Suspending Sanctions: A Good Idea for Burma?
This week the United States and the European Union have lifted certain sanctions on Burma. Yet since Aung San Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party swept elections earlier this year in a historical triumph for Burma (the country also known as Myanmar), political friction has arisen.
Aung San Suu Kyi wished to replace words in the oath from "safeguard the constitution" to "respect the constitution," but was denied by the ruling party. In protest, Suu Kyi and other members of her party refused to take their seats in the opening of Parliament, which sent a troubling message that Burma had not quite completed the democratic reforms after decades of military rule.
The United States and the European Union had previously put an arms embargo on Burma, including bans on investment, financial services, and a ban on most Burmese imports. According to BBC News, the U.S. and E.U. are now taking steps to ease sanctions, including "targeted lifting of investment and financial services bans." The United States will also relax the visa ban to allow officials to travel to the United States, yet sanctions will remain on individuals and institutions that "oppose reform."
Suspending these sanctions shows that the U.S. and E.U. are confident that Burma is taking the right steps towards democracy. Yet as political strife has recently arisen, both entities are staying cautious, which is evident with the embargo on arms sales that remains.
A statement released by the Council of the European Union says that it would continue to "monitor closely the situation on the ground" and constantly review its measures, as well as "respond positively to progress on ongoing reforms." The Council, however, still "expects the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released."
Opinions differ as to whether lifting the sanctions will help or hurt Burma, citing that freezing the bank accounts of the corrupt leaders and their families would be the best way to ensure the further growth of democracy. "President Thein Sein has taken important steps towards reform in Burma, and it is right for the world to respond to them," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement, adding, "But those changes are not yet irreversible, which is why it is right to suspend rather than lift sanctions for good."
Staying cautious to ensure President Thien Sein continues to allow the democratic reforms and releases the remainder of political prisoners should stay in the forefront of the conditions of suspending these sanctions. Yes, the recent by-elections and victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Democratic Party was a step in the right direction. But the West should stay diligent in helping the people of Burma fully transition to a democratic and free society.
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