with military-dominated conglomerates like Myanmar Economic Corp., Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise may have a bigger effect while having a smaller impact on small businesses and individuals.

Chris Sidoti, a former member of the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in a news conference on Thursday that one proposal gaining traction is to prevent the junta from accessing crucial oil and gas revenues paid into and stored in banks outside the country.

Myanmar’s largest exports are oil and gas, which provide a critical source of foreign exchange for paying for imports. The $1.4 billion oil, gas, and mining industries account for more than a third of exports and a significant portion of tax revenue in the nation.

“The money supply must be slashed. That is the most pressing priority and the most direct action that can be taken,” said Sidoti, one of the founding members of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a newly formed international organization.

Unfortunately, such steps take time and effort, and “time is not on the side of the Myanmar people at this time when these atrocities are being committed,” he said.

After a coup in 1962, Myanmar’s economy became isolated. Since the nation began its tumultuous transition to democracy in 2011, many of the sanctions levied by Western governments in the decades that followed were removed. Following the army’s violent operations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northwest Rakhine state in 2017, some of these restrictions were reinstated.

The European Union has stated that it is updating its policies and that it is prepared to impose sanctions on those directly responsible for the coup. Japan, too, has stated that it is considering its options.

On March 2, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a virtual meeting to address Myanmar. Later, the group’s leader released a statement calling for an end to the violence and for talks to try to find a peaceful solution.

However, Myanmar was admitted to ASEAN in 1997, long before the military, known as the Tatmadaw, began reforms that helped Aung San Suu Kyi lead a quasi-civilian government. The majority of ASEAN governments are led by authoritarian leaders or are ruled by a single political party. They have a long history of working together and not interfering with each other’s personal lives.

Some ASEAN governments have vehemently denounced the coup and the subsequent arrests and killings, despite their lack of appetite for sanctions.

The spiraling, brutal violence against demonstrators has shaken ASEAN’s stance that the crisis is solely an internal matter, according to Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer and former chair of the Fact-Finding Mission that Sidoti joined.

Darusman said, “ASEAN considers it imperative that it play a role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar.”

With a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) border with Myanmar and over 2 million Myanmar migrant workers, Thailand does not want more to flee into its territory, particularly at a time when the pandemic is still raging.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies, believes ASEAN would be better off using a “carrot and stick” strategy to get Myanmar back to a civilian government.

But it is with the demonstrators that he sees the greatest hope, he said.

“The Myanmarese people are extremely courageous. “This is the country’s No. 1 pressure,” Chongkittavorn said at an East-West Center seminar in Hawaii. “It’s clear that the junta understands what it takes to move forward; otherwise, sanctions would be even more severe.”

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